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.
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 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?
Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
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.
Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
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.
In the case of America and the U.S. Department of State, the ambassador is considered the ranking American government official in-country, the head of the embassy and indeed the president’s personal and direct representative to that foreign nation. Symbol, figurehead, molder of America’s image in the eyes of foreigners.
Many of you will remember how about this time last year we named U.S. ambassador to Finland Bruce Oreck “Douche of the Week,” a prestigious title to go along with his official one. Oreck rose to these heights by sending out Christmas cards with the photo shown to the left. Oreck fancies himself a well-built fellow, with a cheeky sense of humor. He is beloved by millions of his staff for presenting a regular guy image; he is beloved by millions of Finns for confirming their belief that Americans are complete idiots who should never be allowed to travel.
Signature Accomplishment: Renovating his Own Office
As an ambassador, Oreck’s signature accomplishment so far, not including the photo here, has been to get the U.S. government to spend more money on the U.S. embassy in Finland, because that somehow must be good for the Finns. Indeed, an official USG report acknowledged that “the embassy renovation project would not have been funded or advanced at an accelerated pace without the constant pressure of the Ambassador, both from Helsinki and during frequent trips to Washington.” Oreck picked up 250,000 frequent flier miles (ambassadors fly first class, ‘natch) in dozens of trips between Washington, D.C., and Helsinki to personally address concerns. Luckily, he was able to divert scarce State Department building and security funds from dumps like Benghazi.
Oreck of course has a long resume of living off his family’s money. Oreck earned his lifetime title of ambassador by being the son of famed vacuum cleaner manufacturer David Oreck. Ambassador Oreck then went on to serve as General Counsel and Executive Vice President for the Oreck Corporation. Oreck’s most important contribution to diplomacy was to bundle more than $500,000 in donations for Obama in the 2008 election.
Merry Douche Christmas
We all know asshats like Oreck, and we all know they feed off of lower people like ourselves calling them asshats. Kind of perks them up, and so they go out of their way to bait us, begging for a response. As hard as I have tried not to feed him, Oreck did it again. Here’s his Christmas card for this year, as posted on his Facebook page:
I guess it is supposed to be some kind of meta-social commentary thing, like because last year everybody called him a douche for posing with his bicep curled, this year he is wearing a shirt and tie in a place where you’d expect him to be shirtless. And it is also of course “culturally sensitive” because it is in a sauna, and Finns like saunas. As with the State Department’s goofy videos, if this kind of ambassador-with-a-sense of humor thing is such an effective “tool” of diplomacy, why is it only the U.S. that seems to have cottoned on to that?
Oreck also has on Facebook lots of “I’m not really a frustrated, closeted gay man, even though that’s cool” photos. Here he is with Richard Branson, and there is he checking out the Old Dog’s package.
So, America, in this Christmas season, let us rejoice. Taxpayers, you are paying for all this. But in a larger sense, rest easy knowing that our bumbling idiot of a nation is in fact quite accurately represented in Finland.
Searches of public court records continue to expose the illegal actions of the U.S. Department of State in Yemen. One private attorney connected to cases in Yemen says “Issues with the U.S. Consulate in Sana’a are systemic and reach far beyond seizure of U.S. passports. That is merely the egregious tip of the iceberg. I have dealt with many Yemeni’s experiencing problems with the U.S. Consulate in Sana’a. Most non-litigation options fail, but at the same time most Yemeni nationals are afraid litigation will result in retaliation.”
If you have not read our original report on the issue, see it here.
Abdo Alarir, et al, v. Hillary Clinton, Janice Jacobs
The first case is Abdo Alarir, et al, v. Hillary Clinton, Janice Jacobs, et al, filed October 18, 2012 in the U.S. District Court for Southern New York. Mr. Alarir, a U.S. Citizen, filled paperwork to bring his children from Yemen to the U.S. One of the kids would immigrate to the U.S. on a visa (“Green Card”) and two would qualify already as American Citizens. The latter is made official when the State Department issues what is called a Consular Report of Birth Abroad (a CRBA in State-speak). The reasons why one kid gets a visa and the other two a CRBA are complex but irrelevant to what the State Department, illegally, did with this case.
Actually what State did was… nothing. The Department of Homeland Security approved the visa (it’s a two-agency process) in 2010. At State, nothing was done for three years to process the cases. As for the Consular Report of Birth for the other two kids, these can be approved within an hour, with the official documents available soon after, right at the embassy, no Homeland Security involvement required. That’s pretty much standard practice around the world. But apparently not in Yemen. So, faced with stonewalling out of the U.S. embassy in Sanaa, the American dad sued.
But back to Sanaa. Dad initially pursued the Consular Reports of Birth. He was told at an initial meeting with State on February 7, 2012 to provide more documents. He did on February 12, 2012, via DHL with a tracking number. Embassy Sanaa waited over a month until March 18, 2012 to send Dad a form letter saying the documents had not been received. Meanwhile, Dad’s lawyer was told by Homeland Security that they had done their part of the job on the visa, that the lawyer should contact the U.S. embassy in Sanaa, and to please bug State from here on out, not them. The paper trail as filed with the U.S. District Court ends there. State just dummied up and did… nothing.
The lawsuit found its way through the court system, but before the District Court could issue a decision, wham! State, without comment, apology or explanation, just up and issued the visa and Consular Reports of Birth. The case was thus closed on November 23, 2013, and a State Department fudge-up swept under the rug.
The State Department did not respond to a request for comment.
Next up is Yemeni-American Nashwan Ahmed Qassem v. Hillary Clinton, Janice Jacobs, et al. This case was filed on January 30, 2013 in the U.S. District Court for Western New York and though full documentation is not available electronically, it appears to be similar to the other cases. Embassy Sanaa illegally revoked the U.S. Citizen’s passport, he sued, State turned around and re-issued the passport before the Court could render a verdict. The State Department did not respond to a request for comment.
A third case we were able to unearth in public records is ongoing, that of Yemeni-American Hashed Mousa. This one involves a U.S. Citizen Yemeni-American grandfather, who was somehow made to “voluntarily” admit that years ago he obtained his own U.S. citizenship by fraud. Despite the law being very clear that only Homeland Security can revoke citizenship due to fraud on the original application, Embassy Sanaa just went ahead and confiscated grandpa’s U.S. passport. The embassy then waited for grandpa’s son to come in to apply for citizenship for the grandchildren, denying those applications based on a flimsy chain of a) since the embassy illegally claimed that grandpa was not a U.S. citizen b) his own son was not a U.S. citizen and therefore c) the grandkids could not be U.S. citizens. The case is 3:13-cv-05958-BHS, filed in the Western District of Washington State. The State Department did not respond to a request for comment.
It appears quite clear that something happened at the U.S. embassy in Sanaa. Whether the illegal actions against Yemeni-Americans were part of a State-sponsored process, or the actions of a local bureaucracy poorly supervised and out-of-control, are unclear and largely irrelevant. The problems with State and Sanaa grew so egregious that the National Security Council, and even Homeland Security, raised questions. Some good news; sources inside the Department of Justice suggest that whatever was going on toward Yemeni-Americans in Sanaa has tapered off under new management. State, for its part, selected the former manager as Consular Officer of the Year, promoted her, and reassigned her to a dream job in Sydney. The Consular Officer of the Year did not respond to a request for comment.
That leaves only the question of why the State Department is not seeking to resolve these cases administratively, going back through the files, identifying and reviewing “unusual” actions/inactions and moving to fix things. Instead, State is forcing American Citizens to file expensive lawsuits, which State contests to the last moment before bellying up and doing what it should have and could have done much earlier, issuing the documents it was supposed to.
It is almost as if State, even when caught red-handed in the wrong, still wants to punish those who challenge it.
BONUS: In the past, State has challenged the use of its official seal, as seen above, by this blog. Haven’t heard them this time.
(This review first appeared on the Huffington Post)
If Christopher Coyne’s new book, Doing Bad by Doing Good: Why Humanitarian Action Failsneeded a subtitle, I’d be willing to offer up “We Meant Well, Too.”
Coyne’s book puts into formal terms what I wrote about more snarkily in my own book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People: large-scale attempts at reconstruction, long-term humanitarian aid, nation building, counterinsurgency or whatever buzz word is in favor (I’ll use them interchangeably in this review), not only are destined to fail, they often create more suffering through unintended consequences and corruption than would have occurred simply by leaving the problem alone. Coyne makes it clear that continued U.S. efforts at nation building in Afghanistan (Haiti, Libya, Syria…) will not accomplish America’s national goals and will actually make the lives of the locals worse in the process. This book should be required reading for every U.S. government employee headed to Afghanistan and beyond.
Coyne’s book is a careful, detailed, academic answer to the real-world question surrounding U.S. reconstruction efforts: How is it possible that well-funded, expertly staffed and, at least rhetorically, well-intentioned humanitarian actions fail, often serially, as in Afghanistan?
Central to Coyne’s explanation of why such efforts fail so spectacularly (and they do; I saw it first hand in Iraq, and Coyne provides numerous examples from Kosovo to Katrina) centers on the problem of “the man of the humanitarian system.” An economist, Coyne riffs off of Adam Smith’s “man of the system,” the bureaucrat who thinks he can coordinate a complex economy. In humanitarian terms, The Man thinks he can influence events from above, ignorant (or just not caring) about the complex social and small-scale political factors at work below. Having no idea of what is really going on, while at the same time imaging he has complete power to influence events by applying humanitarian cash, The Man can’t help but fail. There is thus no way large-scale humanitarian projects can large-scale change a society. The connection between Coyne’s theoretical and the reality of the U.S. State Department staff sequestered in Iraq’s Green Zone or holed up on military bases in Afghanistan, hoping to create Jeffersonian democracies outside the wire, is wickedly, sadly perfect.
The Man takes additional body blows in Coyne’s book. One of the most significant is in how internal political rewards drive spending decisions, not on-the-ground needs. A bureaucrat, removed from the standard profit-loss equation that governs businesses, allocates aid in ways that make Himself look good, in ways that please his boss and in ways that produce what look like short-term gains, neat photo-ops and the like. The Man is not incentivized by a Washington tied to a 24 hour news cycle to take the long, slow view that real development requires. The institutions The Man serves (State, Defense, USAID) are also slow to decide, very slow to change, nearly immune from boots-on-the-ground feedback and notoriously bad at information sharing both internally and with each other. They rarely seek local input. Failure is inevitable.
With the fundamental base of ignorance and arrogance laid to explain failure, Coyne moves on to address how harm is done. One begins with subtractive harm, how most aid money is siphoned off into the pockets of the contractors and Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs), plus bureaucratic and security overheard, such that very little reaches the country in need. For example, of the nearly two billion dollars disbursed by the U.S. Government to Haiti, less than two percent went to Haitian businesses. In Iraq, I watched as USAID hired an American NGO based in Jordan specifically to receive such money, who then hired an Iraqi subcontractor owned by a Dubai-consortium, to get a local Iraqi to dig a simple well. Only a tiny, tiny percentage of the money “spent” actually went toward digging the well; the rest disappeared like water into the desert sand.
Some more bad news: in today’s development world, The Man monopolizes the show. Humanitarian aid and reconstruction have been militarized, primarily by the U.S., as a tool of war; indeed, the U.S. Army in Iraq constantly referred to money as a “weapons system,” and planning sessions for aid allotments were called non-lethal targeting. They followed the same rubric as artillery missions or special forces raids in laying out goals, resources, intel and desired outcomes. USAID, State and other parts of the U.S. Government exert significant control over more indigenous NGOs simply by flinging money around; do your own thing under the radar with little money, or buy-in to the U.S. corporate vision of humanitarian aid. Many chances at smaller, more nimble and responsive organizations doing good are thus negated.
In addition to such subtractive harm, the flow of aid money into often poor and disorganized countries breeds corruption. Coyne reckons some 97 percent of the Afghan GNP is made up of foreign spending, with healthy chunks skimmed off by corrupt politicians. I saw the same in Iraq, as the U.S.’ need for friendly partners and compliant politicians added massive overhead (corruption, price inflation) to our efforts. A thousand Tony Sopranos emerged alongside our efforts, demanding protection money so that supply trucks weren’t ambushed and requiring the U.S. to use “their” local contractors to ensure no accidents would cripple a project. In Afghanistan, such corruption is casually documented at the highest levels of government, where even President Karzai boasts of receiving shopping bags of cash from the CIA each month.
(One Afghan, perhaps humorously, commented online “I would like the CIA. to know they can start delivering money to the carpet shop my family owns any day this week. But, please, no plastic bags. Kabul is choked with them. The goats eat as many as they can, but still the Kabul River is filled with them, waiting to be washed down to Pakistan, where they have enough problems of their own.”)
And of course those nasty unexpected consequences. The effect of billions of dollars in “helpful” foreign money accompanied by thousands of helpful foreign experts also dooms efforts. If the U.S. is willing to pay for trash pickup (as in Iraq, for example) or build schools and roads, why should the local government spend its time and money on the tasks? The problem of course is that when foreign money drifts away on the newest political breeze, there are no local systems in place to pick up the work. The same problem occurs on a macro scale. Huge piles of free money air-dropping in-country create their own form of shadow economy, one far-removed from both local entrepreneurship and market forces. Again, when the free money stops, there is no viable market economy in place to take up the slack. Chaos at worst, corruption and haphazard progress at best, are inevitable.
Not-such-a bonus: Foreign workers, Coyne documents, often act with impunity, if not formal immunity, from local laws. From UN workers fueling the child sex trade in Africa, to State Department hired Blackwater mercenaries gunning down innocent Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square, harm is often done under the guise of good.
Coyne tries hard to come up with some sort of solution to all this. Though he bypasses the question of whether countries like the U.S. should make reconstruction and large-scale aid national policy, he accepts that they will. What to do? Coyne posits that the only chance for success is economic freedom. Encouraging discovery via entrepreneurship and access to the free market while rolling back the state in humanitarian interventions will allow the space for genuine economic and societal progress. Coyne concludes this process is messy and will often appear misguided to outsiders, but that it is the only way to achieve society-wide development.
And good luck to those who try and press such change on the U.S. efforts. In the end, Coyne’s book is extremely valuable as a way of understanding why current efforts have failed, and why future ones likely will fail, rather than as a prescription for fixing things. That’s a bit of an unfair criticism; changing U.S. policy on such a fundamental level is no simple task and Coyne, to his credit, gives it a try. I may have meant well personally, but failed in my own efforts at reconstruction and then writing about it to do much more than lay out the details. Coyne deserves much credit for formalizing what many of us experienced, and for at least laying out the theoretical construct of a more successful approach.
Author’s site: http://www.ccoyne.com/
You’d think America had enough problems with its foreign image, what with drone killings, NSA spying and the president shooting selfie’s at Mandela’s funeral. But you’d be wrong. LA Sheriff’s Deputies roughed up two foreign consuls in the course of official diplomatic business. Here’s why that matters.
Consular Visitation of Citizen Prisoners
One of the primary jobs for any embassy or consulate abroad is the welfare of its citizens. Indeed, many of the first diplomatic outposts abroad were set up to protect sailors and merchants. This work typically includes visiting one’s citizens in foreign jails, a task young diplomats around the world conduct. As a State Department foreign service officer myself for 24 years, I must have done this hundreds of times. But no matter how many times I did it, it was always an unsettling feeling to walk into a jail, go through security into a cell or holding room, and then walk back out.
Getting out, and being treated properly inside, was however more than an act of faith on my part. Diplomats abroad are protected people; under both formal treaties and long-established traditions (“diplomatic immunity”), a country should not mess around with another’s diplomats. Take a look at Iran– over thirty years since the kidnapping of American diplomats in Tehran, our two countries still are a long, long way from reestablishing relations.
I once safely visited in an underground facility of an Asian country’s secret police an American Citizen who likely had been tortured. The system generally works everywhere, from first world countries to crappy police states in the developing world. However, one rough area where it does not work is in Los Angeles.
Abuse in the LA Men’s Jail by Sherriff’s Deputies
Federal officials on December 9 unsealed five criminal cases filed against eighteen current and former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies as part of an FBI investigation into allegations of civil rights abuses and corruption in the nation’s largest jail system. Four grand jury indictments and a criminal complaint allege unjustified beatings at downtown Los Angeles jail facilities, unjustified detentions and a conspiracy to obstruct a federal investigation into misconduct at the Men’s Central Jail. The latter allegations stems from sheriff’s officials moving an FBI informant in the jails to thwart the probe.
But that somehow was not bad enough. New indictments detail three separate incidents in which prosecutors alleged that a sheriff’s sergeant encouraged deputies he supervised at the visiting area of Men’s Central Jail to use excessive force and unlawful arrests of visitors.
LA Unlawfully Arrests and Mistreats Foreign Diplomat
The abuse found a low point when an Austrian consul went to the jail in June 2011 with her husband, also a diplomat, to visit an arrested Austrian citizen. The Federal indictment alleges that a deputy sheriff at the jail unlawfully arrested the diplomat husband, who clearly identified himself as such, outside the jail because he had “walked near the doors going into the visiting center.” His actions did not amount to a crime, the indictment asserts. Nevertheless, as the male diplomat was handcuffed, the female diplomat asked to see a supervisor. She was also arrested and handcuffed too, the indictment alleges, “despite the fact that [she] had committed no crime and would be immune from prosecution if she had.”
A deputy then forcibly took the consul and her husband to a room outside of public view and searched them. One unconfirmed report suggests the male diplomat was thrown to the ground as he was being arrested.
In addition to the outright abuse committed by the LA Sheriff’s thugs, diplomats are by treaty with the United States immune from search except under very special circumstances (routine consular work is not one of them.) While a small town cop well outside diplomatic circles might not know about all this, the visit by the Austrian consul was definitely not LA’s first trip around the dance floor.
Another Not the First Time
The scary thing for the Austrian diplomat was the similarity of her abuse and another case at the same jail. Gabriel Carrillo went to Men’s Central Jail as a free man to discuss problems visiting his brother there. Instead, a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy handcuffed him, took him to a break room with no windows or public access, and threw him against a refrigerator. His arm was fractured in the encounter and he received cuts to his nose and face. Afterward, four deputies tried to have him falsely charged with resisting an officer. Carrillo was detained for five days before he was released without charge.
The State Department had to get involved in LA with the Austrian consulate to smooth things over and make the diplomatic incident go away. The story has apparently been kept out of the public eye until now, when the bigger tale of LA law enforcement acting completely out of control finally made it to the press.
Another sign of America morphing into a police state.
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), there is good news: according to sources close to the case, the FBI has now stepped in.
Following allegations that then-Consul General Donald Moore had a sexual relationship with an employee, 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 procedures:
–express “concern” and promise a full investigation;
–transfer the alleged perp to another cushy assignment (a “pivot”);
–pressure the whistleblower into quitting;
–sweep the rest under the rug. Movin’ on for more 21st century diplomacy.
The problem with this one is that it did not go away. The whistleblower, instead of fading as State counted on, found proper legal representation and filed charges. State actually loves when people try to work through its system– it gives them a chance to express more “concern” and promise more full investigation, all the while hoping the whistleblower either gives up with time or that the length of the it-ain’t-gonna-conclude “investigation” bleeds her dry in fees and despair.
However, as in so many things, State’s 19th century model is outdated. The Naples story was picked up by the media, including a major New York newspaper and, with exclusive access to witness reports, this blog. The old model of keeping reporters compliant by hand-feeding them bon mots from the Secretary does not matter outside of the usual sleepers at the networks. Public pressure does not always work, but sometimes it does. The FBI stepped in and, we are told, is on the ground in Naples conducting the investigation State planned on avoiding.
See ya’ next time, Department of State!
The rights of citizenship are among the most crucial to a democracy– from citizenship flows the full range of legal protections against unwarranted government interference, and the ability to travel freely.
Citizenship for an American is made plain by the issuance of a U.S. passport by the U.S. Department of State. That passport once could only be seized and revoked by State under clear rules, and with a form of redress made explicit. Those strictures may still apply to most Americans, everywhere. Everywhere but in Yemen.
NSC: 500 Unlawful Passport Seizures in Yemen?
According to exclusive information obtained through a U.S. government whistleblower involved directly with U.S.-Yemeni affairs, the American Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen unlawfully seized over one hundred U.S. passports from Yemeni-Americans (some place the number at 500 passports), resulting in multiple lawsuits in Federal court. The Department of State, responsible for all U.S. passport matters, lost one case, and settled three others out-of-court. Yemenis in the U.S. are bringing the issue to the attention of the National Security Council and Congress, demanding oversight and assistance. State’s response has been to stonewall the inquiries inside the U.S., and to award and promote the person at the U.S. embassy in Yemen responsible for the seizures.
The leaked information supports the contention that passport seizures are a bigger problem than was originally believed. The Yemen Post cited only twenty cases. A forum for legal advice includes accusations of the same, prompting one attorney to comment “The U.S. consular officers in Yemen believe they are God and act accordingly.”
However, in emails from the National Security Council to the State Department obtained by this blog, the Director for Yemen cites contact from “another” immigration attorney on the subject, and, more significantly, an inquiry that involves 500 seized/revoked passport cases. She asks State “Can you tell me what he is referring to?” State’s response was to promise to hold a meeting with some Yemeni-Americans to “hear their concerns.” The last email in the chain is again from the NSC, pleading for confirmation that any such meeting actually took place.
Abdulhakem Alsadah, who coordinates a Yemeni-American society in Michigan, said though he initiated calls to the State Department, he has never been contacted by them. He knows of no meetings held “to hear concerns.” The publisher of a Yemen-American news site also says he has heard of no meetings held by State. Both men would welcome the chance to speak directly to the officials responsible for what they see as a significant violation of rights at the U.S. embassy in Sanaa.
The Case of Abdo Hizam
The use of extra-judicial passport seizures by State against Yemeni-Americans extends back several years, and appears connected to the case of drone-assassinated al Qaeda propagandist and American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki.
Yemeni-American Abdo Hizam immigrated with his parents to the U.S. at age nine, growing up a typical American kid outside Detroit. He was issued a U.S. passport, and in fact renewed it twice through the State Department. As an adult, Hizam traveled to Yemen in 2009. In the course of a routine immigration matter regarding his own children, the U.S. embassy unlawfully seized Hizam’s passport, providing no explanation. After three weeks of silence, he was permitted by the embassy to return to the U.S.
Two years after returning home, around the same time as the more spectacular passport case of Anwar al-Awlaki, the State Department told Hizam that he had received his citizenship “in error” twenty two years earlier. The mistake was no fault of his or his parents. In fact, the government adjudicated the original application wrong, and admitted so. Nonetheless, State revoked his passport and stripped Mr. Hizam of his nationality, plunging him into statelessness, declaring he was, at the stroke of the pen, no longer an American. Hizam could not leave the U.S., and his wife and children in Yemen were not issued visas by State to come to the U.S., actions that kept the family apart for three years. Hizam was offered no chance to argue, no recourse by the State Department but to accept his forced expatriation.
Hizam was however one of the lucky ones. Still in the U.S. physically but no longer legally, he sued the government. While the State Department argued in part that it could retroactively apply a law passed long after Hizam became a citizen to revoke his citizenship, in Hizam v. Hillary Clinton, a court ordered State to give Hizam back his passport. The court scolded the State Department that at the time it approved Hizam’s citizenship it was “impossible for him to have received any notice whatsoever that his status could be revoked in the future.”
“It’s certainly a scary power that the State Department is asserting here,” one of Hizam’s lawyer said. “The fact that the State Department can go back and ask these questions when somebody has, from childhood, been a U.S. citizen, is very frightening.”
But instead of accepting it could not go back to the future in Hizam’s case, State doubled-down and instead tried to stay the court order until it completed a lengthy appeal of the case, claiming the Department “will suffer irreparable injury because the Order undermines its ‘sole discretion’ to withhold passports.” The court disagreed and for the time gave Hizam back his passport, his citizenship, his right to travel and the ability to reunite with his family. State continues to appeal; the U.S. Court of Appeals for the second circuit the government’s arguments two months ago, but has yet to issue a decision. A lawyer familiar with the case stated “The government recognizes that their position is causing great unfairness to this man and suggests that the only remedy is to get a special law passed specifically for him.”
After failing to establish legal precedent for its unlawful passport revocations, the State Department appears to have shifted gears, simply ignoring the law to physically seize passports from Yemeni-Americans seeking routine services at the embassy in Sanaa, or those tricked into coming in. Supporters of the affected Yemenis report regular but often vague accusations of fraud being used as excuses to simply grab a passport. Others say that elderly Yemeni-Americans coming to the embassy for routine social security questions have been subjected to interrogations and again, after being accused of fraud, losing their passports without further explanation. While regulations require a formal, deliberative process to legally seize a U.S. passport, especially abroad where such seizure can strand an American and subject him to host-country immigration penalties, in Sanaa these regulations were bypassed simply by labeling the seizures as a case in need of “additional administrative processing.”
The embassy in Sanaa gave itself top cover for its actions. In a cable obtained by Wikileaks, the embassy noted that “all immigrant visa cases are considered fraudulent until proven otherwise. Interviews are complex, due not only to fraud, but also to the illiteracy and poor education of applicants.”
Rashid A. Abdu, publisher of the Michigan-based Yemeni-American, believes 100 or more Yemeni-Americans have had their passports taken away in Sanaa under dubious circumstances. He met with Congressman John Dingell not only to seek assistance but to remind him that word spreads fast in Yemen: these American citizens who could be serving as helpful bridges between the two countries are instead passing the word that the U.S. government seems to be singling them out for punishment (Dingell’s Dearborn office acknowledged the passport issue, but referred formal comment to the Congressman’s Washington office, who in turn refused to comment on the matter.)
A Bigger Picture
The actions at the American embassy in Yemen, while at first appearing to be little more than spiteful bureaucracy, fit into a larger pattern. For example, at the same time in 2011 the U.S. was ramping up its actions against Yemeni-Americans, Australia appeared to be doing much the same thing. “Withholding passports is an important means of preventing Australians from traveling overseas to train, support or participate in terrorism,” an Australian government spokesperson said. “It may also be used to help prevent an Australian already overseas from participating in activities that are prejudicial to the security of Australia or another country.”
The Government of the United States can also take away passports from American Citizens if “The Secretary of State determines that the applicant’s activities abroad are causing or are likely to cause serious damage to the national security or the foreign policy of the United States.”
If the government feels it is against its interest for you to have a passport and thus the freedom to travel, to depart the United States if you wish to, it will just take it away. The law allows this prospectively, the “or are likely to cause…” part of the law, meaning you don’t need to have done anything. The government just needs to decide that you might.
A Judicial Watch Freedom of Information Act request revealed that prior to having him and his 16 year old son killed by a drone in 2011, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton secretly revoked the passport of Anwar al-Awlaki, al Qaeda propagandist and U.S. Citizen. The State Department even tried later to invite al-Awlaki into the U.S. embassy in Yemen so that they could encourage him to return to the U.S. to face charges. In a cable to the embassy in Sanaa, al-Awaki’s street address was listed. The embassy was to send him a written letter inviting him into the embassy, specifying that he was to bring along photo ID “to preserve his privacy rights.” Six months later (al-Awlaki never dropped by the Embassy, by the way), the U.S. government simply killed him. Two weeks after that it killed his 16 year old son, also an American citizen.
Because the passport revocations at the Secretary of State’s pleasure can be secret, it has been difficult to track down recent examples where the U.S. government revoked the passport of an American simply because his/her presence abroad bothered– or might bother– the Secretary of State. In fact, the only example found was that of infamous ex-CIA officer Phillip Agee, who in the 1970′s exposed CIA officers identities. It was in Agee’s case that the Supreme Court coldly stated that “The right to hold a passport is subordinate to national security and foreign policy considerations.”
There is at least one other case of extra-judicial forced expatriation, this one outside of Yemen, though it follows an identical pattern of action by the State Department. Officials at the American embassy in Kuwait told an American working as a U.S. military contractor there that after they confiscated his passport that “he should no longer consider himself a U.S. citizen.”At issue is a 20 year old problem that occurred before the Moroccan-American resident of Oregon even was a U.S. citizen. “American citizenship is too important to be subject to the whims of low level bureaucrats,” a lawyer for the subject wrote. “If there are any concerns about my client’s citizenship, he has the right to have those concerns addressed through the judicial process once he returns to the United States.” The State Department referred questions about the case to its Bureau of Consular Affairs, where an official said she could not discuss the case because of privacy concerns.
State Department’s Response
Though the State Department did not respond to requests for comment on this article either, in response to a Yemeni newspaper inquiry the Department said “While we do not comment on individual cases, we take all passport fraud allegations seriously. U.S. passports are the property of the United States Government and under certain circumstances can be revoked.”
Perhaps more telling is the State Department’s actions toward the American embassy official in Yemen in charge of the passport revocations. On November 13, via a cable sent worldwide to all embassies and consulates but curiously not yet made public, the State Department named the official consular officer of the year, an award for excellence that the cable said acknowledged “outstanding individual contributions… with a particular emphasis on efficiency and quality… the committee was impressed with (her) inspired leadership.” According to that official’s Facebook page, she was also promoted, and given a dream follow-on assignment from Yemen to Australia.
State’s generous actions toward its official in Yemen are more than the usual puffery. They strongly imply sanction of the passport seizures and revocations, and thus encourage additional such actions despite the concerns at the White House and lawsuits that have followed. In the world of bureaucracy, no career action survives public chastisement without having official sanction.
The War Hits Home
Despite the devastating effect on individual lives, it is hard to see what is truly being accomplished in Yemen for the United States. Perhaps like the NSA hoovering up our Facebook posts, the point may be not that they need to do it, but that they can. A bureaucracy unchecked just continues to reach deeper into citizens’ lives.
On the other hand, open season on Yemeni-Americans appears more than simple bureaucratic zeal. Since 9/11, the U.S. has stopped considering law and regulation in favor of unilateral, and often times secret, extra-judicial actions. From the more significant steps of indefinite imprisonment without trial, to torture to daily violations of Constitutional freedoms, the tentacles of the war on terror now reach as far as the forced expatriation of individual American citizens.
“John Kerry has the skill, toughness, and ego to be a great secretary of state,” says Aaron David Miller on ForeignPolicy.com. So that’s that.
But don’t stop there. Miller goes on to say:
This sense of self-confidence is the hallmark of the Kerry style of diplomacy. No problem is too big that it can’t be made better. Trying and failing isn’t ideal; but it’s better than not trying at all. And if given enough time and focus — will and skill, too — there’s always a way forward. Only someone with this kind of can-do attitude would venture into Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy against such extremely long odds; keep pushing for a Geneva conference to end Syria’s civil war with the faintest of hopes of success; and (not or) be bullish on a deal with Iran that has alienated key U.S. allies and much of Congress, too.
But wait, there’s more. In fact, Miller pulls out the debate trick everyone in Washington with an apparent failure to explain away uses:
I’m less interested in an interim report card on his record. It is way too soon for that. What intrigues me more are the trend lines, and specifically what will be required at the end of the day for him to be judged a truly consequential secretary of state, let alone one of America’s best. Perhaps this isn’t his goal. But watching John Kerry — the Energizer Bunny of U.S. diplomacy — I’d be stunned if it wasn’t.
First, a big “LOL” for the Energizer Bunny reference. But the real rabbit out of the hat is the idea that no matter messed up Kerry seems to be at present, we just have to wait, for what, like 20 or 40 years and then we’ll see he was right all along. I remember the Bush apologists saying the same garbage about the Iraq War, give it time, history will judge. Right.
The article goes on and on, tumbling to earth somewhere between the Plain of Lack of Insight and the Sea of Hagiography. And why not? Here’s what the author’s Wikipedia page has to tell us about his objectivity on the subject of America’s international relations, especially in the MidEast:
Miller worked within the United States Department of State for twenty four years (1978–2003). Between 1988 and 2003, Miller served six secretaries of state as an advisor on Arab-Israeli negotiations, where he participated in American efforts to broker agreements between Israel, Jordan, Syria, and the Palestinians. He left the Department of State in January 2003 to serve as president of Seeds of Peace, an international youth organization, founded in 1993. In January 2006, he became a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC.
Now you’d think a guy who was dining out on participating in 15 years of stalemate in the Middle East might be a tad… humble, or introspective, instead of the dull cheerleading that passes for journalism over at FP.com. Hah hah.
I try to stop, maybe go a few days, but then I’ll be feeling a little sorry for myself, maybe a little lonely and I say, just a quick one, just one web page, and then I’ll quit. I’ll pop over to say the US Embassy in Baghdad site, for example, you know, just for a quick look, and then before I know it the room is spinning around me, I can’t find my shirt and somehow the clock is showing 5 am and I have to explain to a seven year old why daddy never went to bed last night. Again. My wife just rolls over; she already knows.
I want to stop– really– but then this happens and I can’t. Here’s just a taste of the hell I live in through because of the Embassy press releases I binge on:
Ambassador Stephen Beecroft hosted a business roundtable with the representatives of several U.S. companies operating in Iraq. Although the local market presents certain challenges, there is an increasing number of substantial U.S. companies making strategic investment commitments in Iraq.
Then it spirals out of control for me. I frantically look for any reference, just a link maybe, to any of these “several (substantial) U.S. companies operating in Iraq.” My hands shake on my mouse as I Google madly, trying to find just one name of one company that participated in this roundtable. I find none.
My thirst grows. I return to Google, eyes now blazing, looking through the world’s media for any mention of this roundtable outside of the Embassy’s own press release. I find one: Iraq-Business News. But even as my hand steadies and the electrons start to flow into my brain, there is no relief. The article is just a word-for-word republishing of the embassy press release, with ads selling some sort of flim-flam “How To Do Business in Iraq” consulting reports.
My last hope fades as I re-read the line from the embassy press release “Although the local market presents certain challenges…” Challenges? Like open civil war, car bombs, al Qaeda, bribery, hatred of Americans, need for 24/7 armed security, kidnappings, murder for hire and an almost complete lack of infrastructure, banking and transportation? What mad mind summarizes that as “certain challenges?” What sick, sick person thinks anyone will be persuaded by such pathetic words? Are they doing this to break me? Are there gray men and women in the embassy in Baghdad writing this, knowing I’ll read it, State’s slow revenge on me?
I pound the keyboard into plastic bits, the tiny pieces mimicking what has happened in my head. I tell myself this is it, I can’t– won’t– do this to myself again. I will quit cold reading Embassy press releases, not just from Iraq, but from Afghanistan and all the others. I will start writing instead about, I don’t know, gardening, or something to do with kittens, and re-find my soul.
I dream of gin-scented tears to run down either side of my nose and allow me to conquer myself. But then I reach for the mouse. Someone on Twitter has posted a link to another press release and I close my eyes and click, click, click once again, knowing I am doomed to repeat the cycle. I no longer have the choice. I love embassy press releases.
(My sincere apologies to any reader wrestling with real substance abuse. I hope you can appreciate the attempt at humor and if not, sorry for the offense.)
Remember back in 8th grade U.S. History with Mr. O’Neil, the alcoholic football coach who had to teach at least one class to stay on the payroll? He taught you about the Monroe Doctrine (go ahead and check Wikipedia if you have to, but this is gonna be on the test people I kid you not. Bueller, are you paying attention?!?)
The Monroe Doctrine was an early spasm of empire by the U.S., declaring, just ’cause it could, that Europeans could no longer create colonies in Central and South America. Those areas, as of 1823, would be exclusively America’s turf to conquer, control, exploit. The U.S. did this conquering, controlling and exploiting with great gusto, from essentially annexing all of Central America using Marines, to overthrowing various South American governments and installing U.S. puppets who maintained control by torturing and repressing their own people. It was all a rich tapestry of murder and slime, kind of like what happened to the Native Americans but with a Doctrine.
Nobody in America but 8th grade U.S. History teachers has given a crap about the Monroe Doctrine for the last 100 years. Down south, however, they do remember how sick it was that the U.S. just announced it was conquering Central and South America. It’s in their history classes too, with a different spin.
FYI: The Europeans have not recently been doing much colonizing in Central and South America.
A Genuine Capacity for Mediocrity
None of that mattered, as “America’s Own,” Secretary of State John Kerry, strained to make headlines recently by declaring “that the Monroe Doctrine, a nearly 200-year-old policy which had governed Washington’s relations with Latin America, was finally dead.”
In a previous piece we noted that in his nine months as secretary of state, Kerry, the man, has shown a genuine capacity for mediocrity and an almost tragicomic haplessness. Why would he do something as pointless as pronounce a self-proclaimed imperialistic doctrine that has not been relevant for like 100 years now dead? Kerry might as well be talking about the Stamp Act, or the Whiskey Rebellion (dammit, if you need to look those up too, do it yourself. Jeez, they were on the SAT.)
To understand Kerry, you need to understand the State Department he works for.
State is a wholly insular organization. State has devolved into nothing more than America’s increasingly irrelevant concierge abroad as foreign policy moves into the NSC and/or the Pentagon. State continues to turn inward. When no one in Washington really gives a rat’s behind about what State “reports” from “the field” via its “cables,” State just doubles-down and spends its time praising itself. “Nice think-piece cable on widows in Morocco Smithers– I heard the Deputy Assistant Secretary scanned the summary. Kudos my good man!” Yes, State still uses words like kudos. Go look that up too.
Viva Senor Kerry!
So in the minds at State, it worked like this. Between the long legacy of evil actions by the U.S., the Snowden revelations that the NSA spies on everyone everywhere in Central and South America, U.S. bullying of tiny Ecuador over Julian Assange, U.S. bullying of Bolivia over Snowden, U.S. bullying of Venezuela over whatever it is that bugs the U.S. so much about Venezuela, and the fifty year hissy fit over Cuba, someone at State glanced up from perusing his morning dispatches to realize the U.S. just isn’t well-thought of down there. Since inside State bull is just another reality, why not do something swell like announce the end of the Monroe Doctrine, and then, by golly, South Americans will like the U.S. once again! Our United States– still believing empty symbolism is a replacement for action. Might as well be giving beads and blankets to the Native Americans in return for Montana.
And who knows what is next. Perhaps to calm the Germans, Kerry will repudiate the Treaty of Versailles?
That’s really how they think. That’s how it came to be that the secretary of state went out of his way to proclaim an irrelevant doctrine dead one hundred years after it no longer mattered. That’s really what America’s representatives abroad do with your tax dollars.
Viva la Doctrine de el Presidente Monroe! Viva Senor Kerry!
Following our story on the alleged sexual shenanigans at the U.S. Consulate in Naples (photo, left, is the consulate Halloween party), attorney Lawrence Kelly has forwarded another translated affidavit from an ex-Italian local employee of the State Department, along with the response to the broader allegations from the U.S. Embassy in Rome.
Let’s start with that:
State Department Response
Dear Mr. Kelly:
I am writing to you in response to your message to Ambassador Phillips dated September 12, 2013. The Department of State takes any complaint of this nature very seriously. The Department of State does not comment on personnel issues.
Deputy Chief of Mission
U.S. Embassy Rome
So, that’s settled.
Or maybe not, as Kelly’s client filed a formal complaint with the Department after Embassy Rome failed to do anything. That pending complaint includes material from the affidavit, below. While of course we cannot verify the authenticity of any of the statements below, the Department of State sure can if they wish to, all of which should make for an interesting time (all redactions are by this blog):
My name is _____, I was born on _____ in _____, and I live in _____. I worked for nine long years at your embassy of Naples-based in Piazza della Repubblica. And only today as we honor Martin Luther King (my personal hero) 50 years after his death, I find the courage to write some thoughts about the person of Mr. Donald Moore [Note: Moore was the head of the Naples Consulate, i.e., Consul General]
I cannot understand why Mr. Moore suspended me from work, just because I, [two names redacted by this blog; one was the State Department security officer] were aware of his private affairs, such as the relationship that Mr. Moore had with the language instructor _____, from which he was to have a child, but who he convinced to have an abortion in exchange to not fire her. These facts are certain. I can testify. I agree in every way with what Ms. Kerry [the American employee who filed the formal complaint against Moore] has said because first of all she is a good person; very respectful to the Italians, who is loved by me and my family. Mr. Moore took advantage of me work-wise… and thanks to Donald Moore my career is now over, blocked, because of my knowledge of private matters that [the language teacher] came and told me about and now she is still at the consulate and while I have no job.
Returning to the relationship between Moore and [the language teacher], I can testify that I have seen and heard everything because I was often present during the telephone conversations that happened between the two lovers, especially when I was acting as her driver in my personal car. In fact [the language teacher] told Mr. Moore that I was very helpful to her, bringing her to the consulate in the afternoons, (because she worked at a hospital in the morning) then in the afternoon she came to give Italian language lessons to Moore and other Americans.
[The language teacher] always told me that when she was teaching Mr. Moore they always ended up having sex in his office. Then, Mr. Moore would invite her for lunch in the residence, and then suddenly tell his household staff to leave the residence (his butler _____ and two housekeepers _____ and _____) saying that he had important work to do. In your opinion, Mr. Councilor, what was this important work? It was to go to bed with [the language teacher]; and I am certain in this because [the language teacher], before going to the residence passed by the fourth floor where I worked and showed me the intimate underwear she was going to wear, because we had such a close and confidential rapport. She would use the emergency stairway from the fourth floor that is connected to the residence so that no one could see her go, except me. She often told me, “Listen _____, don’t say anything to anyone because Mr. Moore doesn’t trust these Americans.” I would respond, “Not to worry! I have not seen you!” This is how she climbed the stairs unseen by indiscreet eyes and saw her lover.
[The language teacher] is very friendly with a certain _____, responsible for the security of the American Consulate. She confided in _____ who was fully aware of the relationship between Mr. Moore and [the language teacher]. He often said to her, “If you love him, what is the problem?” It was on a beautiful day that [the language teacher] come to the Consulate (in 2011), in tears and sobbing. She told me and _____ that Mr. Moore advised (forced is a more accurate term) to have an abortion, because he was already separated and had a son in France. And being career diplomat, he could not have these strong personal ties. [the language teacher], mortified and alone, was forced to turn to a gynecologist with an office on via Gramsci for an appointment that Mr. Moore had made to have an abortion. (The fetus was two months old.) But, Consul Moore had promised her that she would be able to remain working at the consulate without a problem. Meanwhile, _____, _____, _____ and I were unjustly fired from our jobs. When [the language teacher] told everything to [the security officer] she was told to stay away from Consul Moore because the Rome embassy security was investigating their private relationship and quietly ordered Mr. Moore to break off the relationship. But [the language teacher] told me that often still met Mr. Moore at her house when her daughter was not at home.
Now I ask myself, why was I the “sacrificial goat” when others, (the security officer), Mrs. _____ and _____ were fully aware of the intimate and private details of their relationship. There are CCTV tapes that can confirm everything that I say. There are also the guards that saw me often accompanying [the language teacher] in my personal car. I could write a book about the relationship between this Italian-American couple, but how would the testimony of a man my age help, even though he knows so many bad details. Today I am without work, with a wife and two children to feed and a house in the hands of the bank. Still today I cannot believe that [the language teacher] and [the security officer] are living the good life.
And so while this could all be just made-up, we’ll conclude with a couple of questions.
– The statements above are easily verifiable facts, and with plenty of suggested collaborating witnesses, that it would not require much effort at all for State to verify or dismiss the accusations quickly. Have they? If not, why not? You’d think that at a minimum they would want to be able to tell the Italian press that the accusations are baseless to preserve the image of the United States.
– The most recent inspection of the embassy in Rome’s cafeteria noted “Valid complaints have been leveled at the cool temperatures of prepared foods,” so we do know that State is on top of the important things.
– Why does the Consulate Naples still list Donald Moore as the Consul General on this page, while welcoming the new Consul General on this page (Moore was transferred to an obscure U.S. domestic position by the State Department)? The new Consul General has been there since September, following Moore’s coincidental departure around the time of the allegations.
– Why does the State Department praise (p. 42) Naples for coordinating on behalf of Iranians “very smoothly with the Italian Embassy in Tehran to assist applicants who need Italian visas to attend their visa appointments in Naples.” Doing this work on behalf of Iranian visa applicants is a U.S. national interest because… ?
– Why does a relatively minor U.S. government official like Moore in a tiny consulate have a butler, a driver and two maids paid for by the U.S. taxpayer? There are only ten Americans assigned to Naples anyway.
– For that matter, why does the U.S. have a tiny consulate in a relatively unimportant city like Naples anyway? The U.S. already has a huge embassy in Rome, three consulates in other parts of Italy, plus three consular agencies (like small branch offices), plus a whole separate embassy with its own ambassador just for the Vatican. The U.S. State Department maintains in Italy a full-time staff of well-over 500 people, at an annual cost of over $97 million, because… ?
Italy is about 116k square miles, roughly the size of California.
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