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.
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
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.
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.
Copyright © 2017. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
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.
Copyright © 2017. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
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.
Copyright © 2017. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
Well, luckily we are free of such restraints in modern Washington. Indeed, over a month after the predictable and possibly preventable deaths of four Americans at the US Consulate in Benghazi, Hillary Clinton said “I take responsibility.”
What does that mean?
Hillary did not take responsibility on September 11 when the attacks took place. She instead made self-serving statements about bravery (of others) and sacrifice (of others).
Between October 3 and October 12 Hillary made no public statements at all about the Libya disaster, allowing others to bleat in her place.
Hillary did not take responsibility at recent Congressional hearings. She did not even show up. She sent others to testify. Not a one of them said Hillary was responsible, or even involved, in the deadly mistakes State made. None of them mentioned her by name.
Hillary did not take responsibility during the Vice Presidential Debates.
BlameResponsibility was assigned to the anonymous “intelligence agencies” by the Vice President and Hillary sat quiet.
If Hillary is now indeed responsible, let’s see her resignation. Better yet, she can start to act responsibly. Let’s hear her publicly and unambiguously tell us what her role in the decision-making was. Let’s see her demand the State Department’s own Accountability Review Board, now five weeks after the attack, issue a report sometime this decade (or at least before the election.) Let’s hear her exonerate the loyal troops sent to have their heads taken off by Congress last week. Let’s have Hillary state publicly that the witch hunting and scapegoating inside Foggy Bottom will cease because she alone will take the hits, ’cause inside the building the buck isn’t stopping.
Anything less just rubs our noses further into this craven, desperate electioneering crap.
BONUS: State’s other Spartacus-wanna be, Pat Kennedy, told the House last week in defense of Susan Rice that “If any administration official, including any career official, were on television on Sunday, September 16th, they would have said what Ambassador Rice said,” i.e., that the attack in Benghazi was not a pre-planned terror attack but instead merely a reaction to that anti-Islamic video.
Only Pat lied.
On September 12 in an unclassified, half-hour conference call with staff aides to House and Senate lawmakers from relevant committees, and leadership offices, Pat said that he was convinced the assault was planned due to its extensive nature and the proliferation of weapons.
What is Important
Isn’t there a single reporter who will ask Hillary why only now has she determined that she is the responsible one, and challenge her that her “claim” is nothing but party politics?
Will no one ask Obama (or Hillary) to comment on Obama’s July 2012 statement “As president of the United States, it’s pretty clear to me that I’m responsible for folks who are working in the federal government and you know, Harry Truman said the buck stops with you… one of the things you learn is, you are ultimately responsible for the conduct of your operations.”
As for Pat Kennedy, don’t you have any shame at all? Trick question.
Also, anybody else expecting Obama to drone kill some poor random Libyan and claim justice has been done, right before the election, in a weak attempt at an October Surprise?
Anyway, I take responsibility for it all, what the hell, why not.
The evidence that State knew of the security issues in Benghazi, and ignored them, continues to accumulate.
Word is that inside Foggy Bottom everyone is rushing around getting their ducks in line so that someone else takes the symbolic fall for the screw-ups. They’ve got time– the Accountability Review Board will certainly not release anything before the election. Look for a news dump maybe the Friday after Thanksgiving? 2015? The truth will be happily buried, but in reality should be something like this: heavy security cost too much, plus it would make the Clinton narrative that limited-scale intervention in Libya worked look really bad right when her boss is struggling in the campaign. Admitting failure in Libya would also limit options in Syria. So, try and blame it on some video, then on al Qaeda (damn, that always used to work, too) and then find some mid-level person at State to hang.
It Was the Other Guy
One person not allowing himself to be the sacrificial lamb is the former State security officer for Libya, Eric Nordstrom, who is running around Washington telling pretty much everyone who will listen that it was State Department official Charlene Lamb who wanted to keep the number of U.S. security personnel in Benghazi “artificially low,” according to a memo summarizing his comments to a congressional committee that was obtained by Reuters. Nordstrom has also implicated State Department management robot Pat Kennedy in the bloody decision-making. Such plain speaking will otherwise end Nordstrom’s State Department career, and so we welcome him here into liberated We Meant Well territory. Call us for recommendations for lawyers Eric.
Kudos no doubt inside State for Susan Rice being willing to take a bullet in the early days to try and save her boss. Bot now even State is doing a little pointless damage control saying there never was a video-related protest in Benghazi. So Susan, what’s being thrown under the bus feel like?
Whither Diplomatic Security?
Bureau of Diplomatic Security saw its budget expand about tenfold in the decade after the deadly 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Contributing to that growth were the U.S.-launched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq after the September 11 attacks.
So where’d all that money go to if not into protecting places like Benghazi? Former FSO Bill answers:
Don’t be fooled into thinking that the increased budget went to increased personnel and better security. Most of the increased funding is dedicated to Special Agent pensions under Public Law 105-382, which establishes age 57 as the mandatory retirement age for Special Agents, and computes their annuity at 2.5% of high 3 average salary times number of years. This is far more generous, and far more expensive than pension benefits for other State employees. In the late 90s, both State and ICE scrambled to get their officers designated as Special Agents, a designation previously limited to fewer agencies. While it was a prestige and morale issue for both agencies, it has had a major impact on budget expenditures. Those who complain that military pensions are too generous should note that DS uses the same formula as the military, but DS average salaries are much higher than military salaries. Once they retire with a really good pension, they can come right back as contractors, who don’t have any requirement to retire at age 57. That’s where the money goes.
On Wednesday, the House Oversight Committee will hold a hearing “The Security Failures of Benghazi,” featuring Pat “Blood on his Hands” Kennedy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Programs Charlene “It Wasn’t Me” Lamb, Eric Nordstrom and Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, who lead the security team in Libya until August. Be sure to set your bullshit detectors to stun.
Expect Kennedy to say something like “who could have anticipated this?” Well, Pat old chum, in a country where you are paying staff 30% additional danger pay, it seems real to expect things.
But where is Hillary? Turns out her last public statement on the Libya fiasco was October 3, a week ago, another empty promise that “the men and women who serve this country as diplomats deserve no less than a full, accurate accounting.”
Despite her usual lofty rhetoric, Hillary has had nothing more to say and won’t testify before the House. As soon as the real scrutiny begins, Hillary dummies up.
Looking ahead to the Hillary Clinton presidential run in 2016, opposition researchers, please bookmark this page.
State needs to make a decision. If State wishes to populate diplomatic establishments in active war zones, it must a) wait to create a permanent secure facility; b) pay for what is needed to create an appropriate temporary facility; or c) simply accept that diplomats will die for these political decisions.
State instead wants to fulfill the short-term political suck up goal of staffing hot spots without paying the cost of proper security. As such, it is just a matter of time and chance that more places are not overrun.
State is trying to treat Benghazi as some grand exception/accident when in fact it is just the first of many possibles. Post 9/11 very little has changed in the internal architecture of Diplomatic Security. They are still using the pre-9/11 model of relatively low-key civilian security, host country support and on-the-cheap local guard hires.
Instead, the nasty truth is that the new model is Baghdad– an armed camp inside hostile territory wholly independent of host government assistance, ’cause there ain’t gonna be none.
Of course the other idea would be to abandon the wet dream that State needs to staff active war zones. What’s the point anyway? Prior to the Iraq war porn fantasy, diplomats were withdrawn until a country stabilized.
(This 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.
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.
(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.
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?
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!!!!!!!!!!!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
— 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
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?
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
You don’t have to know anything, or have any specific background or training, to be the president’s personal representative abroad and conduct foreign policy on behalf of the World’s Most Powerful Nation (c). You do have to donate heavily to the president to buy one of those appointments.
Back during my own 24 years working for the State Department as a diplomatic serf my mother asked what I’d have to do to make ambassador. The answer was simple: dad needed to die young, and mom should donate the entire inheritance to the winner of the next presidential election. I’d get appointed and hobnob with State’s elite!
For so many reasons, I am glad dad is still alive.
What is an Ambassador?
The U.S. ambassador is the head of the embassy in a particular country, and serves as the senior representative for the United States there. S/he interacts personally with important leaders of the host country, negotiates on behalf of the U.S. and serves as America’s public face and mascot, appearing in the media, making public appearances and hosting social events that in some parts of the world are the primary venue for serious business. Some say it’s an important job. Guys like Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson did it once.
Embassies are otherwise primarily staffed by foreign service officers, folks from the State Department who are diplomatic professionals. The question here is between those two groups– political hacks or trained professionals– who should be an ambassador?
Is the U.S. Exceptional?
The U.S. is exceptional, because every other major country in the entire known universe answered the question already: being an ambassador is a job for professionals. It makes sense that a person who likely has already served in a country, who probably speaks the language and who is familiar both with U.S. foreign policy and the mechanics of diplomacy might do a better job than a TV soap opera producer who turned over $800,000 to the president’s campaign (true; see below.) Why, in almost any other setting other than U.S. politics, that would be called corruption.
A quick note to people of the internet. Every political party in power doles out ambassadorial appointments as patronage, and has, from the 19th century to the present day. Democrats, Republicans, Whigs, the Boston Tea Party and all the rest did it and do it. Obama is slightly ahead of the 30 percent historical average, though many pundits are over-weighing his second term picks because he is filling his First Class (i.e., political posts) before the generally mediocre locations allocated to career jobs. This is true bipartisan sleaze, an issue we can all get into regardless of our views on other issues.
Yet despite the clear record of patronage, the State Department insists that political campaign donations have nothing to do with diplomatic nominations. “Either giving or not giving money doesn’t affect either way. It doesn’t make you more or less qualified,” deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters this week. Talk about your credibility. You could almost watch it drain out of the spokeswoman as she spoke the words with a straight face.
Why It Matters
Many, many politically appointed ambassadors are frighteningly unqualified. Sure, many don’t have a clue about the country they’ll serve in and very, very few have any language skills or experience in diplomacy. Some haven’t even been abroad, except maybe a bus tour or two. The latest crop, however, are reaching new heights of stupidity:
–The nominee to China admitted he’s no expert on China;
–The nominee to Argentina never set foot there and speaks no Spanish. Same for the nominee to Iceland, who never visited and also does not speak Spanish, though that is less important in Iceland;
–The nominee to Norway insulted their government in his Senate approval hearing (he was approved by the Senate anyway!)
–Then there is Colleen Bell, the nominee for Hungary, whose qualifications include being the producer of “The Bold and the Beautiful” TV soap opera, and of course raising $800,000 for Obama. She stammered her way through testimony to the point where John McCain basically begged her to just shut up as a kind of mercy killing.
Political Appointees in the Wild
What happens to these kinds of boneheads abroad is not hard to imagine. Some wonderfully extreme cases include the American ambassador to Finland, who sent out official Christmas cards with him in “Magic Mike” beefcake poses and whose signature accomplishment is basically renovating his own office. A political appointee ambassador to Kenya paralyzed his embassy with personnel demands, including internet access in his executive toilet. The political appointee ambassador to Belgium was accused of soliciting sexual favors from prostitutes and minor children.
As for many other political appointees, some, like Caroline Kennedy in Japan, understand they are just living photo-ops and stay out of the way of the adults working (which may sum up Kennedy’s entire life.) A few appointees become sentient and actually turn out to be decent managers based on their business backgrounds before being sidelined by State’s incestuous culture. The best political appointees are old pols like Howard Baker, whose Washington connections and political savvy make them at least effective stooges for the president’s personal political agenda, if not always America’s.
Why It May Not Matter
The bad news is that there are equal inconsistencies on the side of State Department professionals who become ambassadors outside the political appointee spoils system.
Many, especially to smaller nations (think Africa, parts of the Middle East), have spent most of their careers in the neighborhood, and have built up significant, trusted relationships. Many of these career ambassadors got to know young leaders long ago, and have kept the relationship intact as those men and women ascended into positions of authority. Pretty cool to call your old buddy and sort out a diplomatic problem using first names and shared experiences as a base.
There are exceptions to excellence; watch one of our career ambassador’s in a Congressional hearing not know how much money his embassy is spending in Afghanistan nor the U.S. death toll for the year.
Unfortunately, even for out-of-the-way places, it is very hard to make it to ambassador without sucking up to State’s big shots, even if you have the chops to do the job well. Every careerist at State (i.e., everyone) wants that title, the big house and the limo that comes with the job. As an autocracy, just being the most qualified for anything inside State is rarely enough. That leaves plenty of suck ups, wankers and toadies of the higher ups mucking around to get into an ambassador’s chair. It’s unavoidable.
The last sticking point on why foreign service officers can make lousy ambassadors is the dual nature of the job. While in most cases the ambassador’s primary task is headline-level “policy,” s/he also is the head of the embassy. Many administrative and personnel issues rise to the ambassador’s office. Most State Department ambassadors have gotten as far as they did based nearly 100 percent on those policy things, and many thus make very poor managers. The best defer the decisions to their own management staff; the worst dive in, wielding power without responsibility and the very worst use the position to settle old scores and promote the interests of their own lickspittles.
Why It Really, Really Doesn’t Matter
Critics of political appointee ambassadors inside State are quick to point out that people don’t get appointed as generals in the military. Senior leaders in the Army are expected to have come up through the ranks. Admirals have captained ships. Marine generals have eaten snakes, that sort of thing.
The reason big campaign donors don’t get appointed as generals in the military is because what generals do can matter, matter beyond at least embarrassing the nation. Not to say all or even most generals make the right calls, but to say that generals need technical knowledge of the services they work for, and the decisions they make literally affect lives and can shape world events.
Ambassadors are increasingly becoming curios left over from a distant past, before instant worldwide telephone and internet communications, before senior White House officials could jet around the world, a past when ambassadors actually had to make big decisions in far-off places. Nowadays most ambassadors don’t change their socks without “conferring with Washington.” Their own jobs matter less and less, as does the State Department they work with.
So never mind ambassador slots, which often stay empty for months as donors wrangle for the prime positions. A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report shows that more than one fourth of all U.S. State Department Foreign Service positions are either unfilled or are filled with below-grade employees. These vacancies and stretches at State are largely unchanged from the last time the GAO checked in 2008.
In government, what matters most gets funded most. There are more military band members than State Department foreign service officers. The whole of the Foreign Service is smaller than the complement aboard one aircraft carrier. The State Department is now a very small part of the pageant. The Transportation Security Administration has about 58,000 employees; the State Department has 22,000. The Department of Defense has nearly 450,000 employees stationed overseas, with 2.5 million more in the U.S.
In an age of military ascendancy, when State and diplomacy are seen as tools to buy time for later military action instead of as potential solutions themselves, it just might not matter who is ambassador anymore. Of course the man or woman in the chair might best avoid sexual solicitation of minors and inane, embarrassing acts, but really, that’s just a nice thing, not a requirement.
Old-school political patronage was about giveaways, handing over some largely ceremonial job to a hack. The medieval kings had it down, appointing dukes and grand viziers and equipping them with plumed hats and lots of gold braid while ensuring they stayed out of the way.
Political appointee or career foreign service officer as ambassador? Why does it matter?
In the 1960s, John Kerry was distinctly a man of his times. Kennedy-esque, he went from Yale to Vietnam to fight in a lost war. When popular sentiments on that war shifted, he became one of the more poignant voices raised in protest by antiwar veterans. Now, skip past his time as a congressman, lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, senator, and presidential candidate (Swift Boated out of the race by the Republican right). Four decades after his Vietnam experience, he has achieved what will undoubtedly be the highest post of his lifetime: secretary of state. And he’s looked like a bumbler first class. Has he also been — once again — a true man of his time, of a moment in which American foreign policy, as well as its claim to global moral and diplomatic leadership, is in remarkable disarray?
In his nine months in office, Kerry’s State Department has one striking accomplishment to its name. It has achieved a new level of media savvy in promoting itself and plugging its highest official as a rock star, a world leader in his own right (complete with photo-ops and sophisticated image-making). In the meantime, the secretary of state has been stumbling and bloviating from one crisis to the next, one debacle to another, surrounded by the well-crafted imagery of diplomatic effectiveness. He and his errant statements have become global punch lines, but is he truly to blame for his performance?
If statistics were diplomacy, Kerry would already be a raging success. At the State Department, his global travels are now proudly tracked by the mile, by minutes flown, and by countries visited. State even has a near-real-time ticker page set up at its website with his ever-changing data. In only nine months in office, Kerry has racked up 222,512 miles and a staggering 482.39 hours in the air (or nearly three weeks total). The numbers will be going up as Kerry is currently taking a 10-day trip to deal with another NSA crisis, in Poland this time, as well as the usual hijinks in the Middle East. His predecessor, Hillary Clinton, set a number of diplomatic travel records. In fact, she spent literally a full year, one quarter of her four years in office, hopscotching the globe. By comparison, Cold War Secretary of State George Schultz managed less than a year of travel time in his six years in office.
Kerry’s quick start in racking up travel miles is the most impressive aspect of his tenure so far, given that it’s been accompanied by record foreign policy stumbles and bumbles. With the thought that frenetic activity is being passed off as diplomacy and accomplishment, let’s do a little continent hopping ourselves, surveying the diplomatic and foreign policy terrain the secretary’s visited. So, fasten your seatbelt, we’re on our way!
We’ll Be Landing in Just a Few Minutes… in Asia
Despite Asia’s economic importance, its myriad potential flashpoints, and the crucial question of how the Sino-American relationship will evolve, Kerry has managed to visit the region just once on a largely ceremonial basis.
Diplomatically speaking, the Obama administration’s much ballyhooed “pivot to Asia” seems to have run out of gas almost before it began and with little to show except some odd photos of the secretary of state looking like Fred Munster in Balinese dress at the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference. With President Obama then trapped in Washington by the shutdown/debt-ceiling crisis, Kerry seemed like a bystander at APEC, with China the dominant presence. He was even forced to suffer through a Happy Birthday sing-along for Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the meantime, the economy of Washington’s major ally, Japan, remains sleepy, even as opposition to the U.S.-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade pact grows and North Korea continues to expand its nuclear program seemingly unaffected by threats from Washington.
All in all, it’s not exactly an impressive picture, but rest assured that it’ll look as fetching as a bright spring day, once we hit our next stop. In fact, ladies and gentlemen, the pilot now asks that you all return to your seats, because we will soon be landing…
… in the Middle East
If any area of the world lacks a single bright spot for the U.S., it’s the Middle East. The problems, of course, extend back many years and many administrations. Kerry is a relative newcomer. Still, he’s made seven of his 15 overseas trips there, with zero signs of progress on the American agenda in the region, and much that has only worsened.
The sole pluses came from diplomatic activity initiated by powers not exactly considered Washington’s closest buddies: Russian President Putin’s moves in relation to Syria (on which more later) and new Iranian President Rouhani’s “charm offensive” in New York, which seems to have altered for the better the relationship between the two countries. In fact, both Putin’s and Rouhani’s moves are classic, well-played diplomacy, and only serve to highlight the amateurish quality of Kerry’s performance. On the other hand, the Obama administration’s major Middle East commitment — to peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians — seems destined for a graveyard already piled high with past versions of the same.
Meanwhile, whatever spark remained of the Arab Spring in Egypt was snuffed out by a military coup, while the U.S. lamely took forever just to begin to cut off some symbolic military aid to the new government. American credibility in the region suffered further damage after State, in a seeming panic, closed embassies across the Middle East in response to a reputed major terror threat that failed to materialize anywhere but inside Washington’s Beltway.
Prince Bandar bin Sultan of Saudi Arabia was once nicknamed “Bandar Bush” for his strong support of the U.S. during the 1991 Desert Storm campaign and the Bush dynasty. He recently told European diplomats, however, that the Kingdom will launch a “major shift” in relations with the United States to protest Washington’s perceived inaction over the Syria war and its overtures to Iran. The Saudis were once considered, next to Israel, America’s strongest ally in the region. Kerry’s response? Fly to Paris for some “urgent talks.”
Meanwhile, the secretary of state has made no effort to draw down his fortress embassy in Baghdad, despite its “world’s largest” personnel count in a country where an American invasion and nine-year occupation resulted in a pro-Iranian government. Memories in the region aren’t as short as at the State Department, however, and Iraqis are unlikely to forget that sanctions, the U.S. invasion, and its aftermath resulted in the deaths of an estimated 4% of their country’s population. Kerry would be quick to condemn such a figure as genocidal had the Iranians or North Koreans been involved, but he remains silent now.
State doesn’t include Turkey in Kerry’s impressive Middle Eastern trip count, though he’s traveled there three times, with (again) little to show for his efforts. That NATO ally, which refused to help the Bush administration with its invasion of Iraq, continues to fight a border war with Iraqi Kurds. (Both sides do utilize mainly American-made weapons.) The Turks are active in Syria as well, supporting the rebels, fearing the Islamic extremists, lobbing mortar shells across the border, and suffering under the weight of that devastated country’s refugees. Meanwhile — a small regional disaster from a U.S. perspective — Turkish-Israeli relations, once close, continue to slide. Recently, the Turks even outed a Mossad spy ring to the Iranians, and no one, Israelis, Turks, or otherwise, seems to be listening to Washington.
Now, please return your tray tables to their upright and locked position, as we make our final approach to…
… Everywhere Else
Following more than 12 years of war with thousands of lives lost, Kerry was recently reduced to begging Afghanistan’s corrupt president, Hamid Karzai, to allow a mini-occupation’s worth of American troops to remain in-country past a scheduled 2014 tail-tucked departure by U.S. combat troops. (Kerry’s trip to Afghanistan had to be of the unannounced variety, given the security situation there.) Pakistan, sporting only a single Kerry visit, flaunts its ties to the Taliban while collecting U.S. aid. As they say, if you don’t know who the patsy is at a poker game, it’s you.
Relations with the next generation of developing nations, especially Brazil and India, are either stagnant or increasingly hostile, thanks in part to revelations of massive NSA spying. Brazil is even hosting an international summit to brainstorm ways to combat that agency’s Internet surveillance. Even stalwart Mexico is now lashing out at Washington over NSA surveillance.
After a flurry of empty threats, a spiteful passport revocation by Kerry’s State Department, a bungled extradition attempt in Hong Kong, and a diplomatic fiasco in which Washington forced the Bolivian president’s airplane to land in Austria for a search, Public Enemy Number One Edward Snowden is settling into life in Moscow. He’s even receiving fellow American whistleblowers as guests. Public Enemy Number Two, Julian Assange, continues to run WikiLeaks out of the Ecuadoran embassy in London. One could argue that either of the two men have had more direct influence on America’s status abroad than Kerry.
Now, please return to your seats, fasten your seat belts, and consider ordering a stiff drink. We’ve got some bumpy air up ahead as we’re…
… Entering Syrian Airspace
The final leg of this flight is Syria, which might be thought of as Kerry’s single, inadvertent diplomatic accomplishment (even if he never actually traveled there.)
Not long before the U.S. government half-shuttered itself for lack of funds, John Kerry was point man for the administration’s all-out efforts to attack Syria. It was, he insisted, “not the time to be silent spectators to slaughter.” That statement came as he was announcing the recruitment of France to join an impending U.S. assault on military facilities in and around the Syrian capital, Damascus. Kerry also vociferously beat the drums for war at a hearing held by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
His war diplomacy, however, quickly hit some major turbulence, as the British parliament, not eager to repeat its Iraq and Afghan misadventures, voted the once inconceivable — a straightforward, resounding no to joining yet another misguided American battle plan. France was soon backing out as well, even as Kerry clumsily tried to soften resistance to the administration’s urge to launch strikes against Bashar al-Assad’s regime with the bizarre claim that such an attack would be “unbelievably small.” (Kerry’s boss, President Obama, forcefully contradicted him the next day, insisting, “The United States military doesn’t do pinpricks.”)
Kerry had his moment of triumph, however, on a quick stop in London, where he famously and offhandedly said at a news conference that war could be avoided if the Syrians turned in their chemical weapons. Kerry’s own State Department issued an instant rejoinder, claiming the statement had been “rhetorical.” In practically the same heartbeat, the Russians stepped into the diplomatic breach. Unable to walk his statement back, Kerry was humiliatingly forced to explain that his once-rhetorical remark was not rhetorical after all. Vladimir Putin then arose as an unlikely peacemaker and yes, Kerry took another trip, this time to “negotiate” the details with the Russians, which seems largely to have consisted of jotting down Russian terms of surrender to cable back to Washington.
His “triumph” in hand, Kerry still wasn’t done. On September 19th, on a rare stopover in Washington, he claimed a U.N. report on Syria’s chemical weapons stated that the Assad regime was behind the chemical attack that had set the whole process in motion. (The report actually said that there was not enough evidence to assign guilt to any party.) Then, on October 7th, he effusively praised the Syrian president (from Bali) for his cooperation, only on October 14th to demand (from London) that a “transition government, a new governing entity” be put in place in Syria “in order to permit the possibility of peace.”
As for Kerry’s nine-month performance review, here goes: he often seems unsure and distracted, projecting a sense that he might prefer to be anywhere else than wherever he is. In addition, he’s displayed a policy-crippling lack of information, remarkably little poise, and strikingly bad word choice, while regularly voicing surprising new positions on old issues. The logical conclusion might be to call for his instant resignation before more damage is done. (God help us, some Democratic voters may actually find themselves secretly wondering whether the country dodged a bullet in 2004 when George W. Bush won his dismal second term in office.)
In his nine months as secretary of state, Kerry, the man, has shown a genuine capacity for mediocrity and an almost tragicomic haplessness. But blaming him would be like shouting at the waiter because your steak is undercooked.
Whatever his failings, John Kerry is only a symptom of Washington’s lack of a coherent foreign policy or sense of mission. Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has been adrift, as big and dangerous as an iceberg but something closer to the Titanic. President Bush, the father, and President Clinton, the husband, had at least some sense of when not to overdo it. They kept their foreign interventions to relatively neat packages, perhaps recognizing that they had ever less idea what the script was anymore.
Waking up on that clear morning of September 12, 2001, the administration of Bush, the son, substituted a crude lashing out and an urge for total domination of the Greater Middle East, and ultimately the planet, for foreign policy. Without hesitation, it claimed the world as its battlefield and then deployed the Army, the Marines, the Navy, the Air Force, growing Special Operations forces, paramilitarized intelligence outfits, and drone technology to make it so. They proved to be good killers, but someone seemed to forget that war is politics by other means. Without a thought-out political strategy behind it, war is simply violent chaos unleashed.
Diplomacy had little role in such a black-and-white world. No time was to be wasted talking to other countries: you were either with us or against us. Even our few remaining friends and allies had a hard time keeping up, as Washington promoted torture, sent the CIA out to kidnap people off the streets of global cities, and set up its own gulag with Guantanamo as its crown jewel. And of course, none of it worked.
Then, the hope and change Americans thought they’d voted into power in 2008 only made the situation worse. The Obama administration substituted directionless-ness for idiotic decisiveness, and visionless-ness for the global planning of mad visionaries, albeit with much the same result: spasmodic violence. The United States, after all, remains the biggest kid on the block, and still gets a modicum of respect from the tiny tots and the teens who remember better days, as well as a shrinking crew of aid-bought pals.
The days of the United States being able to treat the world as its chessboard are over. It’s now closer to a Rubik’s Cube that Washington can’t figure out how to manipulate. Across the globe, people noted how the World’s Mightiest Army was fought to a draw (or worse) in Iraq and Afghanistan by insurgents with only small arms, roadside bombs, and suicide bombers.
Increasingly, the world is acknowledging America’s Kerry-style clunkiness and just bypassing the U.S. Britain said no to war in Syria. Russia took over big-box diplomacy. China assumed the pivot role in Asia in every way except militarily. (They’re working on it.) The Brazilian president simply snubbed Obama, canceling a state visit over Snowden’s NSA revelations. Tiny Ecuador continues to raise a middle finger to Washington over the Assange case. These days, one can almost imagine John Kerry as the wallflower of some near-future international conference, hoping someone – anyone — will invite him to dance.
The American Century might be said to have lasted from August 1945 until September 2001, a relatively short span of 56 years. (R.I.P.) John Kerry’s frantic bumbling did not create the present situation; it merely added mirth to the funeral preparations.
(A version of this story also appeared on Huffington Post, February 5, 2013)
Kids and music go together beautifully. Free from pretensions, children play from their hearts. Put that beauty into an international setting– in this case, young people from war-torn Afghanistan coming to the U.S. to perform traditional songs at the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall– and it becomes something of poetry, a breath of peace, a vision of a better world.
“Normally, Afghan girls are not picking traditional instruments,” one young musician said in an interview. “I am one of the first. It’s an honor to play with the orchestra and to act as an ambassador for Afghan music and culture.” “Music can play a role in bringing about social changes and breaking taboos,” said another child.
Unless it is all garbage.
Exploitation ‘R Us
This week 47 young Afghans are coming to the U.S. to play music. Their trip is being paid for mostly by the U.S. Department of State. Their school was started and paid for by the U.S. Government and sympathetic U.S. donors, as well as the World Bank. While the pure of heart might imagine those young girls’ sentiments about social change and women’s rights are coming from somewhere deep inside of their souls, they more than likely were fed to them by their handlers at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
Not that the Embassy is trying to hide either its true intentions.
“The Afghanistan National Institute of Music is an example of how far education, culture and youth have advanced since the fall of the Taliban,” said Eileen O’Connor, director of communications and public diplomacy for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the State Department. “We wanted Americans to understand the difference their tax dollars have made in building a better future for young people, which translates into reduced threats from extremists in the region.”
I’d heard this song before; we did the same thing in Iraq. Take the story of Operation Little Yasser. We singled out one orphan and built a whole phony project around him, something about bringing a greenhouse to an orphanage so the kids could heal by growing squash. The kid, Yasser, was just a prop for the media to write stories about, describing him as a “sweet, fragile child, whose soulful eyes reveal some of the heartbreak he’s endured.” The kid did not get anything out of his exploitation, kids rarely do, but the Embassy sure got some PR miles out of Yasser’s crummy life. Who knows if the orphanage ever got the greenhouse?
Bottom line: The State Department is sending these young Afghans to the U.S. to perform for Americans so that those Americans can see “the difference their tax dollars have made.” That’s a pretty bold statement given how, under even the best of narcotic influence, progress in Afghanistan over the course of the twelve years of U.S.-initiated war has been “uneven.” One is left with the distinct sense that one is being played, not unlike those traditional instruments, with cute kids and soothing music used to sell a meme that is blatantly untrue and make us feel better that the United States is still engaged in nation-building abroad despite the president’s promises to do it at home.
The selling of that meme is also expensive. The two-week tour of the 47 kids is going to cost $500,000, $350,000 of which is being paid by the U.S. Embassy in Kabul using American tax dollars. That works out to more than $10,000 per kid, suggesting either some pretty swanky accommodations or a subcontractor getting rich. Like the war itself, propaganda isn’t cheap.
But what propaganda effort is worth its cost without Ryan Crocker, former U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan, who oversaw the failed U.S reconstruction efforts in Iraq? Crocker, now at Yale (of course), said that “I think I can speak for all donors that support the institute, that helping indigent children is worthy in and of itself, but the school also creates a human bulwark that is effectively saying, ‘Never again. Those people will never rule us again.’ ”
It’s Actually Worse
While doing the same kind of development work in Iraq, chronicled in my book We Meant Well: How I Lost the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, I saw the U.S. spend money on cultural projects, translations of American classic novels into Arabic, pastry lessons for widows, producing plays with deep moral messages, sponsoring art shows and paintings. None of it helped Iraq in the end. What I learned is that while using U.S. tax money to propagandize Americans is bad, and exploiting children for political purposes is worse, the waste of money on such feel-good projects as the Afghan children’s music tour has an even darker side.
The thing most folks say about this sort of cultural spending is that it is wasteful (yes, but by small amounts when the overall war costs one billion a week) but that really, at the end of the day, what was the harm? If someone enjoyed a play or some music, or a widow baked some wonderful date tarts, what was the harm? What’s wrong with helping a few kids?
While there is nothing inherently wrong with helping children, the harm of these programs is this: We wanted to leave Iraq (and soon, Afghanistan) stable and safe. But how did we advance those goals when we spent our time and money on obviously pointless things, while most people lacked access to clean water, or regular electricity, or hospitals. Another State Department official in Iraq wrote in his weekly summary to me, “At our project ribbon-cuttings we are typically greeted now with a cursory ‘thank you,’ followed by a long list of crushing needs for essential services such as water and power.” How could we help stabilize Iraq when we acted like buffoons? Spending money on plays and art shows must have seemed like insanity, or stupidity, or corruption, or all three. As one Iraqi told me, “It is like I am standing naked in a room with a big hat on my head. Everyone comes in and helps put flowers and ribbons on my hat, but no one seems to notice that I am naked.”
What will become of these young Afghan musicians when the U.S., searching for a new propaganda meme or just tired of Afghanistan in general, turns off the money tap? Why isn’t the Afghan government building such music schools themselves? Why, after twelve years of war, is the only thing we can think of to do in Afghanistan is to spend $500,000 on a propaganda tour? Indeed, to what life will these 47 young musicians return when the U.S. government no longer has a need for them? There, sadly, lies the long-term harm, long after the music has faded.
Photo, above, is of new SecState John Kerry meeting the Afghan musical youth, his statesman legacy dissolving in real time.
A blind man in the dark with ear muffs on knows that something happened in Benghazi, Libya more than a spontaneous angry mob pissed off over a Grade Z video attacked an American Consulate and killed the US Ambassador to Libya.
I hate internet conspiracy theories, and loathe slinging a new one into the mix, but the evidence available adds up one way: the attack, well-planned, was surgical payback for CIA activity in the area. Stevens wasn’t the target at all, he was just a celebrity in the wrong place at the wrong time. The guff about the dumb Prophet movie was the first cover story for the US Government and when that fell apart like cardboard in the rain, the State Department shifted the meme to flag waving over Stevens’ death.
Let’s see what we know:
— The attack was not spontaneous. It involved a large number of men, perhaps as many as 125, fighting in a coordinated fashion, using weapons such as RPGs and mortars on multiple targets. Yes, yes, lots of people carry guns around Libya, but not RPGs and certainly not crew served weapons like mortars. It appears also that the so-called Libyan security forces assigned to protect the Consulate either conveniently disappeared on cue or saw the smack coming down and ran to save themselves. This information is widely available from media outside the US, but scare in US media sources for some reason.
— The attack did not target Stevens. Indeed, famously, his body was only pulled from the ruins of the Consulate by a secondary crowd. Whether the crowd abused the body or dragged it to a hospital, it clearly had no idea or concern for who it held. The Consulate attackers went for documents, and ignored the Ambassador. Stevens just happened to be there, wrong place, wrong time.
— Half the US personnel evacuated out of Benghazi were CIA. While it is common knowledge that the CIA stations personnel abroad, it seems very unusual to have half a mission’s complement to be Agency. The New York Times reports that though the Agency has been cooperating with the new post-Qaddafi Libyan intelligence service, the size of the CIA’s presence in Benghazi apparently surprised some Libyan leaders. The deputy prime minister, Mustafa Abushagour, was quoted in The Wall Street Journal last week saying that he learned about some of the delicate American operations in Benghazi only after the attack on the mission, in large part because a surprisingly large number of Americans showed up at the Benghazi airport to be evacuated.
— In its reporting on the large number of CIA personnel in Benghazi, the New York Times agreed to withhold locations and details of Agency operations at the request of Obama administration officials, who said that disclosing such information could jeopardize future sensitive government activities and put at risk American personnel working in dangerous settings.
— The UK’s Independent noted that the Consulate attackers made off with documents listing names of Libyans who were working with Americans, and documents related to oil contracts. This strongly suggests the attack itself may have been a diversion to steal these documents and the Ambassador’s death, in U.S. terms, merely collateral damage. The organized attacking mob did not seem to be primarily interested in looting or stealing computer stuff.
— Many wondered why the media was reporting from early on the deaths of four Americans at the Benghazi Consulate, while Clinton continuously only mentioned two (Ambassador Stevens and computer person Sean Smith). Well, that’s because she did not want to tell us that the other two who lost their lives were “former” Navy SEALS now acting as State Department “contractors.” Even when Clinton finally acknowledged the SEALS’ deaths following widespread press reports, she only mentioned that one’s role was as security for the Ambassador.
Clinton pointedly did not mention what the other SEAL was doing in Libya. That is because the other deceased man was in Libya on an intel mission. The SEAL told ABC News that he was in Libya in the field tracking down and blowing up MANPADS, shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles. The US saw its way to allowing those weapons to be used against Qaddafi and now wants to take them back so they are not used against us. Such ops are not State Department work and fall cleanly into CIA territory.
— The State Department’s curious mix up over who was providing security at the Benghazi Consulate also may point toward other US government Agencies. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland initially said “at no time did we contract with a private security firm in Libya,” while federal procurement records easily Googleable showed a contract for “security guards and patrol services” on May 3 for $387,413.68. An extension option brought the tab for protecting the consulate to $783,000. The contract lists only “foreign security awardees” as its recipient. Was typically fastidious Nuland’s wrong answer simply because she was misbriefed, or was it in fact an honest answer, that the guards were not State Department contractors at all?
According to Danger Room, the State Department frequently hires security companies to protect diplomats in conflict zones. It usually is done through what’s known as the Worldwide Protective Services contract, in which a handful of approved firms compete to safeguard specific diplomatic installations.
In 2010, State selected eight firms for the most recent contract. Blue Mountain wasn’t among them, and the State Department did not explain why the Benghazi consulate contract did not go to one of those eight firms. How the State Department could have even hired a foreign firm outside that blanket contract is unclear. State’s Inspector General had criticized State’s management of personnel security firms, so unilaterally expanding the pool just for one Libyan Consulate seems off base.
— The US government has had a heck of a time getting its story straight over what happened in Benghazi, most famously in sending UN ambassador and attack dog Susan Rice around to claim the attack was purely spontaneous even as the White House backed away from the idea. We’ve already mentioned Clinton’s duplicity over the identities and roles of the two deceased American “ex-” SEALS. Even long-time State drone Patrick Kennedy, Under-Secretary at the State Department, said at one point he was convinced the assault was planned due to its extensive nature and the proliferation of weapons.
BuzzFeed sums up by saying:
The election-year focus on President Barack Obama meant that the White House had at first been catching most of the heat for the tragedy in Benghazi. It’s certainly true the explanations from White House spokesman Jay Carney and UN Ambassador Susan Rice have strained common sense — mainly, the idea that the attack could be blamed solely on an anti-Islamic video, and that there was a protest outside the consulate at 10 p.m. (there reportedly wasn’t,) among other misleading details. That initial story has crumbled, and it took Robert Gibbs to get the Obama administration back on message on the Sunday shows.
State’s later calling reporter Michael Hastings an “asshole” and telling him to “fuck off” in relation to CNN’s use of Ambassador Steven’s found diary just adds fuel to the make-it-up-as-you-go-along nature of all this.
— Of course, there is a sort of precedent for this, most famously in 1991 when the KGB used a fire in the US Embassy in Moscow as a cover to roam around the building collecting documents,
Look, if all you have to do is tell the truth, it is pretty easy. Making up a cover story on the fly requires revisions. It may not be in our lifetimes that we learn what really happened in Libya, but something more than just a protest gone wild did happen.