Let’s enjoy a quick look at what the U.S. Embassy in Kabul is Tweeting. This is called “social media diplomacy” and is designed to “reach out” to “local” people in the host country and make them love America more. State is kinda shy about saying it, but given the world-wide nature of these things, there is also a sweet little domestic propaganda side to it all. And get this– you pay for all this with your Bitcoins! Have a read:
To begin, like the U.S. Embassy said, Happy Easter to those who celebrate it. Thing is, Afghanistan is remarkably not Christian, and the purpose of social diplomacy is to “reach out,” so opening with the Christian thing might be… awkward? Many Muslims in the target area already characterize the U.S. as a Crusader at war with Islam, so there, there’s that going for us.
Next up the Embassy reTweeted something in Spanish about the U.S. Ambassador visiting one of the Crusader bases in Herat. Apparently the base contains some Spanish troopers, so that’s the linguistic connection sure, but like Christians, there are relatively few Spanish speakers among the local Afghan population.
And on to the domestic side of today’s social diplomacy Tweets, two cheery notes.
The first heralds Afghan efforts to build an new “Silk Road.” The many Afghans still fighting for, with or against the Taliban and/or the U.S., never mind those whose relatives have been blown up by car bombs or drones, may not fully share the vision of progress, but one guesses the whole Silk Road thing is meant more for gullible Americans than gullible Afghans.
The second Tweet doubles down on the good news, this time sharing the breaking story that “U.S. Foreign Policy in South Asia [is] A Vision for Prosperity and Security.” So that’s sorted. The only skeptics on that front might include the relatively few Americans who read the news, and pretty much everyone in Afghanistan.
BONUS: Wait a tick– if the purpose of social media diplomacy is to engage with the local people, why are the Tweets all in English (and Spanish?) Maybe it is like a language tutorial, some kind of “linguistic diplomacy.” There’s also the “issue” that Internet use in Afghanistan varies from 12 percent in Kabul itself, to zero percent lots of other places. The average is about two-three percent. Subtract out of those already low percentages those who do not read English (or Spanish) and those who do not use Twitter and you’ve got a pretty small pool of targets. Anyway, those happy few Afghan web browsers are no doubt the most important people in the country and all that. Besides, you know, social media, Cuban Twitter, youth demographic, whatever.
We are a sad and lonely people, aren’t we?
Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
It has been said that perhaps some Americans are not fully honest on their tax reporting. Some may “forget” to report cash payments here and there, and more than a few will likely exaggerate business and other expenses to score a deduction. It’s a kind of tradition, one that lessens how much tax money the government gets from us Citizens.
So I guess in that context Attorney General and head of the Department of Justice Eric Holder, and former FBI Director Robert Mueller taking advantage of a loophole to not report lots of personal travel at taxpayer expense is just some payback on all you cheaters.
The Government Accounting Office (GAO) works directly for the Congress. In a recent report to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the GAO reminds that federal agencies are usually required to report trips taken by senior officials on government aircraft unless the trips are classified. The point of this reporting is to make sure officials are not using taxpayer money to fly government planes for personal travel (“non-mission purposes.”)
But wouldn’t you know it, the General Services Administration, the executive branch’s kind of one-stop administrative and office manager, created a handy reporting exemption that covers intelligence agencies, even in cases of unclassified personal travel. A CIA official, even if using a government airplane to visit her son at college, would not have to report that misuse to the supposed watchdog agency because of that exemption. The exemption as written by the executive branch never defined what constitutes an “intelligence agency” for this purpose.
The GAO learned that Holder and Mueller decided on their own, again without oversight, that the intelligence agency exemption also applied to them. They never reported their personal use of government aircraft. GAO investigators, however, pried loose enough information to show Holder, Mueller and other Justice Department executives took 395 unclassified, non-mission flights between fiscal years 2009 and 2010, at a cost to taxpayers $7.8 million. Maybe that’s chump change dollar-wise in the overall flood of government waste and fraud, but it certainly does not set a good example when two of the nation’s top law enforcement officials cheat over chump change.
Worse yet, the GAO found Holder’s use of FBI aircraft, which are supposed to be reserved for the agency’s own operations, could hinder the agency’s operations. Since the FBI always has to have a plane on standby for emergency purposes, the agency has had to lease another aircraft while theirs was being used to ferry Justice Department officials.
Anyway, after having been caught red-handed abetting stealing from the public trough, the General Services Administration promised to eliminate the intelligence exemption applying to non-mission, unclassified travel sometime soon. The Department of Justice made no comments on the matter.
BONUS: Secretary of State John F. Kerry, headed to the Ukraine for some effective diplomacy in early March, had his government aircraft detour on his way, stopping in New York so he could meet his just-born granddaughter. State Department officials later characterized the detour as a “refueling stop.” It is unclear what State Department officials called the taxpayer motorcade from the airport to the hospital as.
BONUS BONUS: Senior executives at the Internal Revenue Service were spending hundreds of thousands of tax dollars commuting to Washington from their homes across the country, instead of living in D.C. Many then skirted the law by not paying income tax on their hefty travel reimbursements, as ordinary Americans are required to do. An IRS source told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the most frequent travelers were officials who work in Washington but live in Dallas, Minneapolis and Atlanta, and have been flying to work on the taxpayers’ dime for years.
Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
You might have been mislead by the constant “Blue on Green” attacks, where people in “Afghan Army Uniforms” kill their American comrades. Or that the Taliban still controls whole provinces. Or that drug exports are up since the war started. Or that Kabul is regularly attacked. Or that Afghanistan’s leaders, led by Hamid “Da’ Fresh Prince” Karzai have funneled billions of U.S. dollars into their own accounts in Dubai while flipping off ol’ Uncle Sam. Or whatever is on in Pakistan. Or that after 13 years, trillions of dollars and uncountable loss of life Afghanistan is pretty much still a dangerous, awful place unlikely to host a Spring Break parteeeee anytime prior to the Sun imploding into a black hole (namecheck: Neil Freakin’ Degrassee Tyson!)
Why We Fight
Anyway, forget all that because the ever-reliable Fiscal Times says we won. OK, that’s sorted. Here are some highlights from their recent victory lap article (emphasis and laugh-track added).
First, some Fiscal Times background on the war. Forget 9/11, or bin Laden, or bases. The real reason we have been at war in Afghanistan is revealed to be:
We are fighting an insurgency based in the Pashtuns, a majority ethnic group that has always ruled modern Afghanistan. If the Taliban regained enough support among that base, their overthrow of the Kabul would be very possible.
Not sure how much of that insurgency was there before we arrived, or how much was born because we arrived, but at least it is not 9/11 again.
Afghanistan Doesn’t Really Need a Strong Government
But don’t worry, because we have an ace in the hole:
The saving grace for us is that Afghanistan doesn’t have to have a strong central government.
Good. Despite another recent round of “purple fingers” photos that mean Democracy! the State Department has been right all along. Their total failure to build a strong central government has been part of the plan. Crazy yes, but like a fox.
The Afghan Local Police will Save the Day
It gets better. Fiscal Times:
There are recent reasons for optimism, however. One is the growth of the Afghan Local Police (ALP), which began in 2010 as a program that recruited rural Afghans to protect their own villages. The ALP has been so strategically successful that their authorization has expanded from 10,000 to 30,000 fighters (My Note: That authorization takes the form of the U.S. Congress agreeing to pay for more.) The most recent Pentagon report on the war said that the ALP was “one of the most resilient institutions in the ANSF,” or Afghan National Security Forces, with the ANSF’s highest casualty rate.
I got nothing. If anyone believes a high casualty rate means winning, I can’t top that. Also, here’s a neat argument that the police are just another brand of lawless militia plaguing Afghanistan. Another on when the U.S. suspended training for the ALP because of too many insider attacks. Here’s one about how the ALP engages in human rights abuses such as “rape, arbitrary detentions, forcible land grabs, and other criminal acts” and how the ALP favors warlordism. Anyway, that’s all in the past now.
Key to Victory: Use U.S. Money to Pay Off Warlords. Or Kill Them
The second necessity for victory is a responsible-looking central government with which foreign countries can interact. To be a sustainable recipient of Western aid, Afghanistan simply must have a more sympathetic government than Hamid Karzai or somewhat thuggish local power brokers. Only with a regular supply of Western aid will the Kabul government be able to bribe the regional powerbrokers to tilt towards it, and stay within our commandments. And if they don’t – if they really don’t, and flaunt it – then eventually they may have to die. An American high-end special operations capability in Afghanistan is critical not for Al-Qaeda and other transnational terrorists, but also to drop the hammer if local warlords step too far out of line.
Leaving aside the obvious contradiction that Afghanistan doesn’t need a strong central government and Afghanistan does need a strong central government only a few paragraphs apart, Fiscal Times does get a gold star for turning the use of U.S. money to bribe warlords into paid-for cooperation into a positive thing. In most instances paying protection money to thugs is sort a dead end street (they usually keep demanding more and more money.)
The kill them all idea is just rich. Hasn’t that sort of been the failed policy for the past 13 years? What kind of unmedicated mind can even write that stuff? I’m sure our elite special forces community is also now proud of their role as Mafia enforcers.
Time to Declare Victory and Leave
It is time. Thirteen years of a war that no one can even agree anymore what it is about is enough. If it helps you sleep better, sure, we won. Is that enough? Can we just stick a U.S.-funded knife into this and slink away? Syria is calling.
Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
You’ll be forgiven if you did not know that your Department of State in Pakistan hosted Social Media Summit 2014. A bunch of bloggers gathered under the wings of the U.S. embassy to discuss “Social Media for Social Change.” Panel sessions focused on perennial, go-to U.S. feel good topics such as youth activism, peace promotion, women’s empowerment, and entrepreneurship. Fun fact: those same topics form the “broad themes” of U.S. reconstruction efforts now in Afghanistan, and were our major goals in Iraq.
You could have followed this dynamic event on Twitter via #SMS14. There you can see a sub-theme of the event, awkward selfies by white people, which count as diplomacy nowadays. That’s your American ambassador pictured there, “getting down” with “hip” youngsters prior to their initiation ceremony as Taliban recruits.
The Summit’s Twitter output also includes the Tweet above, sent by the U.S. embassy in Kabul. If anyone can explain in the comments section exactly what the hell that Tweet means, I’ll feel much better about this whole thing.
When I wrote my book about waste, fraud and grotesque mismanagement by the U.S. Department of State in the Iraq War Reconstruction, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, the task was at least sporting.
State bitterly maintained at the time that its work rebuilding Iraq into a Jeffersonian democracy was successful absent the occasional car bomb, and somnolent media played along. Now the job of showing State can’t keep track of its money with both hands isn’t much more than a simple cut ‘n paste job. Let’s watch:
The State Department’s own Office of the Inspector General (OIG) basically writes today’s article for us. In a “management alert” actually posted online, the OIG said:
Specifically, over the past six years, OIG has identified Department of State contracts with a total value of more than $6 billion in which contract files were incomplete or could not be located at all. The failure to maintain contract files adequately creates significant financial risk and demonstrates a lack of internal control over the Department’s contract actions.
Hilarious side note: About those six years of contract shenanigans. The State Department had been without an inspector general position for the past five years, the longest IG vacancy in the government’s history.
Lack of Dollars and Sense from the OIG Alert
– An audit of contracts from the U.S. embassy in Iraq revealed that contracting officials were unable to provide 33 of 115 contract files, representing $2.1 billion. Forty-eight of the 82 contract files that the embassy somehow did have on hand did not contain all required documentation for spending an additional $2.1 billion.
– Files for a Worldwide Personal Protective Services contract Baghdad, with an estimated total cost of $1 billion, were either not accessible or complete.
– A $52 million contract was awarded to the spouse of the employee overseeing the contract (this one?)
– In another case, a State Department contracting officer falsified government technical review information and actually provided the contractor with internal contract pricing information, then tried to hide the $100 million contract from investigators.
– In a separate investigation, a State Department employee allowed the payment of$792,782 to a contractor even though the contract file did not contain documents to support the payment.
– A $2.5 million Bureau of Information Resources Management contract lacked status reports and a tally of the funds expended and remaining on the contract.
Sloppy Contracting… Like a Fox?
State’s horrible disregard for the most basic of accounting is likely just another sad chapter in the saga of comically inept mismanagement that underlies much of what the State Department is anymore.
There is, clearly to at least two or three people in Washington, no greater threat to American safety and security than Cuba. America has had a Cold War hard-on over Cuba for decades, and so spending millions of taxpayer dollars on it, even if it means a lot of that money actually and knowingly gets paid to the Cuban government itself, is OK. Freedom isn’t free.
One of the most recent such events was a failed U.S. government attempt to create a Cuba-only Twitter-like text system, and then to use subscribers’ mobile phones to seed anti-Castro propaganda. The bizarre thinking underlying all this was that such social media would foment “flash mobs” in Cuba that would somehow lead to a people power revolution to overthrow the Cuban government.
Cuba Libre, Cuba Tweet
In 2010, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), best known for overseeing billions of dollars in reconstruction money in the successful campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, decided to create a bare-bones “Cuban Twitter,” using cellphone text messaging to evade Cuba’s Internet restrictions. It was called ZunZuneo, apparently slang for a Cuban hummingbird’s tweet. Like Twitter, get it?
To hide the U.S. government’s involvement in all this, fake companies were established in the Cayman Islands, while DNS spoofing and other naughty tricks were employed to disguise the origin of messages, all with the goal of making sure neither the Cuban government nor the Cuban people knew this was a U.S. propaganda ploy. The plan was, according to documents obtained by the Associated Press, for the U.S. to build a subscriber base through “non-controversial content” such as soccer scores and hurricane updates. When the network reached a critical mass of subscribers, perhaps hundreds of thousands, the U.S. would introduce political content aimed at inspiring Cubans to organize “smart mobs” that would assemble at a moment’s notice a Cuban Spring. One USAID document said the formal goal was to “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society.” This was all at a time when the U.S. fantasized that the Arab Spring would yield the same outbreak of democracy that the Ukrainian Orange Revolution is now famous for.
Hilarious aside: USAID in its internal project documents called hard-core Castro supporters “Talibanes.”
No Hay Problemas
To begin, the propaganda network coincidentally activated shortly after Alan Gross, a USAID subcontractor who was sent to Cuba to surreptiously help “provide citizens access to the Internet,” was arrested. No one claims there is any connection.
As the Cuban government became aware of the program, its users (who had no idea they were unwitting stooges in a USG black op) came under intense suspicion. This may cause Cubans to be wary of participating in future U.S. programs, and/or to be very suspicious of any legitimate third-party programs for fear of ending up in jail.
Because sending the texts needed to participate in the program was quite expensive in Cuba, and because the U.S. sent out thousands of messages itself, significant amounts of U.S. money were paid directly to the Cuban government-owned telephone company. The good news for taxpayers was that the Spain-based front company for this mess negotiated with the Cuban government for a bulk-rate for the texts. Can I get a Viva! from the crowd?
When the service started to become popular and exceed the technical capabilities of what the U.S. set up, the U.S. limited Cubans to only one text a day per person, unlikely to be conducive to creating flash mobs and revolution.
Various problems capped Cuban participation in the program to only about one percent of the total population. At one point USAID claimed this was good, and kept the project “under the radar.”
By mid-2012 Cuban users began to complain that the service worked only sporadically. Then not at all, and ZunZuneo simply vanished. The old web domain is now up for sale by a URL broker. Surprisingly, no takers to date. The ZunZuneo Facebook page is still online, last updated in May 2012. Be sure to hop online and “Like” them.
To hide the program from Congressional scrutiny, the money spent on Cuba was taken out of funds publicly earmarked for Pakistan.
As part of all the texting, a contractor for the project built a vast database about the Cuban subscribers, including gender, age, “receptiveness” and “political tendencies.” This will never be leaked, hacked, stolen or ever come into the hands of the Cuban government so that they can stomp out any legitimate dissent.
A lawyer specializing in European data protection law, told the Associated Press it appeared that the U.S. program violated Spanish privacy laws because the ZunZuneo team illegally gathered personal data and sent unsolicited emails using a Spanish front company. Especially in the wake of the revelations of NSA spying throughout Europe, this is unlikely to have affect on broader relations.
Since USAID, ostensibly a humanitarian aid organization, apparently created several international clandestine front companies, spoofed Cuban telcom networks and funneled money through Cayman Island banks, there is no chance that the CIA had anything to do with any of this.
USAID at one point turned to Jack Dorsey, a co-founder of Twitter, to seek funding for the project. Documents show Dorsey met with Suzanne Hall, a State Department officer who worked on “new media projects.” Ms. Hall, who appears to be about 26, is captured on video here, explaining how cool social media thingies are. Please note the statue of Hillary Clinton on the bookshelf on the right side of the screen.
Nothing in the documents available lists exactly how much this all cost American taxpayers.
Note: As we go to press, the Cuban government is still in power and doing just fine, thank you. Please note that U.S. government efforts to promote freedom in Cuba in no way conflict with U.S. government plans to maintain its off-shore penal colony at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, indefinitely.
“Yes, I’m afraid it is true,” Van Buren admitted under waterboarding that Van Buren also agreed was “clearly not torture in anyway ever.”
“All along I’ve been working under the control of others.”
He Didn’t Mean Well at All
The sham began with Van Buren’s first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People “You see,” the author confessed, “the war, occupation and reconstruction of Iraq was a complete success. Slam dunk. I saw it with my own eyes– the parks, the sparkling superhighways, the children at play, milk and honey out the buttside.”
“My sometime-lover Secretary of State Clinton knew it, too, and wanted to hide the fact that the U.S. was pulling millions of barrels of oil out. See, if the world knew of that black gold, that Texas Tea, flowing into the U.S.’ strategic reserves, it would have deeply upset the Saudis and they would have unfriended us on Facebook, derailing what has become a successful MidEast peace process. After having finally read some of my cables on Wikileaks, the Secretary tapped me to write my book mocking State’s efforts and laying the groundwork for a complacent media to ‘buy’ the story that Iraq was a failure. All the harassment by State after my, er, our, book came out was just subterfuge. In fact, all profits from the book have gone directly to the Hillary for 2016 fund.”
“I Hate the First Amendment!”
As bamboo splints were forced by liberals high on warm tofu and artisanal quinoa under Van Buren’s manicured nails, more confessions came out.
“I freaking hate the First Amendment. All it does is empower one nut job after another to start his own blog. I know nobody reads any of that junk– all the comments on my own blog are computer generated– but it is the point of it all. The Founders clearly intended that line about ‘freedom of the press’ to refer only to breaking the Commie printer’s union that dominated Colonial America.”
“And that Fourth Amendment, unwarranted search and seizure? Please. Opponents of all that are secretly trying to undermine plans for universal gun ownership. If, as the ACLU is planning, hunting dogs are required to have warrants to search for small animals for grown men to kill, hunting– and ownership of automatic weapons capable of dropping sweet, sweet rounds of armor piercing steel into a bunny– will fade away. Poof! No more Second Amendment. And everyone knows the Second is the only cool amendment in the so-called Bill of Rights.”
Ghosts of Van Buren’s Career: A Story of a #Loser
Commentators, reacting to the news of Van Buren’s confession, have also called into question the themes of social and economic inequality in the author’s new book, Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percent
“First, he stole the title, and who cool uses ‘hashtags’ anymore? I happen to know, well, I overheard somewhere,” said one unnamed source, “that Van Buren owns several third world slaves. In fact, in addition to serving his every desire, those same slaves actually wrote the damn book. They begged Van Buren for minimum wage, as he ‘pays’ them only in counterfeit bitcoins. As his own slaves wrote the text decrying the dilution of America’s middle class and the rise of the working poor, the author actually sat back and chortled throughout at the irony. He enjoyed that. He actually enjoyed watching that. The man is sick.”
“And those photos of Pete as an old, fat, bald man? Just part of the scam, the clever bastard,” said an unnamed source. “Those images are designed to elicit sympathy. Dude is actually ripped, with a full head of lionesque hair. I mean, he could step into the movie ’300′ right out of bed.”
Off to Bali
Following the torture sessions (which were in no way torture), rumor has it that Van Buren is off to Bali, where he and Edward Snowden meet regularly to experiment with military-grade peyote, play Minecraft, and draw the cheesy graphics used on the NSA documents.
The State Department had no comment.
Your Department of State spent $400,000 of taxpayer money on a piece of sculpture called “Camel Contemplating Needle” for the U.S. embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan.
The sculpture weighs 500 pounds. The written justification for not putting the project out for competitive bidding includes a cut ‘n paste from Wikipedia about the artist. The State Department says that the sculpture meets the “values of a predominantly Muslim country.”
The price paid, $400,000 of your money, included crating of the sculpture.
The photo above is the actual $400,000 sculpture.
These are the people in charge.
That is all.
I love New York. What other city in the United States has public art openly mocking former Secretary of State and Bush Lickspittle Toady Colin Powell?
In the High Line Park, in the Meatpacking District, stands a bust of Colin Powell, his mighty frame bursting out of well-sculpted living rock. Held in his hand (see arrow) is a vial of fake Iraqi anthrax. The statue mimics Powell’s actual performance at the UN.
Colin Powell, as Secretary of State, lent his considerable credibility and gravitas to the case for war with Iraq. Powell spoke publicly before the UN General Assembly, and privately in depth with America’s allies, about mobile biowar labs, weapons of mass destruction and the imminent danger Saddam Hussein posed. While many people knew Bush was an idiot puppet, and Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld psychopathic fibbers, Powell convincingly represented the United States’ case for war.
Of course, everything Powell said was a lie. If Powell somehow did not know what he was saying was a lie even as the words oozed out of his mouth that day, he soon came to know, as did the rest of the world, that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction, and that the whole 2003 invasion of Iraq was a thin sham. In his autobiography, Powell had this to say:
A blot, a failure will always be attached to me and my UN presentation. I am mad mostly at myself for not having smelled the problem. My instincts failed me. There is nothing worse than a leader believing he has accurate information when folks who know he doesn’t don’t tell him that he doesn’t.
Doing the Right Thing
And of course as soon as Powell found out the intel was not just flawed, but completely made up, he resigned in a dramatic protest and attempt to restore America’s credibility, right? Powell went to the media and told everyone that the Iraq War was started on false pretenses? Nope. He served out his four years as Secretary of State.
Powell-erful stuff. One hopes that the over 4,400 Americans who died in Iraq, the over 100,000 Iraqis who died and the taxpayers who watched a trillion dollars poured into the sand there are equally moved to know that it was all a “blot.” The direct relation between the chaos unleashed by the upsetting of the balance of power in the Mideast through that invasion, and the engorging mess in Syria, Libya and everywhere else, is just a sideshow one guesses to that “blot.”
Colin does love his blots. He said this about Hillary Clinton and the deaths of four Americans at Benghazi:
I think she’s had a distinguished record. And I don’t think that this one incident– which is one of these things that those of us in government have been through many, many times where suddenly an action happens late at night– I don’t think it’s a blot on her record.
It is almost comical to remind that Powell served out his full term as Secretary of State, and was never prosecuted, punished or sanctioned for his lies. He now reportedly earns $40,000 a speech, and is in demand for fundraisers and motivational sales events.
We’ll enjoy your statue in New York City Colin. You eventually will enjoy your time in Hell, cellmates with Robert McNamara, and please spend every day you have left on this planet meditating on the souls of the people who died in Iraq because of your lie, and your utter lack of responsibility in not speaking up. Only cowards remain silent, and that is your legacy. But do enjoy the money. That is your penance.
Captain Phillips Goes to Libya
A major American movie this year was Captain Phillips. It told the story of a brave ship captain (played by American Hero Tom Hanks) and the brave Navy SEALS who recaptured his ship off the coast of Somalia after it was hijacked by pirates who boarded it in international waters.
For more than a week, an oil tanker from somewhere floated in the Mediterranean. The tanker at one point flew a North Korean flag, but even the North Koreans have disavowed any connection. The Libyan government announced they were going to bomb the tanker “into scrap” but somehow that did not happen and the ship put to sea.
On March 17, U.S. Navy SEALS boarded the ship in international waters and seized it. Supposedly no shots were fired, and American Sailors took control of the ship and are sailing it back to Libya. No word on what happened to the “pirates” aboard. The “pirates” were “Libyan rebels” who were seeking “the black market.”
The funny part is that the pirates/rebels, under their militia leader Ibrahim Jadran, had been recruited by the Libyan government to guard crucial oil ports. But eight months ago, they instead seized them, blocked some oil exports, and demanded shared revenues for their eastern region where most of the oil originates. Jadran, for his part, says the Libyan government is corrupt and unfit to rule.
So Why the U.S.?
Why did the U.S. do this? Grab a ship full of oil in international waters?
The oil belongs “to the Libyan National Oil Company and its joint venture partners,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki explained. Those partners included some U.S. companies, which one guesses is the connection to the United States here. Supposedly the Libyan and for some reason the Cypriote governments requested the U.S. to do all this out in international waters.
Psaki also said “Any oil sales without authorization from these parties places purchasers at risk of exposure to civil liability, penalties and other possible sanctions.” This would presumably involve someone suing the pirates for something. The imagine of lawyers parachuting in with the SEAL team is amusing.
Also, per the New York Times, “the American intervention is a salvation to the fragile transitional government in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, which would have faced the loss of its main source of revenue and its sole source of political power if renegade militias succeeded in selling Libya’s oil.”
Libya has seen its oil exports shrink to just 12.5 percent of its output since U.S. led bombing campaign that led to the death of longtime leader Qaddafi. Oops.
So, as a status check, here we are in late Winter 2014: shilling for American oil companies with the SEALS while trying to prop up a crappy U.S. puppet government in a country the U.S. helped turn from stability to chaos. Now, this is payback, or more like rent due: after making the same promises for Iraq and seeing those fall through, the USG is now showing it is indeed a government of its word.
P.S. Denizens of the internet: I get it that the Somali’s boarded Captain Phillips’ ship to steal it, and the SEALS boarded the Libyan tanker to steal it back. The point here is to examine the use of military power for the sleaziest of purposes while trying to bathe it all in the perfume of truth, righteousness and the American Way.
First, a quick recap of how the internet works. People from all over the world put stuff on the web (“posts”). In many cases you the viewer do not know who posted something, when they did it, where they live or where they obtained the information they posted. It is just there on your screen. If the info is of interest, you can link to it, sending instructions via chat, email, HTML, Facebook or whatever to someone else, telling them where to find the information.
The act of linking is analogous to saying “Hey, did you see that article in the Times on page 4? Check it out.” It is kind of what the internet is about. Here’s how the government seeks to criminalize linking from one article on the web to another.
The United States v. Barrett Brown
Barrett Brown is an internet guy. He may or may not have been involved with web naughty boys Anonymous and most certainly was deeply involved with broad free speech issues online. In 2011 Brown posted a link in a chatroom, pointing to data that was obtained during the late-2011 hack of Stratfor Global Intelligence. The link pointed to the Wikileaks site.
The government arrested Brown and charged him with a number of offenses, the most significant of which was for posting that link. The link, the government contended, exposed enormous amounts of credit card information, a crime. Not mentioned by the government, the link also documented discussions of assassination, rendition and how to undermine journalists and foreign governments.
To be clear, neither the government nor anyone else accused Brown of stealing the info himself, or misusing the info to use others’ credit cards, physically possessing the information, hosting it on a server he controlled or anything like that. His crime was simply linking to data that already existed on the internet and which was already available worldwide for viewing.
(To be further clear, Brown is no choirboy. He was once addicted to heroin, is accused of threatening an FBI agent on YouTube and who knows, may be mean to strangers. And so what. What matters is his actions, not his Match.com profile.)
Browns Wins, Though Broader Issues Remain
The Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) supported Brown throughout his arrest. Because the government imposed a gag order on Brown speaking publicly about his situation, friends such as the EFF were critical in keeping the case in the public eye. The significance of Brown’s case was made quite clear by the EFF:
The U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas today [March 5, 2014] filed a motion to dismiss eleven charges against Barrett Brown in a criminal prosecution that would have had massive implications for journalism and the right of ordinary people to share links. EFF has written extensively about the case and had planned to file an amicus brief on Monday on behalf of several reporters groups arguing for the dismissal of the indictment.
Brown, an independent journalist, was prosecuted after he shared a link to thousands of pages of stolen documents in an attempt to crowdsource the review of those documents—a common technique for many journalists. The records came from the US government contractor, Stratfor Global Intelligence and documented discussions of assassination, rendition and how to undermine journalists and foreign governments. They also included thousands of stolen credit card numbers. Brown had no involvement in the hack, but was charged nonetheless with identity theft.
Looking for a Test Case
Though the government in its Motion to Dismiss gave no reasons for its decision, the implication is that while the government was clearly looking to set a precendent on the Brown case, it did not want that precedent to be a loss. Better to let a small fry like Brown swim away than risk the greater principle the government seeks.
Having failed to find any legal or otherwise effective way to deal with sites like Wikileaks, or the publication of classified materials elsewhere on the internet, the government is taking a side-step in seeking to punish those that use, view or handle the material itself.
U.S. Government Orders its Employees to Not Look at Wikileaks and Others
For example, when the Wikileaks information first started pouring out across the web, most government agencies blocked access to the data via their firewalls, claiming the content was still classified and thus could not be viewed on a government computer even while it could be viewed on any other web-connected computer from Cleveland to Karachi. Similar blocks have been put in place to prevent much of the Snowden material from being viewed at work.
Before Barrett Brown, Me
The attempt by the government to punish people for links to “objectionable” material did not start with Brown. Though I can’t promise I was the first test case, I was certainly an early attempt.
In 2010 the Department of State suspended the Top Secret security clearance I had held without incident or question for over twenty years because I linked to a supposedly classified document on the Wikileaks site from this blog.
State referred my linkage to the Department of Justice for prosecution in fall 2010. When Justice declined without reason to pursue the case, State took the non-judicial action of “temporarily” suspending my security clearance indefinitely, because of the link. State claimed that via that link I revealed classified information publicly, a major no-no for cleared personnel and sought to fire me. As in the Brown case, in the end State choose not to pursue charges, again without comment.
There may be other such link cases out there that we do not yet know of. They may be classified, or the parties involved may be under gag orders as was Brown.
There appears little question that the government is testing the concept, looking for a case that it can win that would criminalize linking. From the government’s point of view, the win would pay off handsomely:
– With use of their content criminalized, sites like Wikileaks would slip beneath the world radar. People would be increasingly afraid of reading them, and the crowdsourcing critical to sifting through millions of documents would slow down significantly.
– In cases the government saw as particularly dangerous, people would disappear into jail. With a precedent set in a “good” test case, winning such prosecutions would be rote work for interns. Is there a link? Did Ms. X create the link? Does the link go to classified information? It’s a slam dunk.
– Best of all from a control standpoint, prosecuting links will have a chilling affect. Many people will simply be afraid to take the chance of legal trouble and stop creating links or following them. That will certainly be the case among the main stream media, already far too skittish about security matters. One wonders what effect such prosecuting of links will have on search engines like Google, essentially little more than a collection of links.
Another step toward a post-Constitutionalization of America is the creeping criminalization of everything. If every act is potentially cause for prosecution, the ability of the government to control what people do or say grows.
“You just don’t invade another country on phony pretext in order to assert your interests,” John Kerry said on Meet the Press. “This is an act of aggression that is completely trumped up in terms of its pretext. It’s really 19th century behavior in the 21st century.”
Following Kerry’s comment, laughter could be heard from Iraq (twice), Afghanistan, Libya, many undisclosed parts of Africa, Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria and across the Middle East. Faint chortles echoed out of Grenada, Bosnia, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Snickers in Panama, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and El Salvador.
The Triumph of Syria
Kerry of course had previously brought the joy of laughter to the world in the midst of the last Syrian “crisis.” Kerry clumsily tried to soften resistance to the Obama administration’s urge to launch strikes against al-Assad’s regime with the bizarre claim that such an attack would be “unbelievably small.”
But like any good comedian, Kerry saved the big joke for last, when, in London enflight to the new, bestest war ever, Kerry famously and offhandedly said conflict could be avoided if the Syrians turned in their chemical weapons. In practically the same heartbeat, the Russians stepped into the diplomatic breach, with Vladimir Putin as an unlikely peacemaker. The U.S. did not attack Syria and the show ended with a good belly laugh for all.
Onward to the Ukraine
With Kerry once again taking the show on the road by flying to the Ukraine, all of cable TV has arisen as one demanding options, demanding cards to be played, demanding a catalog of “what the U.S. can do.” As a public service, here is that catalog of U.S. options for the Crimean Crisis:
–Seal Team 6 will infiltrate Russia, ring Putin’s doorbell late at night and run away in Operation DING&DITCH. Ashton Kutcher will lead the Team.
– A senior U.S. Embassy official in Moscow will cluck his tongue and roll his eyes disapprovingly.
– State Department social media rangers will send out Tweets calling Putin a “poopy head.” The Russian translation by State will actually come across as “A green dog’s sandwich” but sure, they’ll get we’re mad.
– The NSA will hack Putin’s web cam sessions, showing him shirtless. Putin himself will turn around and post the video online.
– The NSA will also break into Putin’s NetFlix queue and change everything to romantic comedies and Jack Black movies.
– The U.S. will recruit remaining allies Lichtenstein, Monaco, East Timor and Freedonia to enforce sanctions against Russia.
– The State Department will direct Assistant Secretary for European Affairs Victoria Nuland to say “F*ck the E.U.,” in a recorded conversation with the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt.
– Obama will unfriend Putin on Facebook.
Flashman at the Charge
As is obvious, there is little the U.S. can, should or will do. The more the U.S. swaggers hollowly about the Crimea, the sadder it all sounds.
John Kerry, in what he thought was a stinging remark, labeled Russia’s invasion of the Crimean “19th century behavior in the 21st century.” As usual, Kerry was close to being right without actually realizing what he said.
The 19th century player in this Great Gameis actually the U.S. itself. After following the footsteps of the British Empire into Iraq, after plunging deep into the graveyard of the British Empire in Afghanistan, after fumbling in the British swamp of Pakistan, the U.S. now returns to the land of the Charge of the Light Brigade, the Crimea. Like the Victorian British, the U.S. imagines the world as a chessboard where it can move pieces around with predictable results, shaping world affairs to its own advantage while placing opponents in check. If that was ever true, the events of the last decade demonstrate it is not true anymore.
As with everyone else who failed to learn the lessons of history and thus will be doomed to repeat them, inevitably next, the U.S. will slip beneath the waves as did the British Empire, over-extended, bankrupt and endlessly tied to foreign policy adventures that mean nothing while the world changes around it. It’s been a good run though, right?
The Passion of Ray McGovern
Ray McGovern is a hell of a guy. An Army veteran, he worked for the CIA from the Kennedy administration up through the first Bush presidency, preparing the president’s daily intel brief and other important stuff. Along the way, McGovern began to see the fraud and 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.
McGovern is also a very nice person, soft-spoken, serious, kinda looks like your uncle playing Santa Claus, full of fascinating Cold War history. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Ray. He’s the kind of guy you meet and like almost immediately. I bet he was a hell of a spy.
A Wanted Man
Ray McGovern is also on the State Department’s BOLO list– Be On the Look Out– one of a series of government watch lists.
The old-timey wanted poster State’s Diplomatic Security printed up cites McGovern’s “considerable amount of political activism” and “significant notoriety in the national media” as if those points were somehow relevant to his inclusion on the watch list. Though McGovern is a thin man, age 75 with no history of violence, Diplomatic Security warns that its agents should USE CAUTION (their emphasis) when stopping McGovern and conducting the required “field interview.”
A Dangerous Man
What did McGovern do to end up on Diplomatic Security’s dangerous persons list? His 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 by a from the side by a third man whose name was redacted from public records of the event. Photos of the then-71 year old man 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.
And one more thing: the speech Clinton was making at the time of McGovern’s protest and arrest? She was condemning authoritarian governments who repress dissenters and internet freedom. As McGovern was being dragged out, Clinton stated that “The government does not want the world to watch,” in reference to Egypt, not her America as unfolding before her eyes. Clinton did not acknowledge the arrest, never broke character as it happened.
An Enemy of the State
In old-timey America, that might have been the end of McGovern’s troubles. However, in our post-Constitutional America, it was only the beginning.
Despite all charges having been dropped against McGovern and despite having determined that he engaged in no criminal activity, the Department of State then opened 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.” The investigation ran nearly seven months, and resulted in the Be On The Lookout Alert.
Subjects of such 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 essentially constitutes a standing directive by Diplomatic Security 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. It is easy to see how these directives slash across the Fourth Amendment’s prohibitions against unwarranted search and seizure.
Subjects are also not allowed inside any State Department facility, including embassies and consulates abroad where typical Americans are by treaty allowed to seek refuge and protection. But not for Ray McGovern.
McGovern v. John Kerry
As we’ve said, McGovern is no typical guy. On February 15 he filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State John Kerry and his State Department, as well as George Washington University where the arrest took place, claiming his First Amendment rights were violated by unlawful police misconduct in retaliation for his act of protest. He also is suing over violation of his Fourth Amendment rights due to excessive use of force and his wrongful arrest. McGovern seeks injunctive relief prohibiting the State Department from directing law enforcement stop and question him on sight.
We’ll keep track of the lawsuit and report on its progress.
Why I Know So Much about BOLO Alerts
Information reluctantly made available to me as the State Department sought to persecute, prosecute and /or fire me for my whistleblowing book, We Meant Well, showed that I too was and may still be subject to a Diplomatic Security alert.
After a blog post I wrote in 2011 that was deemed insulting to then-Secretary of State Clinton, and after over two decades of public service, my State Department access card was impounded, I was marched out of the building and I was given a letter stating I was prohibited from entering any State Department facility, domestic or abroad. When a bit of necessary bureaucratic business came up a week or two later, I was told that I could only enter the State Department building as far as the public lobby, where I would be met by the appropriate Human Resources person in the presence of security personnel.
State later was forced to reveal that not only was I placed on its own Diplomatic Security watch list, but also on the Secret Service’s watch list, as they share responsibility for Clinton’s security as a former First Lady. McGovern may want to check on that.
My lawyers sought to have State remove me from the lists. State refused to confirm or deny my continued presence on the lists. State did not respond to my several requests for this information under the Freedom of Information Act.
Diplomatic Security knew of course I was no threat to anyone. I’m a fat old guy, short, and had a clean track record inside the Department since the 1980′s. Same for Ray McGovern; the cops that mistreated and arrested him for standing silently knew damn well he was neither disrupting anything nor a threat. They knew exactly what the First and Fourth Amendments said.
And they didn’t care.
This is what post-Constitutional America is about. The government, from major issues such as extrajudicial drone killings down to the pettiness which preoccupies the bullies in places like Diplomatic Security, no longer cares whether its actions are legal, and no longer cares if everyone knows it.
From the Founders forward, government has always done illegal things, naughty things, things that it knew were likely unconstitutional. What is new is that the acts have scaled up significantly, moving from analog to digital, and that the government is so sure that neither the courts nor the People will object that they no longer even go through the motions of hiding what they do.
Remember, both the Stasi and the Nazis did what they did quite openly, and kept excellent records.
The Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence (SAAII; I am a proud voting member) have voted overwhelmingly to present the 2014 Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence to Chelsea Manning. The award ceremony will be held February 19, 2014 at Oxford University’s Oxford Union Society. Chelsea will send a statement, and SAAII members will be hosted for dinner at the Ecuadoran Embassy in London.
With more than a little irony, while I was in Iraq working for the State Department, Chelsea Manning’s office was across the hall from mine. While I was winning the war by writing emails to the embassy, Manning was across the hall capturing the texts of hundreds of thousands of State Department cables, famously released by Wikileaks, showing that was could never be won.
My war in Iraq ended in near-complete failure. What Manning did will have an impact far beyond that terrible struggle. In this video, I ask the question of why I didn’t do what Manning did, and challenge the audience: when faced with history, would you have the courage to do what Manning did?
BONUS: Seated to my right on the panel is Daniel Ellsberg. On my immediate left is Michael Ratner, one of Manning’s attorneys. The woman on the end is Jesselyn Radack, who currently serves on Edward Snowden’s defense team, and is a whistleblower herself.
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 an article headlined The U.S. Has Finally Outfoxed Hamid Karzai, the occasionally-respected Fiscal Times explains how for months Afghan President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign a long-term security agreement with the United States, causing mounting frustration within the White House and the Pentagon. Now, according to the Times, “it appears as if President Obama and his advisers have finally outfoxed Karzai, marking the end of a long and tumultuous relationship.” The Times:
The White House and DOD have decided not to make any agreement until after April’s presidential elections in which Karzai is not expected to be a candidate. They’ll only make a deal with Karzai’s successor.
“If he’s not going to be part of the solution, we have to have a way to get past him,” a senior U.S. official said of the elected leader. “It’s a pragmatic recognition that clearly Karzai may not sign the (deal) and that he doesn’t represent the voice of the Afghan people.”
By way of perspective, the U.S. has previously outfoxed Karzai by handing him fantastic amounts of unmarked cash and creating a massive, corrupt system in Afghanistan that bleeds the U.S. taxpayer while feeding even more money to Karzai and his family.
(None of the above is satire. It is true. Here’s the satire part.)
Karzai, however, is a sly old fox himself and is thus not easily outfoxed. Unbeknownst to U.S. authorities as the NSA was preoccupied with Beyonce’s selfies folder, Karzai has moved to Washington DC. While the Old Grey Fox first was just using the money he stole from the U.S. to buy up real estate (“giving back”), these days Karzai is shipping hundreds of his relatives, friends and his favorite hired gunmen into the DC suburbs.
“It’s freaking dangerous in Afghanistan, and you crazy Americans want to keep the war going forever,” Karzai exclusively told this blog, “I’ve got ‘graveyard of empires’ printed right on my wallet so its not like the Ambassador doesn’t see it every time we meet, but that dude is crazy. ‘We don’t want another Vietnam, er, Iraq,’ he says. I guess his solution is that as long as the U.S. keeps killing Afghans they can say it’s not over and they haven’t lost. So anyway, who wants to be a part of all that? I’ll just pack up in April and let the next jerk to do this job sort it out. I still can’t figure out why the Taliban want this dump anyway.”
“Despite all that, I still like the Ambassador personally. Funny guy. He once gave me a stack of Benjamins just to “like” the embassy Facebook page. Sometimes when the Ambo and I are just kicking back with a few 40′s he talks about the U.S. not wanting to lose the gains they’ve made over the last decade in this rat hole. I always end up with beer spraying out my nose when he says that. I mean, look out the window– that goat cost you Americans 75 billion dollars.”
Karzai did get reflective at the end of the interview, remembering his first cash bribe from a then-junior CIA officer. “That guy is now running their whole op here,” said the president. “Twelve years goes by. They just grow up so fast.”
“Anyway, I’m out of here. Somebody tell the U.S. Army ‘last man to die for a bad idea, turn off the light when you leave.’ That’s the expression you guys use in English, yes?” By the way, what do you think about BitCoin as an investment? I’m fat with cash right now and how many Rolexes do you really need?”
Though I believe one of the alleged cables I allegedly wrote while allegedly employed by the alleged Department of State may have alledgedly been included in the 250,000 documents Chelsea Manning most certainly revealed to Wikileaks, I’m not supposed to tell.
But now, thanks to an alert reader (DP, this one goes out to you), I have just found out that I officially made it to Wikileaks.
The “GI Files” (General Intelligence files) published by Wikileaks, feature over five million emails from the Texas headquartered “global intelligence” company Stratfor. They reveal the inner workings of a company that fronts as a publisher, but in reality provides confidential, subscription-based, intelligence services to large corporations, such as Dow, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and government agencies, including Homeland Security, the Marine Corps and the Defence Intelligence Agency.
Wikileaks revealed that on June 13, 2011, one of my blogs posts was blended into an article published by the English-language Jordan Times, which was picked up by the BBC. Stratfor then republished the article, including BBC’s copyright, which included my stuff, as an intelligence product to its paying clients.
Now, the implications of this are several-fold:
– Obviously if you get your news from Stratfor, the BBC or the Jordan Times, stop wasting your time and just read my blog. It’s free.
– How can the BBC copyright something I wrote?
– How can jerks like Stratfor get away with charging people serious coin for republishing things off the internet/BBC/Jordan Times?
– And lastly, I think somebody owes me a check (which I will donate to Wikileaks)
Your move Stratfor.
When a person sees things that aren’t there, hears voices that tell him to do irrational things and insists on believing things that simply are not supported by fact, most psychologists would label that person delusional and seek to help him regain his toehold on reality. When that person does all the same things regarding U.S. aid to Afghanistan, it is called statecraft.
The Obama administration unveiled Monday yet another aid package for Afghanistan. The country remains one of the world’s poorest and most dangerous countries despite a dozen years of massive international aid efforts.
The announcement from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) of three new development initiatives worth almost $300 million is part of a U.S. effort to ensure that Afghanistan, as its ‘war economy’ ends, won’t “reverse gains made over the last twelve years.”
How Much We Have Already Spent
To fully grasp the insanity of yet another initiative that drains taxpayer money into the open sore of Afghanistan, some numbers may help. Over the past twelve years the U.S. has given the Afghans some $100 billion in aid. About half of all “aid” goes directly to the Afghan military. There have also been significant amounts of aid delivered to Afghanistan by other countries and private donors.
The Return on Investment: 80 Percent Never Gets There
The aid money works out to be over $3300 per Afghan, assuming any of the money actually reaches an Afghan. The reality is, according to a Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction auditor, that 70-80% of the money is siphoned off by contractors as overhead.
The Return on Investment: Losses to Corruption
No one knows how much of the money disappears as bribes, graft or outright theft. However, a 2009 U.S. State Department cable disclosed on Wikileaks stated “While reports vary widely, records obtained from Kabul International Airport (KIA) support suspicions large amounts of physical cash transit from Kabul to Dubai on a weekly, monthly, and annual basis. According to confidential reports, more than $190 million left Kabul for Dubai through KIA during July, August, and September.” A 2012 report showed $4.6 billion fled via the Kabul airport, about one-quarter of the country’s gross domestic product. The year before, $2.3 billion in cash left via the airport. In a single incident, the then-Afghan Vice President flew to Dubai with $52 million in unexplained cash.
The Return on Investment: Funding the Taliban
And that’s all the good news because as Douglas Wissing points out in his excellent book Funding the Enemy: How U.S. Taxpayers Bankroll the Taliban, significant amounts of U.S. money are paying for the enemy to keep fighting. U.S. ignorance and naivete in the contracting process sends money to Taliban-affiliated subcontractors, and direct payoffs to warlords and others known to work with the Taliban are made for safe passage guarantees for military supplies.
The Return on Investment: What the U.S. Government Believes
Here’s what the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has to say for itself:
Our work continues to be a vital support to Afghanistan in its efforts to ensure economic growth led by the private sector, establish a democratic and capable state governed by the rule of law, and provide basic services for its people. The Afghan people rejoice in peace and freedom. They are dedicated to working for a better future for the generations to come. USAID assistance is crucial to achieving this goal… Only investment in Afghanistan’s human capital – that is, in its people – will ultimately lead the country to prosperity, peace and stability on a long-term, sustainable basis.
When I wrote my book on the waste and failure of the similar U.S. money hemorrhage in the Iraq War, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, there was no widespread agreement. Many people, both in and out of government, questioned my conclusions. Fair enough, though they were obviously proven wrong.
With Afghanistan, it is difficult to find anyone, outside of a few true believers and U.S. government PR people, who believe the money spent on aid to Afghanistan is not a waste. What charitably could be called at the time a difference of opinion over Iraq allowed the taxpayer money to keep flowing. With Afghanistan, there is no charitable explanation.
One service member characterized the situation as “A war begun for no wise purpose, carried on with a strange mixture of rashness and timidity, brought to a close after suffering and disaster, without much glory attached.” That service member served in the British Army that was destroyed in Afghanistan in 1843.
Delusional. That’s really the only word that applies.
State said using its letterhead for this purpose was against its rules, and after a lengthy process, punished Yamin with a one-day suspension. Yamin challenged this through State’s internal process, and State was forced to rescind the one-day suspension.
The process of defending himself cost Yamin over $71,000, and now he is suing in U.S. District Court for State to reimburse him, as, he contends, they are required to do. The process is headed into Year Two.
CONCLUSION: The people at State are all clearly insane, and taxpayer money is being wasted on disciplinary processes that make no sense and do not stand up to scrutiny.
According to court documents, Yamin was abroad and wrote four papers letters, on State Department printed letterhead stationery (remember that from grandpa’s office?), to the Department of Homeland Security regarding a work visa for his foreign maid. He wanted to bring the maid with him from overseas for his domestic assignment in Boston. That’s what happened, nothing more, nothing less. There were no accusations of fraud or any concerns on the part of State about the contents of the letters per se, only that they constituted “personal” use by Yamin of official stationery.
COMMENT: For better or worse, many Foreign Service personnel bring domestic help from overseas back to the U.S. with them. This is a common thing. When hiring a domestic overseas, the U.S. embassy almost always is officially, directly in involved in the domestic’s visa processing with the host country. In many countries, an actual diplomatic note is formally issued by the embassy. Not withstanding any rules about stationery, it is not unreasonable to believe visa processing within the U.S. might fall within the broad realm of “official” correspondence, especially when the writer did not misrepresent himself i.e., “I am writing on behalf of the Government of the United States to inform you…” or his purpose.
State nailed Yamin for his offensive use of stationery. Yamin fought back, employing a legal team, and won. State was forced to rescind the one-day suspension.
In cases where State loses such grievances, the law allows for reimbursement of “reasonable attorney fees.” Yamin presented documents showing he paid out over $71,000 in such fees. For those of you lucky enough not to live in D.C., lawyers there charge $300 bucks an hour. State said they found only about $12,000 in fees “reasonable,” based on their own finding that Yamin’s lawyers held an “unnecessary” hearing, even though Yamin had a legal right to hold such a hearing. So, faced with over $59,000 in out-of-pocket costs, even though State was found wrong in punishing him as they did, Yamin is back in court suing State for the cash.
Who Cares about the Taxpayer?
At some level, who cares that State enthusiastically punishes lower level employees for minor infractions, while senior people’s actions end up under FBI investigation while they skate away unpunished. That’s just the sad intramural horseplay of a decadent organization eating itself.
What we all should care about is the insane expenditure of taxpayer money in pursuing minor infractions, if they are in fact infractions, especially when State is clearly proven to have erred in its decision. Whatever Yamin did, compared to forced abortions, fake receipts and sex with subordinates in Naples, it was just not that big a deal. Even after Yamin’s lawyers pointed out State’s mistakes, the Department continued to fight to the bone not to admit them. When clearly found in the wrong, State doubled down to not pay legal costs and pushed the case into the courts. A government attorney will have to defend the case and, if State loses, the government will end up paying even more of our money out to Yamin’s attorneys.
What it Means
We have here an organization that has lost contact with the gravity that holds most of us to the earth. Minor things are conflated into big things, while big things are to the limits possible swept under the rug. Senior officials get away with much, lower officials get away with little. Taxpayer money is spent freely and irresponsibly to maintain such a system. Even when it realizes it is in the wrong, State doubles down to try and slam its own employees who dare challenge the great and powerful Oz. If an aggrieved employee does not hire a lawyer s/he is at the mercy of State. If a lawyer is hired, State will punish the grievant financially.
BONUS: State makes no real effort to publish its grievances, and exerts much internal pressure on all parties to not bring the cases into daylight even when public courts are involved. Many thanks to Diplopundit for his/her efforts to keep these cases in front of the taxpayers.
So long Washington DC, and thanks for not much. It’s been on and off for more than twenty years now, and sure, there were a couple of good times. But you know as well as I do we’ve grown apart. It happens, right? And besides, I’ve, well, I’ve met a new one. I’m moving to New York City in a couple of days.
What I won’t miss about DC, well, it’s a long list, but to summarize: DC, you just ain’t all that.
– Look, you all look stupid with those little neck chains and lanyards and ID cards. We all know you work for the government– why the hell else are you here, for the waters? But really, do you have to wear the collar they keep on you all the time? No one is really impressed where you work, so just put it in your pocket when not swiping in and out of your cube farm.
– If you work for an important person, you are not an important person. You are an annoyance whom we sometimes have to placate and grimace through sweet talk with. Get a hold of yourself. And some first-term Congressman from nowhere waiting around for his first C-SPAN interview is not an important person.
– Young women of DC, we are not looking “at you.” We may be amused that you wear flip-flops on the subway in the summer and too far into the fall, or wonder what you have inside that giant bag, or how you are texting continuously for two hours on a subway system lacking connectivity most of the way, but really, we aren’t looking.
– Older women of DC, what do you carry in those large roller bags you take on the subway and block the escalators with? You are obviously not homeless, and are clearly on your way to work. Is there a pup tent in there? Inflatable raft? I have traveled the world and nowhere but in DC do people move around public transportation with their life’s belongings.
– Calling street after street in DC a “neighborhood” does not make it so. Giving those pseudo-neighborhoods NY-like names such as NoMa, SoNa, NoVa or OhNo does not make them NY.
– And real estate prices. Just saying that I’m trading my unimpressive condo in nowhere Virginia that requires a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t bus to get to the so-so subway for a, albeit smaller, condo on Manhattan a block from the subway. Even swap, dollar for dollar. Something ain’t right.
– If one more brew pub, artisanal barbeque store or small plate place opens with yet another rooftop patio (six lawn chairs on a deck) I will scream curses. If one more suburban loser with inked sleeves opens a new place featuring his own unique take on comfort foods like mac n’ cheese (made with artisanal mac, balsamic vinegar and out-of-date crushed Motrin) I will beat him with his own nose ring. In fact DC, just stop doing things as trends that faded last year everywhere else. And for the love of God, “ironic” uses of once-popular music do not fool anyone. High school is over, accept that.
– It takes me 90 minutes to travel three miles anywhere by car in DC. Federal workers on their “flex time” schedules jam the roads at 3pm. The subway system basically does not run in any sense of the word on weekends due to endless track repairs. It also does not run later than my elderly parents’ bedtimes, even on weekends.
– DC people, do remember that for the other 99% of planet earth, saying you are a Senior Fellow means nothing unless you are from Oxford. No one cares that you were a former Deputy Assistant Secretary’s special assistant but your mom and your escort service. And neither of them are really sincere about it.
– Every time more than seven flakes of snow fall is not a snow day. Go to work.
– Most of you government workers still use Blackberries instead of real phones. In some federal agencies being issued a Blackberry is even a status symbol. Keep your state of the art 2002 device to yourself. In the rest of the free world using a Blackberry in public is considered a form of social birth control.
– Free food and booze at receptions is not a challenge.
– That joke about tourists asking where the Smithsonian is (OMG, it is a series of museums, not a place, don’t they even know?) has gotten way old.
– “Like” and “definitely” should not be like, you know, the primary words in like your, like vocabulary. Definitely. Do not use a rising inflection at the end of every sentence. They are not all questions.
– And men, especially you older guys. A trenchcoat over a business suit does not call for a baseball cap, even when it is cold or even if the cap is well-worn and vintage.
Finally DC, if you remember one thing here, remember this. You gotta have something worth being snooty about to pull off snooty. Otherwise you’re just a dick.
(About the photo: The raised finger background image is by Chinese artist and dissident Ai Wei Wei. I posed in front of his photograph at a Washington DC museum. I otherwise do not care much for his art, and while I am glad for his sake he has left China, remain angry that the U.S. makes such a fuss about other nations’ dissidents’ freedom while punishing and prosecuting our own.)
The personal Gmail account of a State Department whistleblower, Richard P. Higbie, a diplomatic security agent, was hacked, and four years worth of messages — some detailing alleged wrongdoing at the agency — were deleted. The emails allegedly included evidence about misconduct by top officials at the Department, communications with other potential whistleblowers, and correspondence with members of Congress who are investigating allegations of misconduct by State Department employees to include use of prostitutes, soliciting child sex and more. See the sleazy details here.
According to the New York Times, information hacked raises a flurry of questions about the management of the State Department under Hillary Rodham Clinton. Higbie, a senior criminal investigator and the second-highest-ranking agent with the service’s Dallas office, has an employment lawsuit against the State Department, alleging it retaliated against him.
Another coincidence is that in July 2013 Higbie’s lawyer’s office was broken into, though only three laptops were taken. Other valuables in clear sight were left untouched. The burglars entered the law offices by busting through a wall. The burglars were seen on surveillance video, and the lawyers claim they know where the laptops may be via IP tracking software, but so far no arrests have been made.
Another coincidence is that at the time of the break-in and stolen laptops, Higbie’s lawyers were also representing another State Department whistleblower, Aurelia Fedenisn, a former investigator for the Department’s inspector general. She revealed in June a pattern of alleged cover-ups by top department officials. The alleged cover-ups included keeping quiet separate IG investigations that found that members of then-Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton’s security detail had engaged hookers and that the U.S. ambassador to Belgium solicited underage prostitutes. These were among a string of investigations by the service, responsible for protecting dignitaries and investigating crimes within the Department, that were allegedly derailed by senior officials, including one instance of interference by Clinton Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills. Mills is expected to play a significant role in a Hillary administration, and was also rumored to have squashed any investigation into the sexual shenanigans of State Department employee Brett McGurk.
The lawyers for both State Department whistleblowers made an interesting comment concerning the break-in at their offices. ““We do not believe the federal government officially authorized the actions. We are very suspicious and do believe it definitely has the insinuations of a political crime. Meaning, the individuals who broke into our office were looking for information that has significant ramifications.”
Legal folks are familiar with the term cui bono, commonly used to suggest that the person or people guilty of committing a crime may be found among those who have something to gain. That said, any speculation that the email hacks and the break-ins have anything at all to do with protecting the reputation of Hillary Clinton are without evidence. For now.
I spent 24 years working for the State Department, including one year in Iraq. Following that I wrote my first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, and the Department of State began proceedings against me. They sought to bully me, then failed to prosecute me, then tried to fire me. Through the efforts of the Government Accountability Project and the ACLU, I instead retired from the State Department with my full benefits of service. And some residual bitterness. It was like a divorce– I had once been in love, then was shocked into seeing the ugly truth. Leaves a mark on you.
So here in the mail comes an engraved invitation to attend a ceremony “honoring my career of dedicated service to the United States.” You can see the thing below. State only holds these ceremonies every once in awhile, so the fact that I received my invite about a year and a half after retiring is nothing special. The fact that after all the nasty, childish and likely illegal things State did to me to cap off “my career of dedicated service to the United States,” that they still sent me the invite is also nothing special. Everybody who retires gets one of these. There are likely to be several hundred old people at the ceremony. In fact, if you look at the invitation, the event is being held in an auditorium.
I don’t think I’ll be there on January 28.
I suspect for the vast majority of invitees, the decision to attend or not to attend was no big deal. I am sure that almost everyone in the Washington DC area will show up, and many from out of town as well. The ones who do not attend will likely sigh when they get the invite, and mumble “Well, if only we didn’t live so far away,” or “Shoot honey, isn’t that the same week as Sissy’s wedding in Ohio?” Good for them, either way.
For me, the invite prompted a long period of reflection. I thought about going; maybe wear my Free Chelsea Manning T-shirt, the way I did on my last official day of work. About three drinks into the reflection, the idea of doing something childish in the building, some kind of protest thing, seemed kinda cool, maybe to get walked out by security from your own retirement reception, yes?
But in fact I was struck by the boilerplate line on the invitation, the one that mentioned “my career of dedicated service to the United States.” I realized that that was true, though I suspect if the State Department had three drinks alongside of me we would differ on how to define that dedicated service.
For me, the real service I provided the United States began the day I realized everything about Iraq was a lie, and that my continued employment was contingent on me enthusiastically participating in that lie. We were helping the Iraqis. The Iraqis were happy to be democratized. The grinning thugs we gave our money to were smiling because they loved America, not because they saw me and my colleagues as hopeless idiots who for some reason wanted to make them rich in return for little more than a few propaganda photos.
From there it was a hop, skip and a jump to the clarity that so much of what I did during my career was a lie. Shilling for American businesses abroad but calling it diplomacy, telling people we were “concerned,” or that their problems were a “priority,” or had the “attention of the ambassador” when I knew none of that was true. Watching good people inside State go down, while toadies and back lickers were promoted, living a life where people would go home from the office saying things like “I hope the Deputy Assistant Secretary’s staff aide reads my memo. It took me eight days to get the twenty internal clearances I needed to send it forward.” I came to understand that the State Department, as a frontman for America abroad, was little more of a confidence scam, playing at some version of whatever was done in the 19th century in return for nice housing, a cushy life and some money.
I realized that looking at that invitation that I did indeed have a “career of dedicated service to the United States.” Only to me that career truly started the day I returned from Iraq and decided to tell people about what I saw, the previous twenty-some years merely a warmup, and an education.
So, after realizing that my definition of service and State’s differed in such totality, I decided not to attend the ceremony. Besides, in the words of Groucho, who’d want to belong to a club that would have a guy like me as a member?
Here is a guest post by attorney Lawrence Kelly. Kelly represents a client who recently filed a lawsuit against the Department of State in regards to the actions and behaviors of the Consul General of the United States, Donald Moore, at the U.S. consulate in Naples.
The arrival of U.S. Marines to the Consulate in Naples was confirmed by an Italian newspaper. While Marines are routinely assigned to American embassies around the world, outside of conflict zones it is very, very unusual for them to be deployed to a consulate. In my own 24 years at the State Department, I know of only one other time Marines were sent to a consulate under these sorts of security-compromise circumstances: the U.S. consulate in Osaka, Japan’s door into a secure area was warped by the force of an earthquake, and Marines were deployed to guard the entrance until the door could be repaired.
The use of Marines in Naples is a big step, a very public acknowledgement that security was compromised and State can not handle it alone.
Now, we understand that a post-Benghazi agreement between State and the Marine Corps provides for more guards at consulates. However, it is useful to note this is Naples, not exactly a high threat environment, and a tiny consulate to boot. It is unclear that Marines have been deployed to other U.S. consulates in Italy (they have always been at the embassy in Rome.)
The Italian newspapers have been feeding on “SEXY GATE AL CONSOLATO USA DI NAPOLI”. Although this scandal is old news in the United States, the Italian media caught up with it after the filing of the federal complaint in Howard v. Kerry in federal court.
On the day the complaint was filed this week, the State Department announced that after an FBI investigation, U.S. Marines would now be placed at the U.S. Consulate in Naples to provide a prophylactic security to the compromised Naples Consulate.
What is clear from the eyewitness accounts in the Italian media is that security at the Naples Consulate was compromised by the Consul General’s control of Regional Security. Entry was provided to women who were not searched, and were allowed access to secure areas of the consulate. What I personally experienced was the further compromise of the security apparatus by the Management at Embassy Rome when Rome looked to quash earlier reports of the scandal at the Naples Consulate. One was a chain of command problem, whereas the other was the security apparatus looking to cover for their colleagues in Naples.
There were widespread employee reports of the closed circuit television materials being scrubbed of the images of the female visitors entering the consulate through the employee’s entrance without being searched or identified. This notwithstanding the separate images and observations being taken and recorded by other more confidential elements of the world wide security which were preserved. Following the designation of a new Ambassador in Rome, I requested the new Ambassador to Italy look into the matter, and he requested an outside investigation. FBI agents reinterviewed Italian witnesses I had provided to the State’s Diplomatic Security from Rome. The FBI apparently put the puzzle together. If this is correct, security personnel who had been employed during the scrubbing should have been terminated. Instead, the Marines were put into the Naples security apparatus as a panacea.
Since the Ambassador to Italy at the time of these incidents leading to the present scandal was a very close confidante of the present Secretary of State, and has joined the Secretary on the seventh floor of Main State, I will not hold my breath that there will be an actual coming to terms with the scandal of poor management and misconduct in the chain of command which allowed State security to allow the problems at the consulate to fester and now become a new public scandal for America. My surmise is that is why no one in the security area has been relieved of their duties.
Nevertheless, when you have to call in the Marines to provide security for State, in Naples, Italy of all places, there are some hard questions that someone in government should be asking. Even if it means starting with the top officials in State asking those hard questions of themselves.
I can’t take credit for the title. That came from the New York Post article about everyone’s favorite representative of our exceptional nation, Donald Moore. Moore is pictured to the left.
For those who have enjoyed our coverage of the allegations of sex, false expense claims and forced resignations at the U.S. Consulate in Naples (and if you have not read the story, catch up here and here), this remains the story that keeps on giving, or getting, or that kind of thing. Yeah baby, get naughty!
Recap of the Events in Naples
Quick recap: Following allegations that then-Consul General Donald Moore had a sexual relationship with a subordinate at the U.S. Consulate in Naples, Italy on taxpayer time, in his office, submitted false expense claims, served out-of-date food to official guests and saw long-time employees fired in what some claim are retaliatory acts when they tried to expose his shenanigans, the State Department followed its standard procedure of promising to investigate, not investigating, firing or transferring all involved and then hoping it will all go away. Benghazi scholars will please note the pattern.
In most cases, State’s strategy works and everything is pushed deep into the abundant closets kept for such purposes at Foggy Bottom. That was certainly the case in the good old days before social media. But now, many people harmed hire lawyers, and all of a sudden State’s sleaziness tumbles out of Foggy Bottom and on to first the front pages, the internet and then into the courts. Such is the case with the allegedly randy Consul General.
One of Moore’s colleagues, perhaps the only he did not actually have sex with at the office, filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State John Kerry in the Eastern District of New York (Case 2:14-cv-00194-ADS-AKT). The plaintiff, Kerry Howard, tried to get someone at the U.S. Consulate in Naples to care about what was going on around her, or in the U.S. Embassy in Rome to care, or at the State Department in Washington. The result was that she got fired and nothing was done in Naples. Her lawsuit alleges that her civil rights were violated by Moore’s sexual harassment, his bullying of staff and overall slime-coated daily antics. But that much we already knew.
New Details from the Lawsuit
The lawsuit offers some new goodies:
– Howard claims that Moore retaliated against one staff member by refusing to authorize routine maintenance on his apartment.
– Howard asserts that Moore “would become verbally abusive, with spittle from Donald Moore’s mouth projected onto Kerry Howard’s face after Donald Moore double locked the door to his private office, his language indicating that Kerry Howard, as a woman, was unable to do anything, and Donald Moore, as an attorney, knew how to get away with whatever he wants.”
– That career Senior Foreign Service Officer and attorney Moore wrote in Howard’s evaluation “…One of the primary responsibilities of a CLO is to foster good morale and to report issues that will have a negative impact on moral (sic) to me. You did not notified (sic) me in our weekly meeting about the alleged facts but rather were discussed them (sic) with others within the Consulate.”
– That Moore was known to have been “forcing the language instructor to have an abortion of Moore’s child.”
– That “in his first address to the staff at Naples Consulate, Donald Moore indicated ‘If you try to bring me down, I will bring you down first.’”
– That “throughout his tenure as Consul General in the Naples Consulate, Donald Moore was running the U.S. Consulate as the largest house of prostitution in southern Italy, one which had only one customer, the Consul General.”
– That “Donald Moore, Consul General for the United States Consulate in Naples Italy, orally advised staff that he used women for ‘sexercise,’ and that ‘women are like candy, they are meant to be eaten and then thrown away.’”
The suit goes on and on like that. Howard, who tried to resolve these issues since 2012 “through channels,” now is sueing for her job back, and $300,000. If successful, the $300k will of course be paid on the Department’s behalf out of taxpayer money, meaning you will have funded the Neapolitan nookie.
There’s Moore, er, More
Il Mattino (a Naples newspaper) has a headline “Bunga-Bunga Consulato Americano.” Bunga-Bunga is apparently an Italian term for the horizontal mambo. A source close to the case reports a number of reporters have gone to Naples to follow up with the Italian employees discharged and their labor attorney. We are told that seven Italian employees who worked under Moore have retained a local attorney to file an Italian court complaint for violation of Italian labor law.
An unconfirmed source has suggested Moore may also have run into trouble in Haiti (where he was awarded “Consular Officer of the Year”) and Milan.
There will be no doubt much more to come with this one. While plaintiff Howard’s allegations are clearly part of a suit that would benefit her, that same suit lists in great detail a large number of people in Naples and Rome who played roles in what happened. This is clearly not going to be a “he said-she said” kind of trial. It should be relatively easy for the court to establish the truth or falsity of the allegations. And we all look forward to that. It is also very important to note that prior to filing the suit and asking for damages, Howard desperately tried to resolve these issues within State Department channels.
We understand the story of consulate Naples has been picked up by Indian media, following the recent controversial arrest of one of their own diplomats in New York. Several stories have of course appeared in the Italian press.
One Italian paper, Corriere Del Mezzogiorno, ran with the headline “Sexygate al Consolato USA.”
The influential Times of London headlined “Prostitution ‘rampant’ at US consulate in Naples.”
It is thus possible to say that these stories are not adding to America’s image abroad, one of the core tasks for the U.S Department of State.
BONUS: We’ll have more on Moore later this week, explaining why U.S. Marines have been dispatched to the Naples Consulate!
You can learn a lot about a person from their medical records– what’s that STD test all about? Mental health issues? Hiding a health problem from an employer? Terminated pregnancy? Had a medical issue that might expose your sexuality when you don’t wish to do so? Work for the military or government and trying to keep a health issue off their radar by using a private medical provider?
Your Doctor Can Tell On You
I read my healthcare provider’s privacy information, those endless pages you click through signing up. After many, many paragraphs describing how they would not share my Personal Health Information (PHI) even with my spouse without my authorization, I ran straight into this (emphasis added):
We may sometimes use or disclose the PHI of armed forces personnel to the applicable military authorities when they believe it is necessary to properly carry out military missions. We may also disclose your PHI to authorized federal officials as necessary for national security and intelligence activities or for protection of the president and other government officials and dignitaries.
I checked a few other major insurance carriers, including Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and they all have the identical language; check yours.
In other words, your doctor does not need your authorization to share your health information with the government. If the NSA asks for it, they get it. I found no provision requiring your medical provider to tell you the information was passed to the government.
HIPPA is the Reason
I asked about this in person at the Member Services office. They were polite, but referred me to their toll-free Member Services number. After a few rounds of Touch Button 1, a very nice woman at the telephone Member Services referred me to their “Congressional Representative.” On hold for a few minutes, then cut off. Called back and worked through the Press Button 4, say Your Birthdate system. Back to Member Services and another long explanation of what I was looking for. In the (ironic) interest of my privacy, I had to reconfirm my name and date of birth more than once. My call was recorded. The Congressional Representative had no idea what I was talking about, and I had to walk her through her company’s own online document. On hold while she checks with a supervisor.
After quite some time, the person said disclosure to the government without my permission or knowledge was authorized by the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA). I asked her if anyone else had ever asked about this and she said “Not in my personal experience.” Did she know anything more? No. Was there someone else I could speak with? No.
Protecting Your Privacy by Disclosing Your Health Information
The Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) was first passed by Congress in 1996. However, the amended HIPPA, which included the Privacy Rule that permits disclosure for national security purposes, was only added in 2002, post-9/11. Why this amendment? The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says:
A major goal of the Privacy Rule is to assure that individuals’ health information is properly protected while allowing the flow of health information needed to provide and promote high quality health care and to protect the public’s health and well being. The Rule strikes a balance that permits important uses of information, while protecting the privacy of people who seek care and healing.
A law passed to ensure the privacy of our health information has a long list of disclosures allowed without your authorization, including this:
An authorization is not required to use or disclose protected health information for certain essential government functions. Such functions include: assuring proper execution of a military mission, conducting intelligence and national security activities that are authorized by law, providing protective services to the President, making medical suitability determinations for U.S. State Department employees, protecting the health and safety of inmates or employees in a correctional institution, and determining eligibility for or conducting enrollment in certain government benefit programs.
A reference is made to another law, 45 C.F.R. § 164.512(k), see page 762 at the link, which refers back to “lawful” activities under the National Security Act.
For former State Department colleagues, please note the release of your health information without your authorization to the State Department is specifically included, for use in the security clearance process. So all you out there who think you’re hiding something from Diplomatic Security by using a private physician, sorry.
So Doc, What Should I Do?
Post-9/11, another law we were told was there to protect our privacy does just the opposite. Right-wing claims that Obamacare will let the government into your health records are way out of date. Your healthcare provider is now part of the metastasizing national security state. Be very afraid, but for God’s sake don’t discuss your fears with your doctor.
Bonus: When I requested my own medical records, I was told it takes two weeks and I have to pay a copying charge. I’m thinking it might be easier to just file a Freedom of Information Act request with the NSA for their copy.
Jeez, they should at least make it sporting for me.
Here’s some video from a show called “Cross Talk,” with the subject the sad state of affairs in Iraq, and the sad state of affairs in Afghanistan. I guess the show’s producers felt they had to dig up someone to take the “pro” side, suggesting maybe not everything all the time the U.S. did and has done to those two countries was a tragic waste. But about the best they could find is some living corpse of a former U.S. ambassador. Because he is a former ambassador his “job” is to walk around with a title like “Senior Distinguished Fellow of the Realm” connected to a “think tank” while I live in my parents’ basement writing these blog posts in my own blood and saliva on the walls (my intern then transcribes them into this “electronic” format.)
Anyway, it ain’t much of an argument, but do entertain yourselves watching one of the people once in charge of America’s foreign policy try and justify his own actions.
And after the video is over, would you please ask my mom to send some meatloaf and a couple of beers down to the basement?
BONUS: Even as Iraq slides ever-deeper into overt civil war, the State Department gave the University of Cincinnati a grant of $300,000 of your tax money to “to build partnerships in Iraq.”
What will the university spend your tax dollars on? They say “professional development workshops for leaders in higher education and the community – workshops that emphasize civic and cultural leadership.”
Hah! Bring that spokesperson on for the next debate!
I was very pleased to be on Democracy Now! to talk about Iraq. Here’s the segment:
Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, foreigners would point at awkward people in brightly colored shorts, and socks with sandals, and know they were American tourists visiting their country. Goofy, then-rich and usually benign, they were the face of America abroad.
These days, if a foreigner encounters an American, he is mostly likely a special forces guy.
A Quick Recap on Libya
Today’s case in point, Libya. But first a quick recap. In August 2011 (just a little more than two years ago), then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the country:
The events in Libya this week have heartened the world. The situation remains fluid, but it is clear that the Qadhafi era is coming to an end, opening the way for a new era in Libya—one of liberty, justice, and peace. We join the Libyan people in celebrating the courageous individuals who have stood up to a tyrant and defended their homes and communities against Qadhafi’s violence. The United States and the international community have stood by the Libyan people during many difficult days in the last six months. Together, we prevented a massacre, and we supported the people’s efforts to gain their freedom.
In October 2011, Clinton herself traveled to Libya, bringing along $46 million in U.S. aid, after freeing up over $1.5 billion in frozen Libyan assets. Hopefully some opposition researcher is collecting these choice moments ahead of the 2016 elections.
Good times, yes, good times.
Two Years Later…
So here we are, two years later and the news out of Libya is about other Americans visiting. A few days ago, a convoy of Americans “from the embassy” raced through a checkpoint in Libya. One car had no license plates. Another shot past guards and caused an accident, after which the vehicle “suddenly caught fire which authorities could not explain,” said al-Taher al-Gharbali, an army colonel in the local military council. Eventually four armed Americans with U.S. embassy ID cards were arrested by some form of the Libyan authorities (i.e., a couple of guys with AK-74 on loose slings.)
After a lot of initial silence, the Department of Defense confirmed that the travelers were U.S. military personnel. While their unit identification was not made public, one can probably surmise they were not clerk typists on shore leave. DOD said they were scouting evacuation routes for embassy personnel. The embassy said they were part of security preparedness. A State Department spokesperson said “the United States valued its relationship with ‘the new Libya’”.
Elsewhere, we have learned that the four Americans wounded in South Sudan as part of the humanitarian evacuation process were Navy SEALS.
And who can forget American Citizen Raymond Davis, who, while touring Pakistan, killed a couple of local guys. Davis wasn’t Special Forces; he worked for the CIA, perhaps as their actual employee, perhaps as a mercenary for the private security contractor Xe, formerly known as Blackwater.
While it is kinda hard to find a list of all the places U.S. Special Forces are currently deployed abroad, it is comforting to know that the U.S. military as a whole has armed personnel in more than 150 nations worldwide. The U.S. Special Operations Command has over 67,000 acknowledged personnel and a known budget of $7.483 billion for Operations and Maintenance; $373 million for Research, Development, Test, & Evaluation; $1.6 billion for Procurement; and $441 million for Military Construction funding.
BONUS: An excellent list of U.S. military interventions abroad, 1890-2011.
Continuing what has become a U.S. State Department tradition of making horrid, childish videos with taxpayer money (“social media”), here’s one of the worst best from the U.S. Embassy in Uganda. In only 60 seconds, the Santa crew manages to slaughter multiple local languages (check the guy at around 18 seconds in) and, at the end, make merry of the fact that U.S. diplomats abroad cannot speak their host country’s tongue.
It’s a Christmas miracle!
We have covered in detail the ongoing misuse of authority at the U.S. embassy in Sanaa, Yemen, where a pattern of coerced “confessions,” flimsy fraud accusations and outright illegal passport seizures has led to a) promotion by the State Department of the senior consular officer involved and b) a flurry of lawsuits that State consistently loses as Yemeni-Americans are forced into court to correct State. You can catch-up on the story here and here.
Since the original articles, we have learned that a group representing Yemeni-Americans has sought and failed to secure a meeting with the State Department, only getting as far as a local passport office in the U.S. The group then contacted the FBI for help, with concerns about possible civil rights violations based on national origin.
A national rights group, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, also indicated they are working with a number of Yemeni-Americans who were improperly treated at the U.S. embassy in Sanaa.
A Warning Pamphlet for Americans Visiting the American Embassy
The situation in Yemen has gotten bad enough, and is pervasive enough, that now the ACLU, the Asian Law Caucus, and other concerned groups produced a pamphlet warning Yemeni-Americans and others of the situation, and giving advice on how to safeguard themselves. In my own 24 years as a consular officer at State, I am aware of no other embassy, U.S. or other, that has its own warning pamphlet for its own citizens.
You can read the English version of the pamphlet here; if you are traveling to Yemen, you better damn well read it.
The pamphlet states quite plainly:
“Increasingly, individuals, especially of Yemeni origin, report that officials at the U.S. embassy in Sanaa have revoked and taken away their U.S. passports, sometimes pressuring them to sign confessions they do not understand without legal advice.”
Brown is the New Black
The advice in the pamphlet is sound and accurate to my reading. The basics– admit nothing, sign nothing, leave and get legal advice– apply to any interaction with our government. However, to many people traveling abroad, such advice may seem shocking. For the most part, Americans have come to believe that “their” embassy in a foreign country is a place of refuge, not another encounter with yet another form of psuedo-law enforcement. Sad to say, but times have changed and even a visit to an American embassy is now a potentially dangerous act for a citizen to undertake. Citizens are viewed as adversaries, particularly “lessor” citizens such as Hyphenated-Americans. Indeed, we can’t find one case in Sanaa that involved a Mr. or Ms. Whitebread.
Some Friendly Suggestions
In addition to the advice in the pamphlet, I’d like to also pass on some suggestions based on my own consular experience. Of course this is for informational purposes only, is not encouragement to commit fraud or misrepresentation, not an aid to visa cheating and certainly not legal advice or a legal opinion. I am not a lawyer and do not play one on TV.
–Do not trust or speak in detail to any local embassy employee. Because these staffers are local people, speak the local language and often appear sympathetic, many Americans of local origin feel comfortable unburdening themselves or speaking more plainly in this encounter. Do not do so; everything you say will be relayed to the American staff and held against you. Do not fall prey to their appeals based on a shared religion, tribal affiliation or the like.
–In your initial encounter, especially if you walk in on your own to the embassy, expect to outline your reason for being there to a local employee. Be brief and strictly factual. The first American you will see is very likely to be a new or recent hire. If s/he brings in a second American, that person is likely to be either a more senior manager who will make decisions on your case, an antifraud person or law enforcement. If it was me, as soon as that second person appeared, or when the first American left to “consult” or “check with the boss,” I would terminate the interaction and not continue without legal advice.
–Do not casually relinquish physical possession of your passport without considering legal advice. Technically the passport is the property of the U.S. government, not you, but only in very rare circumstances will the embassy ever try and take it from you by force. Of course, when renewing a passport, you do have to surrender the old one.
–If after a first encounter at an embassy you are “invited” back in for additional interaction, consult an attorney first. It is never a good idea to go in alone. Do not believe statements such as “we just want to clear something up” without legal advice.
–If you do not speak English well enough to interact with trained Americans on legal matters, bring along your own trusted translator. The American may insist on using his/her translator, but yours should at least monitor the conversation. The staff who translate in these interactions are not professional translators, merely clerks pressed into service as few of the Americans speak the local language well. The local employee may make mistakes through incompetence, or may misrepresent what you say to favor the boss. Take notes, or have someone with you to take notes, preferably an attorney.
–If the American uses the terms “additional processing” or “administrative processing,” your case is likely to be denied, sent for fraud work or otherwise acted on not in your favor. In the visa world, “administrative processing” often means your case is being referred for security and intelligence checks. These can take months, and you will likely never know why a visa was denied.
–It is typically useless to ask to speak to someone else, or a more senior person. If the first interaction does not go well, you may wish to leave and seek legal advice on how to proceed.
–Interactions at the embassy, even with Americans, are not fully subject to U.S. legal standards. The embassy is not “American soil.” You do not have your full rights standing there. There is no “Miranda” requirement. You do not have to be sworn. They do not have to tell you to what purpose they plan to use your information. U.S. embassy officials working on “administrative matters” are not obligated to keep detailed notes, transcripts or observe standard rules of evidence. In many cases they can turn over your information to local, host country law enforcement if they believe a “crime” has taken place. Information gathered in the course of a passport or visa interview can be shared freely with U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
–Almost anything to do with visas has no appeal or judicial oversight. Be especially mindful of any visa interaction, as once the visa is denied you have very little recourse or remedy easily available.
The system is not fair, and was not designed to be fair.
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