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.
Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
“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.
Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
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.)
Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
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.
The New York Post reports that Ms. Kerry Howard, the community-liaison officer at the U.S. Consulate in Naples, claims she was run out of her job with the State Department after complaining about the consul general’s alleged office trysts with subordinates and hookers.
Ms. Howard stated she had been bullied, harassed and forced to resign after she exposed US Consul General Donald Moore’s (pictured, left) alleged security-threatening shenanigans in the Naples, Italy, office. She explained that when she revealed allegations about her boss, State Department officials swept it under the rug, according to an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint she filed with the Department’s Office of Civil Rights. This blog has covered this story briefly before, but we now have new information, exclusive to this blog.
Needless to say State declined to comment to the Post. Ms. Howard resigned. Consul General Moore took another assignment elsewhere for State. In the insular world of Foggy Bottom, problem solved.
EXCLUSIVE: Here’s More about Moore
Lawrence Kelly is an attorney in New York representing Kerry Howard, the woman in the New York Post articles who raised the concerns about Naples.
Kelly’s bio has him previous serving as Senior Rule of Law Advisor for the State Department on a Provincial Reconstruction Team in southern Iraq. He also does pro bono works for 9/11 victims (Trial Lawyers Care) and with TSGLI, a lump sum disability benefit for seriously wounded service members. While we have no way to verify the following statements, the State Department sure as heck can, and we invite their comment.
Here’s attorney Lawrence Kelly, today’s guest blogger, with more on Naples:
When the United States is interested in a foreign country, it likes to have a big footprint. What happens to the locals who interact or work with Americans when the Americans lose interest? There is a precedent. In the seventy years since the end of World War II, generations of European families have worked in American embassies and consulates as locally employed staff. If the recent treatment of locally employed staff in the consulate in Naples Italy is any indication, the locals might want to keep a consigliere on retainer.
The New York Post has done two stories on the consequences to the careers of American whistleblowers in the Foreign Service confronting the abysmal activities of senior management in these European posts. Even worse, and not yet disclosed in the media, are the stark consequences for the locally employed staff of being in the wrong place and observing the misbehavior of senior State Department staff. The United States has shown itself to be ungrateful, arrogant and malicious in destroying the lives of locally employed staff to cover up for American misdeeds.
The State Department standard of care has devolved into the Clinton query “what difference does it make?” I have obtained statements from the locally employed staff separated from their Naples Consulate employment. Their observations include the following [Note: Kelly supplied these translations, along with Italian language originals]
“XXX receives in his apartments women of dubious morality, sleeping with them during working hours. …More seriously, I have seen the falsifying of the accounts for food for guests and dignitaries. XXX making them much higher. In addition, he was seeing a psychiatrist attending many sessions and her diagnosis was is mentally unstable, how can it be that a man so mentally unstable be in such a position? During one attack of anger he destroyed the courtyard of the Consulate two metal umbrella containers, taking them kicking and throwing them from the apartments above.”
“I have witnessed in my working things like; XXX received in his residence women who dressed as prostitutes…he had often the habit to cook rotten foods, for example when he was the host of the British Consul General he served meat that had expired in 2010. He also falsified receipts for the costs of his events.”
“XXX (definitely a very despicable person in my opinion”)… advised (a locally employed staff member he had impregnated) forced is a more accurate term to have an abortion…XXX had promised her that she would be able to remain working at the consulate. There are close circuit television tapes that can confirm everything that I say….a man who forces a woman to have an abortion is what kind of man?”
So, as Secretary Clinton would ask, what difference does it make? Families who served the United States for seventy years are thrown away by a feckless United States, discharged from their employment, because the State Department was unable to control or contain senior managers. During the entirety of the Clinton era at the State Department, there was no congressional designation of an Inspector General. Internal investigations were instead run by Foreign Service veterans with close personal ties to existing senior management. Locally employed staff were disposable during an era when suppression of embarrassing details were the governing rules of the road. Regional Security Officers were used to suppress dissent, and morally outraged foreign service officers who raised red flags were admonished, curtailed or forced to seek transfer out of the assignment.
As for the future, it is little consolation that individuals at the top of the pyramid in Italy during this period have now been moved to the State Department nerve center, the Seventh Floor of Main State. David Thorne, John Kerry’s former brother in law and Yale roommate, was Ambassador to Italy during this time, and the consequences to the locally employed staff of his tenure are fairly represented by the termination of six long term employees whose crime was simply knowing the truth about the Americans in charge of the Consulate.
The stark consequence to the local employees is that a message has been sent. Americans are not to be trusted. Even by their fellow Americans.
We’ll have more on this situation
in the near future Friday, November 15, so please check back!
We pause to honor America’s veterans today, and recognize their sacrifices. At the same time, we wish to let those still on active duty, living in the mud, eating MREs away from their families and of course putting their lives at risk, what some have called “America’s Other Army,” the Department of State, has been up to home and abroad.
That said, we’ve tried to keep up with the near-continuous flow of sleaze at the State Department, but it a tough job. Luckily, the New York Post has also been keeping track, and presents us with some updates.
(This blog’s catalog of sleaze is here if you need to refresh your memory)
From the Post:
– Chuck Lisenbee, a former Beirut security officer who was being probed for allegedly sexually assaulting local guards, is now a special agent in Washington for the Office of Diplomatic Vehicles, Enforcement and Outreach, according to a State Department phone directory. Agents were only given three days to investigate the allegations against him, according to a memo seen by the Post.
An alert blog reader has submitted in the comments below: “More details on Lisenbee: he first got into trouble when he tried to make out with a fellow (male) ARSO in Baghdad. His depredations against local guards in Liberia were then discovered. Lisenbee started every lunch with prayer because “Jesus Christ, my lord and savior, is the most important thing in my life” (exact quote heard by this source on at least 50 occasions). ”
– Brett McGurk — a former senior adviser to the ambassador to Iraq — was appointed the deputy assistant secretary for Iraq and Iran in August, according to the State Department Web site. He was President Obama’s nominee for ambassador to Iraq but withdrew after his extramarital affair with a Wall Street Journal reporter was exposed. Apparently, investigators never interviewed McGurk because Clinton’s chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, intervened. (this blog has A LOT more on McGurk’s dalliances; and you’ll see a lot more of Under Furher Cheryl Mills in the Hillary Clinton administration)
– Former Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman was allowed to retire in July. A State Department investigator believed Gutman solicited “sexual favors from both prostitutes and minor children,” according to the Post. The IG’s Office is reviewing the charges and the Department’s procedures and plans to release a followup report. Howard Gutman and members of Clinton’s security detail were also accused of hired prostitutes.
– An alert blog reader has submitted in the comments below: “Remember old Linda Howard, profiled on this blog for holding her Ethiopian housekeeper as a slave. She lost a big lawsuit over that. The U.S. Attorney was unable to prosecute her and her husband, Russell, because Linda’s sex parties in Yemen were really popular and the “semi-pro” Ethiopian girls in attendance made a lot of money at them. As a result, they didn’t make terribly good witnesses. The Howard’s are currently hiding out in an undisclosed SouthEast Asian country (Russell used to be a diplomatic courier in the Australian Foreign Service).”
Meanwhile, a quick update also on America’s Favorite Diplomatic Security agent, Chris Deedy. Deedy shot and killed an unarmed man in Hawaii while there on official State Department business (albeit off duty when he pulled the trigger multiple times), guarding Hillary Clinton during APEC meetings. The judge declared a mistrial, released the jury and stated she was thinking about scheduling a retrial for May or June 2014. The killing took place in 2011. At last report, the victim remains dead. Much more here about this story; Deedy remains a full-time paid employee of the State Department.
The Honolulu Star Advertiser and HawaiiNewsNOW have filed a complaint in state Supreme Court to force the judge to release transcripts of the parts of the Deedy trial where she kicked everyone out of the courtroom, saying the judge violated the U.S. Constitution by holding closed-door court proceedings.
Deedy’s support group is also busy, asking readers to donate their frequent flyer miles and hotel points so Deedy can fly and stay in Hawaii for free. Jump on over to their site if you want to pony up.
And don’t miss more State sleaze later this week, with a blog post we’ll call “Sex, Lies and Rotten Meat at the American Consulate in Naples.”
Over-classification in our government is real.
Designed primarily to hide the actions of the peoples’ government from the people, federal agencies now routinely slap a classified label on just about everything; the Department of Defense recently classified a memo about over-classification. Obama even signed (albeit with his fingers crossed behind his back) the Reducing Over-Classification Act, which required various parts of the federal government to (you guessed it) reduce over-classification. As part of implementing this law, federal inspectors general are supposed to “evaluate” the classification policies of the organizations.
As a public service to inspectors general, may I suggest you take a look over at the State Department?
State, which about a year ago sought to fire me, in part, for “revealing” a document that was labeled Sensitive But Unclassified (SBU), snail-mailed me an SBU document. That document was a form letter, appropriately classified because, why not? Let’s be a touch civilly disobedient and have a look at it:
Like most of you (“the internet”) I have no security clearance. I am pretty sure my mail carrier does not have a security clearance, nor does the youngster at my home who first opened the mail yet there, all pink and naked, lies an actual SBU document. Now of course it is a form letter about income taxes with a rubber stamp signature, but dammit, don’t your eyes burn? Now look away! FYI, my financial information, included in the envelope, did not carry any classification. The youngster has been appropriately punished.
Of course the whole concept of “Sensitive But Unclassified/SBU” is a bit of a joke; technically no such category of actual US Government classification actually exists. The State Department and others just sort of made up “SBU” after 9/11 in an attempt to include basically every document and email created inside Foggy Bottom in some sort of restricted category. In a report prepared by the Library of Congress, the authors wrote “Although there is growing concern in the post 9/11 world that guidelines for the protection of SBU are needed, a uniform legal definition or set of procedures applicable to all Federal government agencies does not now exist. Regulations are reported to be under development in the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Homeland Security.”
State itself self-defines SBU as “information which warrants a degree of protection and administrative control that meets the criteria for exemption from public disclosure.”
So all you inspectors general out there, can you tell we people out here exactly what in the State Department’s form letter about taxes “warrants a degree of protection and administrative control that meets the criteria for exemption from public disclosure”? ‘Cause if you can’t find anything, then maybe State is just a little bit heavy-handed with its classification policies.
At least I hope so. Otherwise, somebody at State just sorta leaked an SBU document into the mail system. OH NO!
BONUS: It is apparently of no interest to law enforcement when someone high up in the State Department leaks an actual Secret document to the media, at least when said leak was designed to benefit the Department.
BONUS BONUS: Since State willfully sent a classified document to me, knowing I have this blog, were they hoping I’d expose it here? Is the State Department whistleblowing on itself in some odd national security act of autoeroticism?
The oft-repeated pop psychology definition of mental illness– doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results– pretty much sums up America’s limp efforts at reconstruction, nation building, hearts and minds, counterinsurgency, whatever tag you choose.
Efforts failed spectacularly and expensively in Iraq and (ongoing) in Afghanistan, and just as significantly, though more quietly, in Libya. With Obama having morphing into McCain like an old werewolf movie scene and calling for more wrath in Syria or wherever, it is obvious that the U.S. intends to stay in the nation building business.
The Return of the Jedi
One guy with some experience in the trade thinks he has a better idea of how to do this. Stuart Bowen was the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) and produced a series of reports that year-by-year carefully documented America’s failure in Iraq to reconstruct much of anything. Whereas in my own book, We Meant WellI sought to document such failures on the local scale, Bowen’s assessments were Jedi-like, sweeping and Iraq-wide. Through the seemingly endless years of that war, Bowen shouted into the darkness about the waste, fraud and corruption in Iraq. His organization actively sought criminal prosecutions of those doing the wasting and the corrupting. This guy was born with both fists up, and good for him about that.
In a working document Bowen’s office shared with me, the story is this:
Who should be accountable for planning, managing, and executing stabilization and reconstruction operations (SROs)? The U.S. government’s existing approach provides no clear answer. Responsibilities for SROs are divided among several agencies, chiefly the Department of State, the Department of Defense, and the United States Agency for International Development. As a result, lines of responsibility and accountability are not well-defined.
The lack of an established SRO management system forced the U.S. government to respond to challenges in Iraq through a series of ad hoc agencies that oversaw stabilization and reconstruction activities with—unsurprisingly—generally unsatisfactory outcomes.
A New Hope
Bowen suggest a new solution, comprising a collection of targeted operational reforms and the creation of an integrated management office— the U.S. Office for Contingency Operations (USOCO)— that would be accountable for planning and executing SROs. You can read more details about his proposed new agency.
As almost an air-tight endorsement of the idea, both State and Defense oppose it. Bowen explained that both agencies believe that the existing management structure, which diffuses duties between and among varying agencies, is preferable to implementing a new, consolidated system. State believes that SRO problems chiefly arise from insufficient resources and not management weaknesses (Note: A lack of money, and not management problems, is State’s default answer to nearly everything from failure in Iraq to failure in Benghazi).
The Empire Strikes Out
While the reality is that just about nobody in Congress will support creation of a new government entity in the current political climate, the Obama Administration remains hell-bent to do some more nation building. If nothing new is tried (that mental illness definition again!) nothing new will happen. Failure is assured. Again. Bowen’s idea is worth looking into as a possible way to break the loop.
At the same time, a new organization sitting around the table with no purpose other than to tuck into reconstruction may be more dangerous that you think. The bureaucratic rules of evolution that govern Washington say any organization, once spun up, will seek more resources and more reasons to continue to exist. Would having a new office for SRO work simply create another strong voice inside government in favor of more SRO operations?
The jury is still out on how best to proceed. The best way to win at Fight Club is not to get into it in the first place. Is it too much to dream that maybe the U.S. will just stop invading and intervening abroad, and perhaps create an office designated to reconstructing America instead?
According to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Convening Authorities can reduce or eliminate a convicted soldier’s sentence. They use this power when they feel the court martial failed to deliver justice. As Commanding General of the Military District of Washington, Major General Jeffrey S. Buchanan is the only other individual besides President Obama (and there ain’t no joy there unless Manning qualifies as a Syrian kid) with the power to lessen Pvt. Manning’s sentence.
This process is not new, nor unique. Though a slightly different judicial procedure, the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals only in June of this year reduced the sentence of a former Ramstein Air Base staff sergeant who advertised babysitting services to gain access to three young girls he repeatedly sexually assaulted. Staff Sgt. Joshua A. Smith’s sentence was reduced such that Smith, 30, would be eligible for parole after a decade or more. The appellate judges, in their written opinion, said that despite the heinousness of Smith’s crimes against the girls — ages 3, 4 and 7 — the sentence handed down in November 2010 by military judge Col. Dawn R. Eflein and approved by the Third Air Force commander was “unduly severe.”
If you wish to add your voice to the many now asking for Manning’s sentence to be reduced, the instructions on how to do so are straightforward.
Here is what I wrote:
Major General Jeffrey S. Buchanan
Commanding General, U.S. Army Military District of Washington, DC
I write to request that as the Convening Authority in the case of U.S. v. Bradley E. Manning you move to reduce Pvt. Manning’s sentence to time served. Pvt. Manning has, in the course of several difficult years of confinement, taken responsibility for his actions and has been punished.
As the leader of a State Department Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Iraq, I was embedded with the 10th Mountain Division, 2nd Brigade at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Hammer at the same time Manning was deployed there (though we never met.) I worked closely with Colonel Miller and his team to implement U.S. goals, and came away with great respect for him and his officers, and the enlisted men and women of the Commandos.
At the same time, I experienced first-hand the austere conditions at FOB Hammer, and the difficult lives the soldiers led. As you are aware, one young soldier tragically took his own life early in the deployment at Hammer. Many veteran soldiers, some who served in the Balkans, also talked about the rough conditions at our FOB. I saw that at times computer security was imperfect. While none of this excuses Pvt. Manning (nor should it; he himself has plead guilty to multiple counts), it does in part help explain it. I ask that you consider these factors in your decision.
As a State Department employee, I had access to the same databases Pvt. Manning in part disclosed, and back in Washington played a small roll in State’s “damage review.” I thus know better than most outsiders what Pvt. Manning did and, significantly, did not disclose, and am in a position to assess dispassionately the impact. As the State Department and the DoD reluctantly concluded at Manning’s trial, little if any verifiable damage was indeed done to the United States. There is no denying that the disclosures were embarrassing and awkward, but that is not worth most of a man’s life.
Justice elevates us all, and reflects well on our beloved nation. The revenge inherent in a 35 year sentence against Pvt. Manning does not.
Peter Van Buren
A recent post, Forbes: State Department Number Three Dream Employer, about how popular working for the State Department is among people who have never actually worked for the State Department, merited a follow-on. Here it is.
Daniel Garrett was a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Japan 2008-2010. The State Department decided he just wasn’t their kind of guy, and let him go. I have never met Dan, but his farewell to the Department of State and his advice to Japan bear quoting at length. People considering a career in the Foreign Service should also consider the price they’ll pay.
Dan, if you’re out there, look me up. I want to shake your hand and buy you a beer. You dodged a bullet, and you should be proud that State pushed you out. Here’s what Dan said:
I used to walk from the US Embassy over to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. If the message I was to deliver was one I didn’t agree with, I used to walk a little slower, wondering if I was selling my soul for a diplomatic passport. Once, for example, I was asked to deliver a demarche about the US position on cluster munitions (basically that the new generation of these weapons was much safer). Japan, of course, has signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, and the US has not. These horribly indiscriminate weapons (new generation or not) are rightfully banned. For Japan’s signature though to have any real meaning, it cannot allow its major defense ally to store them in Japan: to do so is to be complicit. The US position (as it is with landmines) is wrong and I apologize to the people of Japan for pretending otherwise.
Once I was asked to deliver a demarche asking that Japan not support a U.N. resolution calling for research into the health effects of depleted uranium. As the children stillborn, or born deformed in Fallujah and elsewhere testify, depleted uranium weapons pose a horrible health risk even after their initial explosive destructiveness. The US position is wrong and I apologize to the people of Japan for pretending otherwise.
Once I was asked to deliver a demarche to the government of Japan asking them not to vote in the U.N. Human Rights Council to accept the Goldstone report from the U.N. fact-finding mission to the Gaza conflict. Had this report been written by a US State Department Human Rights Officer (as I was) about a country that wasn’t a US ally, it would have been widely praised by the Secretary of State. The US position was wrong and I apologize to the people of Japan for pretending otherwise.
Once, as a Human Rights Officer, I was approached by a Japanese group, the Victims of the Red Purge, asking that I deliver a letter to President Obama, asking for an official apology for this US occupation-instigated action that cost so many innocent Japanese their jobs and dignity. I wrote a cable which included their letter, to be delivered to Washington with the recommendation that the US move past this mistaken cold war overreaction and issue a formal apology. The Embassy however overruled my recommendation. In fact, US intervention in the domestic affairs of Japan to insure it had a loyal anti-communist ally, driven largely by a hysteric level of anti-communist demagoguery in US domestic politics, resulted in a profound warping of Japanese democracy, a warping which has persisted for a very long time. The US position is wrong and I apologize to the people of Japan for not being successful in obtaining both an apology and a formal statement that during the Cold War, while the US posed as a champion of freedom, and in some cases may have actually been so, in far, far too many countries and locales, it was deeply and criminally complicit in the suppression of many peoples who wanted that freedom, but were so unfortunate as to be under regimes that touted their anti-communist credentials.
In my own defense, I did try to raise my concerns in various venues. I sent two Dissent Channel cables on climate change, and still recall with a smile the day in the Ambassador’s mahogany-paneled conference room sitting at his magnificently long table across from a solid line of sparkling medal-bedecked military officers when, following a presentation on anti-missile defense, I pointed out that numerous studies (including from our own Congressional Budget Office) have determined that anti-missile defenses don’t work and it seemed to me that we were doing little more than making Raytheon and other corporations and consultants, rich. Ah, the wonderful awkwardness of that moment as if one could almost palpably hear the air escaping from so many punctured pompous balloons.
And this is where I now ask the people of Japan for help. My country is no longer the country I once knew, a country moving at least in the direction of providing opportunity for all, regardless of income. The tendency to paranoia and international law-breaking was always there, at a low fever, in clandestine and semi-clandestine actions around the world, driven by visions of American exceptionalism pandered onto an all too naïve public. Though I like to believe that there was the intention at least to make the world a better place, in fact these actions were frankly not just frequently amateurish and inept, they resulted in the suffering and death of many. Nor it seems, have any of the lessons been learnt.
Since 9/11, the United States has adopted a national security policy that can most charitably be described as one of anaphylactic shock. Terrorism ranks with shark attacks in terms of real risk. We have, however, so over-reacted, and misreacted to the tragedy that we have become a danger both to ourselves and to others. We have squandered our treasure in the sands of hubris and misunderstanding, and I often wonder now if the real good that we do has become just a fig leaf to cover our obscenely over-muscled shadowhand-tattooed as it is with empty slogans- that wields death and destruction at the press of a button, but doesn’t know how to build, and doesn’t seem to have the slightest grasp of history. Out of the excesses of our fears, we have perverted our own Constitution, and become a surveillance state in which the government itself moreover has become, in the words of Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, a “government of the 1% by the 1 % and for the 1%.” With a populace mired in debt, befuddled by vapid corporate media-tainment, and worshiping mindlessly at the rat-race temple of empty consumerism, America is now essentially run by the type of military-industrial-political-banker cabal that President Eisenhower warned about.
Japan please think twice, thrice about the things America asks you to do. Please be a good friend and send as much of our military home as possible. We cannot afford it anymore. Our poor are getting poorer, our education systems are falling behind, and our infrastructure is crumbling. Say that you are happy to work with us, but only if we find a way to either harness or rein in our greed so as to conserve and restore the earth’s natural systems which are all now rapidly being destroyed. Say that you would be happy to be our friend and ally in the greatest battle ever fought, the battle to preserve humanity and the earth from the now rapidly advancing onslaught of climate change. But do not get caught in the misguided adventurism of a decaying empire that is flailing about at phantoms, while the real dangers that haunts it, -climate change, environmental degradation, and the rapidly growing level of inequality of its own people- have essentially been sacrificed on the altar of a military-industrial-political-financial machine that is its own worst enemy.
We today celebrate the reopening for business of the U.S. government, a once proud franchise now reduced to periodic closures and reliance on borrowed money to stay afloat. At the same time, the government remains America’s largest single employer. With the doors reopened today, job-seekers are no doubt lined up for their chance at the trough.
Forbes released the results of a survey of liberal arts majors, asking who their dream employer might be. Number One was Disney, and the usual suspects of Google and Apple scored high. One sort-of surprise was the U.S. Department of State, which ranked Number Three as a dream destination.
The problem of course few if any of those liberal arts majors had ever worked for or substantively interacted with State. Their dreamy images are based entirely on State’s happy-talk propaganda, its Bennetton-like ads promising diversity, its public face suggesting new-hires will be doing important things and moving history.
Well, maybe not. As a public service for those glassy eyed, here is my answer to the question of whether they should join the State Department.
Intelligence Divorced from Innovation and Creativity
After 24 years of service myself, what I tell interested applicants is this: think very, very carefully about a Foreign Service career. The State Department is looking for a very specific kind of person and if you are that person, you will enjoy your career. I have come to understand that the Department wants smart people who will do what they are told, believing that intelligence can be divorced from innovation and creativity. Happy, content compliance is a necessary trait, kind of like being Downton Abbey-British but without the cool accent. The Department will not give you any real opportunity for input for a very long time — years, if ever. You will by requirement spend most of your first, second and maybe third assignments doing assembly-line like numbing visa processing, or holding VIP hands as they “Fact find” abroad. An early thrill might be watching the Secretary of State walk by (without a glance towards you) at 5am as you stand near his luggage as the day’s “Baggage Officer.”
There is no agreed-upon definition of success or even progress at State, no profits, no battles won, no stock prices to measure. Success will be to simply continue to exist, or what your boss says it is, or both, or neither. You may never know what the point is other than that a visiting Congressional delegation conclude with a happy ending, whatever that even is. I spent the bulk of my second tour taking visiting Mrs. VIPs shopping (more senior third tour officers got to escort the VIPs themselves!). This will be your life trip.
At the same time, State has created a personnel system that will require you to serve in more and more dangerous places, and more and more unaccompanied places without family, as a routine. America’s post-9/11 tantrums will ensure more and more countries will become dangerous to Americans. That sounds cool and adventurous at age 25, but try and imagine if you’d still be happy with it at age 45 with a spouse and two kids. What are your core obligations with a child who needs some extreme parenting as you leave your spouse at home alone with him for a year so you can be a placeholder for State’s commitment to be as macho as the military somewhere?
Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze?
Understand that promotions and assignments are more and more opaque. State has recently determined that even promotion statistics cannot be released. Changes in Congress will almost certainly further limit pay and benefits. Your spouse will be un/underemployed most of his or her life. Your kids will change schools, for better or worse, every one, two or three years. Some schools will be good, some not so good, and you’ll have no choice unless you are willing to subvert your career choices to school choices, as in let’s go to Bogota because the schools are good even if the assignment otherwise stinks. The disparity among schools from country-to-country can mean your kids will end up repeating a grade to catch up. You’ll serve more places where you won’t speak the language and get less training as requirements grow without personnel growth. As you get up there, remember your boss, the politically-appointed ambassador (and more than one-third of them are), can arbitrarily be a real estate broker who donated big to the president’s campaign. Make sure all these conditions make sense to you now, and, if you can, as you imagine yourself 10, 15 and 20 years into the future.
It is a very unique person who can say “Yes” truthfully and after real soul-searching. Make sure the juice is worth the squeeze before you accept that job offer. Maybe take another look at Disney first; Mickey is more real than the bunk you are being fed by State’s hired professional recruitment agency.
While naysayers belittle a U.S. government unable to even pay itself to not work, other dedicated federal employees are out there winning the war in Afghanistan. Now thirteen years after the conflict began, a way forward has emerged: franchises.
We all know about these things, right? McDonald’s, Burger King and others sell you the right to open one of their stores. You can buy a franchise for a UPS Store, a Jiffy Lube and just about anything else you can think of. You pay a fee and get the name, all the branded stuff, benefits of national advertising, whatever. A business in a box.
And so to Afghanistan
Your U.S. Commerce Department, after clearly having resolved all unemployment and economic issues in America, has “taken over” Afghanistan. The group held a franchise trade event for seven major international franchise brands and more than 100 Afghan businessmen. Now, the event was held in Dubai of course, because what American businessperson would dare travel into Kabul, but OK, they had those Afghans flown over and the Commerce people got some R&R time in Dubai at the same time. Despite the irony of not holding the event in the actual country it concerned, The It’s Always Sunny in Kabul U.S. Embassy press office bleated that the trade show demonstrated a “belief in the prosperous future of Afghanistan.” The embassy folks also believe that there is a “high demand for American franchise brands in Afghanistan.” Good for them, good for them. Optimism is important thirteen years into a war.
Now, who will buy all the American stuff remains in question. Afghanistan has a $20 billion economy, but a whopping 90 percent of that comes from international assistance.
Talk is cheap. Afghanistan is a place for action, and so it goes with franchising. In fact, two signature American franchises are already in Afghanistan sort of.
Ace is the Place
Ace Hardware is the first. Afghanistan’s Safi Group (see their used car sales page where you can pick up a clean Ford for only US$4000) handed over $1 million dollars for the franchise. They even now have a Facebook page for their ace investment, though the page reeks of State Department social media handlers. Unfortunately, the last posting on the page is a press conference from May, with no clear sign that the Ace Hardware store is actually open. The store as it stands is pictured above, and does look nice. Smart move, not spending too much money on photography. It’s almost as if they built a big shed, painted the Ace Hardware logo on the roof, and called it a day.
The other franchise touted, Cherry Berry yogurt, opened just a convenient few days before the Dubai trade event. It too has a Facebook page in English, with the faint smell of USG social media on it as well. From the Facebook page, the shop looks to be crammed into a small basement of a nondescript building that is so exclusive it doesn’t even feature a Cherry Berry sign out front. Actually, it is probably safer that way, given the Taliban’s predilection for bombing western targets. One happy yogurt patron on the page seemed remarkably not Afghani. A little internet spelunking revealed she works for a social media promotion company run by Americans. One does wonder if that company has any financial or other connection to the U.S. government. Maybe just a coincidence she dropped by for a frozen treat.
So of course this is all a sham, smoke and mirrors so transparent and thin that for the most part this “news” of the American franchise beachhead in Afghanistan exists only in self-serving press releases. I mean, how lame can you be so that even the sad mainstream media thinks you’re too cheesy to report on?
None of this is new, by the way. As a former State Department officer, I remember sitting in meetings during the Iraq Reconstruction hearing how there would be hundreds of Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises opening all over the country, and how tourism would soon outpace oil as a source of foreign revenues in Iraq. The U.S. Embassy arranged and then paid for what was then the Bank of Iraq’s only international ATM, conveniently installed on embassy grounds deep inside the Green Zone (FYI: As an experiment I tried to withdraw money from that ATM only to have my credit card shut down as possible fraud by my U.S. bank.) This too was primped and posted as a sure sign of progress in that tortured nation.
Well, we’ve had our fun here today. The youngest U.S. soldiers were ten years old when we invaded Afghanistan right after 9/11 and most likely only have the vaguest idea what all has preceded their arrival in-country. Meanwhile, the real war in Afghanistan drags on. Americans and Afghans die every day. Enjoy your yogurt social media people.
I would have thought that it was a bit early for nostalgia for the halcyon days of Provincial Reconstruction Work (PRT) in Iraq, but things move quickly these days. At least no one is calling it “The Good War’ or us “The Most Recent Greatest Generation.”
But hey, what’s past is past, right (sorry to you Iraqis who live everyday in the hell we Americans now consider “history”)?
So for those who worked in the reconstruction program, or who did not but still want to impress the ladies on a night out, there is available now Baghdad PRT memorabilia. No, no, not the missing billions of dollars in “lost” taxpayer money or the many computers, generators and vehicles bought to grow Iraq’s democracy, but groovy t-shirts and even a logo’ed teddy bear. Snap these up folks!
It is hopefully not necessary to add, but since this is the internet, I have nothing to do with the selling of these items and make no money from either the items or mentioning them here.
Since the government is shut down and thus there is no news to report except that the government is shut down, we’ll have to reach into the memory hole for something to talk about today. Ah, here’s one…
The House Appropriations Committee approved on July 24 an $8 billion cut for 2014 in the roughly $50 billion current international affairs (State and USAID) budget. That same day, the House authorized only a $5 billion reduction in the defense budget of over $600 billion.
The Department of State did not sit ideally by.
The employee association (AFSA for you State people still paying dues to them for this garbage) commissioned a guy who had already written a happy-talk book about State (“America’s Other Army,” give us a break) to interview all of 28 Congressional staffers about their attitudes toward Mother State. The author concluded: “an overwhelming majority (82%) described their experience with the Foreign Service and Department of State as ‘mostly positive.’ Respondents view Foreign Service members as dedicated, intelligent and patriotic public servants who make significant sacrifices…” Awesome. Sounds like an ad on Match.com
The author of the survey then went on ForeignPolicy.com to write a journalist-like article about his own work. Maybe Foreign Policy will next allow authors to review their own books? Sign me up, and hey, good luck with that paywall Foreign Policy.
About that Survey
That anyone at State paid for a survey that reached only 28 staffers out of the thousands on the Hill is in itself hilarious. There are approximately 11,692 personal staff, 2,492 committee staff, 274 leadership staff, 5,034 institutional staff, and 3,500 GAO employees, 747 CRS employees, and 232 CBO employees on the Hill. So basing anything on only 28 interviews is enough to make one wonder what FP.com’s journalistic standards are. Very sad.
Oh yes– the 28 were selected by the author himself, not randomly. About the only bone he throws is that they were half Democrat and half Republican, which itself makes no sense given the variation even within parties.
Here’s a taste if you don’t have the stomach to read the whole thing: One of the survey’s findings is supposedly that Congressional staffers feel that “Content about diplomacy and the Foreign Service should be included in the middle school and high school curriculum.” Sure, sure, squeeze that in between gym and drivers ed.
The author’s broader argument, that basically Congress does not know what State does and thus undervalues, is funnier than his grasp of statistical methods.
Congress knows; they just think State does not do much of importance. Members and their staff travel regularly abroad, where they see State Department diplomats act as their tour guides and bag carriers. As a young diplomat in London, I was assigned to accompany so many Congressional spouses on shopping trips masquerading as official business that my colleagues called me “Ambassador to Harrod’s Department Store.” Meanwhile, a well-briefed Defense Congressional liaison sits on the gratis military-rpovided plane for every overseas Congressional visit as a respected peer, with hours in the air to score talking points. State handles the luggage on the ground as the Defense Liaison boards the limo to the hotel. Congress knows.
When Committees ask for quick answers from State, they get delays followed by verbatim content-free responses. Subpoenas had to be issued to get State people up to the Hill on Benghazi, and even the Secretary of State had a cascading series of “reasons” not to testify until her last days in office.
So Congress knows.
On the Hill
I worked as one (in 2006) of only two State Department Congressional liaisons to assist all members of both the House and Senate. State was the last Cabinet-level agency to open a liaison office on the Hill, and only then in 2001 (by contrast, the military has had people on the Hill since the early part of the 20th century.) We were the only Cabinet-level liaison office without a dedicated web site. I was not even issued a cell phone and was not given a Blackberry to respond to emails outside the office; staffers just left voice messages for me to pick up Monday morning if I was in the office.
We never gave briefings. State did not pay into a collective fund and so we could not reserve rooms ourselves for meetings. Instead, one of my official duties was to cajole interns on the Foreign Relations Committee to do it on our behalf. We were prohibited from doing any substantial interaction. Instead, 80 percent of the inquiries into my office were demands for visa and passport favors. Most of the other 20 percent were minor administrative things related to Congressional travel. In my year only one actual Member appeared in our office, to say a polite thank you for a U.S. visa facilitated for a well-to-do foreign friend. Congress knew just what we did.
Full disclosure: I was removed from the liaison job after I told staffers the truth about the 2006 Passport Crisis instead of passing on State’s wholly-false talking points. Refusing to lie to Congress is what gets you in trouble at State.
One issue the State Department just can’t get past is the need for realistic self-criticism. They just can’t do it. State instead runs a large “public diplomacy” operation at taxpayer expense in large part to promote itself, and spends tremendous energy on telling itself what a fine job it is doing.
As for reality, Congress expresses itself (yeah I know, for better or worse) in what it funds and what it does not. So the author of all this tripe may wish to take a pause from his defacto job as State Department stenographer and admit: Congress votes against State because indeed Congress knows exactly what they get for their money: America’s Concierge Abroad.
(This article originally appeared on Fire Dog Lake)
Whistleblower Edward Snowden had one of the highest levels of security clearance, and exposed the most secret of NSA work. Chelsea Manning held a Top Secret clearance, and disclosed hundreds of thousands of classified records to Wikileaks. Aaron Alexis held a security clearance and used a shotgun to murder twelve people at the Washington Navy Yard. Over four million other Americans today hold some form of security clearance from the Federal government. Can we trust them? How did they obtain those clearances? Are Snowden, Manning and Alexis exceptions, or was the process one that could never have been expected to work in the first place? What can be done to make the clearance process work the way it was intended?
What is a Security Clearance?
A security clearance is issued by a part of the U.S. Government (Department of Defense, CIA, the State Department) and says that as a result of some sort of background investigation, and perhaps a polygraph examination, the holder can be trusted to handle sensitive documents and duties and to do so in secret. At the low end, this may mean a contractor like Alexis can enter the Navy Yard without a body search, or at the extremes mean that a person will assume a completely new identity, live abroad, and conduct sensitive, clandestine actions on behalf of the U.S.
Government-wide there are three basic levels of classification and access: Confidential, Secret and Top Secret. There are formal definitions, but the basic idea is that the higher you go up the ladder, the more harm and damage disclosure would create. Added to this three-tiered system are many subcategories, including Sensitive But Unclassified, for well, unclassified things that are still sensitive, such as an applicant’s social security number, Law Enforcement Sensitive and the self-explanatory like. Once more or less the top of hill, Top Secret, TS, is now supplemented by Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI), often used to denote information obtained from intelligence sources. There also many, many flavors of Special Access Programs (SAP) that require both a very high level clearance and permission to access just that single project. A clandestine operation against Iran, or the identities of spies in Syria, might be in this category. The military also creates its own lexicon of classifications.
While the range of what “cleared” people do for the United States covers much territory, the clearance process is largely a variation on a single note: let’s look into what this person has said and done in his/her life prior to seeking a clearance, and then try to extrapolate that into what they will do once cleared. But because, like with your mutual funds, past performance is no guarantee of future success, the process is inherently flawed.
How To Get Cleared
Despite the wide variety of clearances available, the process of obtaining one is similar. What changes is less the process of looking into someone’s life than the depth and granularity of the look.
Most everyone seeking a clearance begins at the same place, filling out Standard Form 86, Questionnaire for National Security Positions, form SF-86. The form itself is no secret, and available on line, though many agencies have supplemental forms and requirements not public.
The SF-86 is mainly a very detailed autobiography, the raw material that fuels the rest of the process. Young people filling out their first SF-86 invariably end up on the phone to mom, gathering old addresses they lived at as kids, birthdays of disconnected relatives, foreign countries visited on family trips and more, a lot more: the SF-86 runs some 129 pages. Some interesting stuff is near the end; almost silly questions such as “Have you ever engaged in an act of terrorism?” and a follow-up requiring you to describe, in one line, “The nature and reason for the terror activity.”
However, after a hundred pages of names and dates and silly questions, the SF-86 dips into the deal breakers, the questions that weed out quickly those who are unlikely to get very far in the clearance process. Applicants are asked to self-describe financial problems, debts, drug use, gambling, drinking, mental health issues, legal troubles, job firings and more. Whether out of duty and honor, or more likely a thought process that the agency will find out anyway and lying is an automatic disqualification (it usually is; if one lies on a security check, what else is fair game to lie about?), most applicants do tell the truth and easily disqualify themselves.
First Level of Background Checks
Though the details vary from agency to agency, everyone gets some standard checks run on them. Since U.S. Citizenship is the most basic and unwaivering requirement for a clearance, every applicant’s claim is verified. In my own case (I held a Top Secret clearance for 22 years), investigators obtained a certified paper copy of my actual birth certificate from a distant city, and were nice enough to give it to me when the process was over in case I needed it for something. I’m not sure they’re as nice these days.
Every applicant then gets a run through whatever databases and electronic records can be found. This step is increasingly detailed as more and more of our lives move on line. The goal is to verify quickly as much of the self-provided data on the SF-86 and to skim off the low-hanging fruit. A serious arrest record, neck-deep financial problems and the like will be easily found. Checks are also run through the various intelligence files (a “National Agency Check”) to make sure while you’re applying for a job at the State Department you are not on some secret list of bad guys over at CIA. Before everything went on line that used to happen once in awhile, though now the biggest problem is both too much irrelevant information and the need to wonder about the accuracy of what was found; that record entry from the Pigeon Hollow local police department from 1983– accurate enough to deny someone a career over?
Absent any whoppers uncovered, most applicants are given a chance to explain abnormalities. Some say this is to be fair, some say it makes the agency’s job much easier if the applicant will either self-incriminate with even more details, or just voluntarily withdraw knowing she was caught.
For some low-level or short-term clearances, the process can stop here and a decision is made. The time period varies, but usually is in the area of a couple of months for a background-only clearance. Much of this work, due to the volume and perceived simplicity of the process, is farmed out now to private contractors. Alexis, the Navy Yard killer, had such a background-only clearance, done by a contracting firm in Northern Virginia that specializes in such work for the government. The same firm worked on a part of Edward Snowden’s clearance.
Full Background Investigation
For higher level clearances, including Top Secret, a full spectrum background investigation is required. Someone, typically a combination of someones including agency investigators and contractors, will comb through the SF-86 and whatever the electronic searches uncover and conduct field interviews. The investigator really will visit an applicant’s home town school teachers, her second-to-last-boss, her neighbors, her parents and almost certainly the local police force and ask questions in person. As part of the clearance process, an applicant will sign the Mother of All Waivers, basically giving the government permission to do all this as intrusively as the government cares to do. This is old fashioned shoe leather police work, knocking on doors, eye balling people who say they knew the applicant, turning the skepticism meter up to 11. The investigator will ask each interviewee to keep quiet about the interview, but typically the applicant will get a hushed phone call or email from some old acquaintance saying the Feds just knocked. Many of the contract investigators at this level are retired FBI or Secret Service people and often will present their old ID to add some gravitas to the procedure. If an applicant lived abroad, the process is tasked out to various liaisons and the nearest U.S. Embassy.
The process is proactive; the investigator must find people to talk to who know the applicant. If he can’t (say wrong addresses, or no one from the USG can track down an old college roommate now in Tehran) the investigation often “pauses,” sometimes indefinitely. Not being able to find adequate information on an applicant is a big negative.
As you can imagine, this process is not quick. Most full background investigations take at least a year and complex lives, especially if the applicant has lived abroad and has many foreign contacts, can drag… on… for… years… All this on-the-street work does not come cheap. It is hard to put a number on it, as obviously the complexity of the applicant’s life will dictate costs, but a full background investigation can run $15-20,000.
For many agencies, including the CIA and NSA, another step in the clearance process is the polygraph, the lie detector. The federal government polygraphs about 70,000 people a year in connection with security clearances.
What portion of the polygraph process that isn’t shrouded in movie drama is classified, but the basics are simple; even TV’s Mythbusters show looked into it. The process is based on the belief that when one fibs one’s body involuntarily expresses stress in the form of higher blood pressure, changes in pulse, breathing and perspiration rate. Those things can be precisely monitored. Did you ever steal anything? No? That’s a lie– see here, your heart rate went up 15 percent when you answered.
The reality is much more complex. Though I have never been polygraphed, I have spoken with many government employees who have been. Here’s what they had to say.
The whole polygraph experience is set up as a mind game. Subjects can be kept waiting a long time, or left in a too-cold or too-hot room, and interviews can be scheduled and then canceled to create stress. A planted staffer in the waiting room can tell the applicant they are being watched, even make a comment such as “You shouldn’t read that kind of magazine while waiting, they judge that too.” There may be mirrors, real or imagined two-way viewing panels. This is referred to as the pre-test. It sets the stage.
Some say that the presence of the polygraph machine itself may be mostly for show, and the real nuts and bolts of the process are actually just clever manipulation and interrogation techniques as old as dirt. An awful lot of information obtained via a polygraph has nothing to do with the needles and dials per se, but the applicant’s fear of them and belief that they “work.” Polygraphers are allowed considerable freedom in style, and some get more into role-playing than others.
That said, most polygraphers will first establish baseline readings with irrelevant questions– “Is your name John?” Yes. “Is your name Micheal?” No. He will try and put the subject at ease, asking softball questions such as “Do you plan to tell the truth today?” Nobody can answer no honestly (it is believed) and this helps create a trusting atmosphere where the polygrapher assures the subject that everyone has told little lies and his job is to sort those out from the “big” ones. The polygrapher will also likely point out things on the charts or “explain” the details of his work; the goal is to plant the idea in the subject’s head that the machine is an accurate way to detect lies. This sets up the next phase.
The polygrapher will have reviewed the background investigation results and slowly move into the meat of the interview, asking both broad questions– “Do you have a drinking problem?” and specific ones– “Then why did you have this DUI in March 2003?” Many times the got ya’ question, including a why or when or who, is really a way to play off the applicant’s fear and get her to talk. Look at the sequence above. It is unlikely that someone will admit to a drinking problem, yet the next query is about an actual DUI. The applicant’s natural inclination will be to explain, to talk about the DUI, all the time knowing her answer is being run through a “lie detector.” Often the applicant will self-incriminate.
Lastly, there is the post-interview test, often the time when the most information is disclosed. The subject feels at ease, having “finished” the polygraph. One tactic is, after a lengthy review of the charts and after much hemming and hawing, maybe a sigh or two and a consultation with “another expert” outside the interviewing room, the polygrapher comes in and says “I think you’re a nice kid, and I like you. I know you want this job and I want to help you get it. The problem is, here (gestures to some squiggly line marked in red), where you said you never used drugs, the machine indicates you might not have told the truth. Now, look, I’ll turn off the machine and you just tell me what really happened and I’ll try to go to bat for you.” Self-incrimination follows, game over, thanks for playing today!
In some instances, only a limited polygraph will be conducted, as opposed to a full-lifestyle test. In a “coordination of expectations” test, used in many military and update-only situations, very specific and limited questions will be asked. Sometimes the subject will even know the questions in advance, such as “Since your last polygraph, have you transferred classified information without authorization?”
There exists a point of view that the polygraph is indeed more useful than simply as a prop, and that you can “fool the box” physically and pass the test. There are people who purport to teach tricks and techniques designed to do so. The basic idea is to register false anxiety during true relevant questions, thus making your real anxiety on lies less clear. People are taught to clench their sphincter to induce a measurable but false stress reaction, to bite their tongue or to place a tack inside their shoe to poke themselves and send pain-induced stress indicators. Others teach a kind of meditation. As counter-countermeasures, there are rumors of polygraphers placing real or fake “stress” pads on the seats of chairs, and inspecting applicants’ shoes. For the most part, however, the Feds just poo-pooed these ideas, claiming over the years that they were a waste of money because they just did not work.
Interestingly, however, the government has very recently changed its position, and is now actively seeking to prosecute those who teach “how to beat the box.” Prosecutors have raised the specters of terrorists infiltrating the CIA, or pedophiles securing sensitive positions. The possibility that the prosecutions are only security theater is also real, an expansion of the mind game, given that despite the prosecutions strategies for passing a polygraph are still just a Google away, including on the ever-so-pedestrian WikiHow.
Up to this point the clearance process has been mostly the aggregation of information. Along the way some applicants might be picked off, people whose U.S. Citizenship wasn’t verifiable, people who made whopping self-incriminations, applicants scared off or afraid what the process might reveal. But overall, most applicants for a clearance end up in Adjudication. And in Adjudication lies the core problem in the clearance process: it relies on human judgment.
The basics of an adjudication look at vulnerabilities, and especially at past examples of trust kept or violated.
Vulnerabilities are more concrete, and thus easier, to determine. Historically, people betray their country’s trust for (in rough order) money, sex, ego or ideology. People with loads of debt or a gambling problem are more susceptible to bribes. People with records of infidelity or a pattern of poor judgment with partners might be lured into sexual encounters that could be used to blackmail them. In the bad old days when most gay and lesbian applicants were deeply closeted, this was used as a one-size-fits-all pseudo-reason to deny them employment. Ego is a tougher one to pin down, but persons who lack self-esteem or who want to play at being a “real spy” might be tempted to become “heroes” for the other side. Ideology is a growing issue as more and more hyphenated Americans seek government work and, needing qualified language employees, more and more are recruited by the government. Will a Chinese-American’s loyalty fall to her new home or to the old country? What about a born-and-bred whitebread American, but with a spouse from Egypt? Would his allegiances be blurred? Even if he bleeds red, white and blue, could the Egyptians cajole, blackmail or threaten his spouse’s parents back home to make him cooperate?
Back in the good old days, when qualification for high level positions required one to be male, pale and Yale, these things were less of concern. Fathers recruited sons, professors noted promising students and no one thought much about the messy range of people now eligible– or sought– for government work. Need fluent Pashtu speakers? You’re going to have to recruit farther afield than the country club. Agencies who used to toss back into the pond pretty much anyone without a pristine background now face unfilled critical positions. So, standards change, always have changed and will continue to change. Security clearances just work that way.
If vulnerabilities seem sometimes ambiguous to adjudicate, the next category, trust, is actually much harder. Persons who have kept trusts extended to them, not been fired, not broken laws, paid their bills, saw to their responsibilities, are in the Nice category. Those who didn’t end up over in Naughty. The adjudication part becomes important because very few people are perfect, and very few are really bad. Most everyone falls in the middle, and so agencies must make judgment calls.
For example, in modern America some casual drug and alcohol abuse is not outside the boundaries of normal, especially when it is self-admitted, and done when a person was young and maybe in an experimental phase of life such as college. So, while twenty years ago copping to smoking some weed was an automatic no for a clearance, now, hypothetically, a 26 year old grad student who says she might have smoked a joint four years ago at a party but didn’t like it so did not do it again, and who passes her current urine test, might be approved. Same for debt; it is not unusual for an American today to carry heavy credit card debt or a six figure student loan, but if he’s paying it off, maybe not so bad. Mental health issues are tricky; again, nowadays seeing a mental health professional and taking common meds like anti-depressants is a very commonplace thing with little stigma attached. The key issue under question is whether or not an applicant’s judgment is impaired by a mental health condition, and often real medical professionals get involved to sort this out.
There are rules and standards for these adjudications, some of which are even on line. The problem is not having or knowing the rules, the problem is figuring out how to apply them. In one of my own assignments at the State Department, I was part of a group that reviewed background investigative reports. I saw a lot of them, mostly new applicants, and was part of a process that was used to help determine “suitability” for employment. The easiest way to win a fight is not to get into a fight, and so instead of formally denying a security clearance and opening a potential can of worms, some agencies conduct a suitability review to basically weed out people unlikely to get a clearance, on a more amorphous, less-challengeable, vaguer not-so-legalistic basis. Different hallway to the same exit door, it is the clearance process at work nonetheless.
The adjudication process as I saw it was taken seriously. We were taught to look for patterns of life and not at isolated incidents. The goal was to try and come up with a picture of the person, and then project that picture forward into what they might be like on the job. Like any human-powered process that attempts to predict the future, it was flawed. After pushing the Eagle Scouts to one side and the convicted arsonists to the other, there was always a big pile left in the middle. And we knew that at least statistically we probably made some errors approving the Eagle Scouts and some mistakes turning down at least a couple of the arsonists. The race is not always to the swift and sure, but that’s the way you have to bet.
So How Did Snowden, Manning and Alexis Get Cleared?
Snowden is the easy case. Based on what is publicly available, Snowden was a slam dunk approval. He had held high level clearances with the government for many years without issue. He did not have any drinking, drug, debt, mental health or personal problems. He seemed like a relatively dull guy actually. Nothing in the security clearance process could have ever peeked into his head and found that he was a person of conscience who decided to blow the whistle and radically alter his life to bring the NSA’s sleazy, illegal activities into daylight. While the NSA certainly should be blamed for unbelievably lax internal controls on who could access and copy its data, the clearance process worked exactly as it was designed to work. Claims that short cuts in the process were at fault are wrong.
Chelsea Manning is at best a gray area, and likely should never have been given a clearance. She made little attempt to hide her gender confusion inside a hyper-macho world, struggled against the Army system at every turn, fought physically with her supervisors and was alienated and ostracized by her peers. Despite all that, she was deployed into an environment where counseling was unavailable, where security and supervision were lax to the point of criminality and where the stresses of combat conditions pressed heavy on everyone. It is unclear why she was cleared, though the most likely reason was that the Army was desperately short of analysts and could not afford to lose one, even one stuck in a slow-motion train wreck.
Alexis, the Navy Yard killer, should never have been granted any security clearance. His was a preventable tragedy. Because he held only a lower level clearance, it is very likely that no field investigation took place. All those friends and family members the media found who readily told of his problems with hearing voices, violence and drink were likely never interviewed by the government contractor assigned his case. One screaming red flag, Alexis’ lying about a gun-related arrest, was not considered significant. The system failed for various reasons to pick up on his string of other arrests, and no one seemed to care about his uneven service record in the Navy. Clear human error, likely as a result of turning such clearances over to the for-profit sector.
Picking up on Alexis in particular, it is important to note that the clearance process is not a real-time endeavor. Someone applies, some sort of background check is done and a clearance decision is adjudicated. Next case, please. Most clearances are only reviewed every five years and then investigators lean heavily on anything new or changed, and especially on the subject’s performance those five years. There is no 24/7 continuous reevaluation process. A felony arrest properly documented might pop up, and many agencies yearly run standard credit checks and conduct random drug tests. But overall, absent something self-reported or too obvious to ignore, a clearance rides for five years, sometimes literally with no questions asked. How could it be otherwise with over four million active cleared Americans strung across the globe?
Following Snowden, Manning and now Alexis, much noise will be generated about “doing something.” But what? Dramatically increasing the number and scope of on-the-street investigations will spiral wildly into crazy expenses and even longer waiting periods. It could bring the hiring process to its knees, and spawn more and more “temporary clearances,” a self-defeating act. This all with no assurance of better results due to both limitations on the whole concept (see Snowden) or human judgment errors (Alexis). If done properly, such changes might catch a few of the Alexis’ out there, but to be honest, there are few Alexis’ out there to begin with and most of them will be sending up obvious danger signals at work long if anyone would pay attention before a clearance review catches up.
It is certain that many in the government will call for more aggressive “monitoring” of employees, having them sign away basically all of their civil rights in return for a job. The government will turn its vast intelligence gathering tools further inward and end up pointlessly compiling CIA officers’ credit card receipts from Applebee’s, the web browsing habits of diplomats’ children and so forth. In truth, a lot of that is probably already going on now anyway (the CIA and other intel agencies have had for years robust counterintelligence operations designed specifically to spy on their own spies.) Yet as noted, even ramped up, real-time monitoring would not have caught the current Snowden and is unlikely to catch the next Snowden (albeit to the nation’s broader benefit!) You just can’t see into a person’s head, or his heart.
In addition to a huge waste of money and resources, these measures will inevitably lead to more mistrust and paranoia inside government. Lack of sharing (the CIA believes things it shares with State get leaked, the Army won’t give things away to the Navy, the FBI hoards info so as to not let another agency get credit for the bust, the NSA doesn’t trust anyone, and so forth) is already an issue among agencies, and even inside of agencies, and helped pave the way for 9/11. In addition, handing even more power to security teams will also not work well in the long run. Hyper-scrutiny will no doubt discourage more decent people from seeking government work, unwilling to throw their lives open for a job if they have prospects elsewhere. The Red Scare of the 1950s, and the less-known Lavender Scares, when labeling someone gay inside government would see him fired, show what happens when security holds too many cards. James Jesus Angleton’s paranoid mole hunting at CIA, which ruined many careers, is still a sore point at Langley. In my own case, my unblemished clearance of 22 years was suspended because of a link on my blog. The link was pedestrian but the blog offended the State Department politically, and security was the tool they tried to use to silence me. No, unleashing the bullies won’t help.
Fixing It: Less is More
As a wise man once said, cut through all the lies and there it is, right in front of you. The only answer to the clearance problem is to simply require fewer cleared people inside government.
This will require the tsunami of document classification to be dammed. In FY2009 alone, 54 million U.S. Government documents were classified. Every one of those required cleared authors and editors, system administrators and database technicians, security personnel and electronic repair persons. Even the cafeteria personnel who fed them lunch needed some sort of vetting.
With fewer people to clear, always-limited resources can be better focused. Better background checks can be done. Corners need not be cut, and unqualified people would not be issued clearances out of necessity. Processing time would be reduced. Human judgment, always the weak link, could be applied slower and more deliberately, with more checks and balances involved.
More monitoring won’t help and will very likely hurt. In a challenge as inherently flawed as the clearance process, the only way forward is less, not more.
(This post originally appeared on Fire Dog Lake)
The UN released its report on chemical weapons use in Syria. You can read it here. It’s not that long, just some forty pages including legal appendices. John Kerry says it confirms that the Assad regime fired the gas rockets. Unfortunately, that is not what the actual report says. In a court, Kerry’s case might be seen as circumstantial at best, certainly not enough for a jury to return a guilty verdict in a murder trial.
Kerry said this (emphasis added):
And what did they [the UN inspectors] learn? They returned with several crucial details that confirmed that the Assad regime is guilty of carrying out that attack, even though that was not the mandate of the UN report. But anybody who reads the facts and puts the dots together, which is easy to do – and they made it easy to do – understands what those facts mean.
The White House added: “Indeed, several crucial details confirm the regime’s guilt.”
The problem is that the report does not confirm anything other than chemical weapons were used. I can’t give you a quote because the report simply does not say– anywhere– that the Syria Army, or the rebels, or anyone by name– used the weapons. But don’t believe me. Unlike Kerry, I provide links, so check the full text of the report. If you don’t care to read it all, skip to page five, “Conclusions.” It just isn’t there. No one is named as the culprit.
Regardless, Kerry goes on to make his circumstantial argument:
We, the United States, have associated one of the munitions identified in the UN report, the 122-millimeter improvised rocket, with previous Assad regime attacks. There’s no indication – none – that the opposition is in possession or has launched a CW variant of these rockets such as the kind that was used in the 21st of August attack. Equally significant, the environmental, chemical, and medical samples that the UN investigators collected provide clear and compelling evidence that the surface-to-surface rockets used in this attack contained the nerve agent sarin. We know the Assad regime possesses sarin and there’s not a shred of evidence, however, that the opposition does.
Objection your Honor! The prosecutor is jumping to a conclusion not supported by the evidence. He has found a gun next to the body. That the victim is sadly dead was never in question. That that gun was used to kill him was never in question. However, what, if anything, ties that gun and thus the murder to my client? Where is that evidence your Honor? The prosecutor is jumping from A to C in a capital case without putting the gun in my client’s hand.
Sustained. The prosecution must show evidence that the defendant actually used the gun to commit the crime.
Who shot the gas rockets? Could they have been fired by rogue military elements not acting under Assad’s orders? Could the Syrian army have lost control of some rockets which were picked up by the rebels (Vladimir Putin has made that very claim, that the rebels themselves fired the gas rockets in an attempt to draw the United States into the conflict)? Could a third party have supplied such rockets to the rebels to create a pretext for war? As there is no evidence in the UN report that the trigger was pulled by the Syrian Army under Assad’s orders, there is no evidence that the rebels pulled it and no evidence that someone else did. That’s why the UN report does not draw a conclusion of guilt– there’s no evidence on which to base such a conclusion.
A final point. Page 22 of the report says:
As with other sites, the locations have been well-traveled by other individuals prior to the arrival of the [UN] Mission. Time spent on the sites was well-used but limited. During the time spent at these locations, individuals arrived carrying other suspected munitions indicating that such potential evidence is being moved and possibly manipulated.
Evidence tampering? A contaminated crime scene? Your Honor, I move that charges be dismissed against my client.
Sustained. Prosecutor Kerry, I hold you in contempt!
The U.S. is wholly misrepresenting facts in favor of another Middle East war. Unlike a fictional murder trial where one man’s life is on the line, should the U.S. attack Syria many, many people will lose their lives.
I feel no jury would convict on the evidence presented by John Kerry, but, hey, you be the judge.
The path downwards in our post-Constitutional America starts with the large failures, and will end in petty indignities. Such is the nature of a fascist state. It must crush any dissent, however pointless, and it must control everything.
Having swept aside the Bill of Rights with ease, the NSA under the control of the White House, now descends to pettiness.
Two days after the first revelations of NSA mendacity, an entrepreneur named Dan McCall put up a handful of T-shirts and bumper stickers for sale on the custom goods marketplace Zazzle. Each of those items had a faux NSA logo, emblazoned with the slogan “Peeping While You’re Sleeping,” plus the joke line “The only part of the government that actually listens.”
Within an hour or two Dan received an email from Zazzle stating:
Design contains an image or text that may infringe on intellectual property rights. We have been contacted by the intellectual property right holder and we will be removing your product from Zazzle’s Marketplace due to infringement claims. Specifically, your product contained content which infringes upon the intellectual property rights of National Security Agency. We have been contacted by legal representatives from the National Security Agency, and at their request, have removed the product from the Zazzle Marketplace.
The NSA had stepped in, quickly enough to surmise they had been monitoring the transaction, citing Public Law 86-36, from 1959. Specifically, the NSA referenced Section 15 (a) which states in its entirety (emphasis added):
No person may, except with the written permission of the Director of the National Security Agency, knowingly use the words ‘National Security Agency’, the initials ‘NSA’, the seal of the National Security Agency, or any colorable imitation of such words, initials, or seal in connection with any merchandise, impersonation, solicitation, or commercial activity in a manner reasonably calculated to convey the impression that such use is approved, endorsed, or authorized by the National Security Agency.
Leaving aside the reality that many others online (as well as every street vendor in Washington, DC) sells NSA gear, including Zazzle competitor Cafe Press, there is no evidence that Dan’s use of the NSA logo in any way conveys the impression that the use is approved or authorized by the NSA. Quite the opposite; his open mocking of the NSA and amended seal convey that he thinks the NSA is a bunch of bullying wankers.
Not that any of this is new; my own former employer, the Department of State, went after me for using its seal in a piece of journalism protected by the First Amendment. In 2005 the George W. Bush White House demanded that The Onion stop using George’s seal.
The NSA stated that “At any time that NSA is made aware that the NSA Seal is being used without our permission, we will take appropriate actions.” Well, NSA, better turn those satellite dishes and unleash the lawyers against this site, where Dan McCall is now selling his NSA faux logo gear.
And, in fact, you better go after this blog, as well as the New York Times, Buzzfeed and a zillion other places, because we all have and continue to violate Public Law 86-36 by “knowingly us(ing) the words ‘National Security Agency’, the initials ‘NSA’, the seal of the National Security Agency.”
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‘Lot going on there, Obama attending the G-20, what with Russia taking in NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, Russian support for the other side in Syria, the famous Obama-Putin sourpuss photos, why, golly, you’d figure America’s public diplomacy warriors at Embassy Moscow would be busy, busy, busy seeking out Russian hearts and minds to influence.
Instead, those diplomatic warriors are seeking Russian stomachs to fulfill with America’s last domestically-made product, junk food. Shilling for a living, one of our best, Joseph Kruzich, is pictured to the left. He posted on his Facebook page:
Krispy Kreme doughnuts have arrived in Moscow. We had some at the American Embassy in Moscow yesterday. Delicious!
And oh yes, he did add the final exclamation point. Oh yes.
Kruzich, who as a slim man makes a poor advocate for the goodness of America’s toxic junk food to the stout Russians, also apparently like potato chips. Here’s another terse Facebook post. He posted in Russian but here’s the Google version:
Today is the birthday of potato chips! Credited with creating the popular snack is American chef George Crumb, who invented the chip this day 160 years ago. The finely chopped crisp was for a disgruntled restaurant customer at Moon’s Lake House in Saratoga Springs, who said the french fries were cut too thick.
Nobody commented on the fact that the inventor of the potato chip was surnamed “Crumb,” so I will. Also, it is not at all certain that Crumb was even the inventor. Facts, meh, it’s social media!
And oh yes, I did add the final exclamation point. Oh yes.
Kruzich also seems to have a habit of reposting a lot of his boss’ stuff, but that is really just part of the overall job of a foreign service officer, so no points off for that. And to be fair,
shilling for promoting American products abroad is indeed one of those things America’s diplomats are told to do, whether it is Boeing 747s or the ever-popular F-16s we sell to various thugs and dictators, for freedom.
…or is it?
Perhaps Kruzich is… more clever, shall we say, more cunning, than we give him credit for? While Putin plays checkers, sticking his thumb in Obama’s eye and then moving on, perhaps Kruzich is playing chess (also a Russian fave) The long game here may be to slowly choke the Russian people to death on American-infiltrated cholesterol, until, gasping with strokes and heart attacks, they realize that you just. don’t. mess. with the U.S.
Well played young diplomat, well played.
Hawaiian newspapers reported today that the judge declared a mistrial Monday in the Second Degree murder trial of State Department special agent Chris Deedy. Jurors said they couldn’t unanimously decide whether Deedy is guilty of murder in the early-morning shooting of a customer at a McDonald’s restaurant in Waikiki.
Hawaii 1st Circuit Judge Karen Ahn set a hearing for Friday to determine a date for a new trial, after mentioning next spring as a potential date. The shooting took place almost two years ago.
The victim’s family also has a civil suit pending against Deedy in connection with the shooting.
During closing arguments, the prosecutor called Deedy a “bully with a badge,” telling jurors Elderts, of Kailua, was killed because Deedy interjected himself in a situation that wasn’t any of his business and refused to back down. Defense attorney Karl Blanke acknowledged that Deedy shot and killed Elderts but said it wasn’t murder. Deedy’s “intent was to protect life,” Blanke said in his closing argument. The defense painted Elderts as a hothead who had been drinking heavily and doing drugs. Elderts referred to Deedy as a haole — a Hawaiian term for a white person — in a derogatory way, the defense claimed.
Deedy’s family, including his parents and his wife, were present throughout the trial. They’re “trying to wrap their arms around the notion he’s still a free man,” one of Deedy’s lawyers said. “He’s still an agent of the United States State Department and has a job to do.”
Before the mistrial was declared Wednesday, Judge Ahn unexpectedly cleared the courtroom’s spectators for a few minutes without providing a reason. Attorneys on both sides declined to say what was discussed.
The jurors told the judge that they were unable to reach a unanimous verdict after twenty days of testimony and more than five full days of deliberations. A hung jury means the state will set a date to retry the federal agent on the murder charge.
“I think the defense will file a motion under State vs. Moriwake which the judge will have some say in whether there will be a new trial,” said criminal defense attorney Paul Cunney. “I think there will be some informal polling of the jury and find out how the jury stood numerically.”
“There’s always the possibility that it will be derailed, but we feel strongly that the right thing to do would be to have a new trial,” said Prosecutor Futa.
BONUS: We reported previously that within days after the Deedy shooting in 2011, the Department State without explanation classified its long-standing unclassified rules governing the armed conduct of Diplomatic Security agents.
An alert reader, and God bless the internet, found the rules in unclassified form still alive on line. Have a look at what now only select persons are allowed officially to see (p 40 at the link.)
Note in particular Section 2.6B(5) which prohibits consumption of alcohol within six hours of use of deadly force, though there is the escape clause noting that the booze must impair judgement or ability.
While we can never know if this unclassified version of DS firearms policy differs or not from the freshly-classified version, as a Concerned Citizen and a Good German, I encourage Diplomatic Security to immediately shut down Google as a threat to national security. Since the document is actually part of the Congressional Record, I suggest they also immediately shut down Congress as a threat to national security. Since the document was provided to Congress by the State Department, I suggest they also immediately shut down State as a threat to national security.
Instead, they’ll probably just arrest me for providing the link.
A reader called our attention to the fact that the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security removed its long-unclassified version of its firearms policy from the web and classified it very soon (11/29/2011) after one of its Special Agents, Chris Deedy, shot a man while off duty in Hawaii (11/5/2011). That trial has entered jury deliberations and a verdict is expected soon.
There is no paper trail to explain why State made the change, and thus of course no way to demonstrate it is directly related to Deedy. A coincidence, yes?
State’s firearms policy lived online in the Foreign Affairs Manual, a huge set of rules and regs that govern the work of State. Specifically, the section in question is called 12 FAM 023 FIREARMS POLICY AND REVIEW BOARD (FPRB). That section as available to the public, now reads, in its entirety:
a. The Diplomatic Security Firearms Policy and Review Board is an ad hoc advisory board to the Director of the Diplomatic Security Service (DS/DSS). See 1 FAM for further information.
b. For the FPRB-revised U.S. Department of State Deadly Force and Firearms Policy, approved by U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. on November 29, 2011, and promulgated herein, see 12 FAM Exhibit 023. Additional procedures previously contained in 12 FAM Exhibit 023 have been relocated to 12 FAH-9, available on ClassNet.
Changes to the Foreign Affairs Manual usually are accompanied by a transmittal notice. Here’s that that says:
This issuance updates the Department of State’s Deadly Force and Firearms Policy, found in Exhibit 023. Much of the material previously found in this exhibit has been moved to 12 FAH-9, as follows: (My Note: the two sections listed are the FROM and TO portions)
12 FAM Exhibit 023 section 2.6 12 FAH-9 H-020 Standards of (Standards of Conduct for Armed Conduct DSS Special Agents)
12 FAM Exhibit 023 section 2.5 12 FAH-9 H-030 Prescription (Prescription Medication) Medication
12 FAM Exhibit 023 section 2.10 12 FAH-9 H-040 Firearms Officers (Firearms Officers)
12 FAM Exhibit 023 section 2.15 12 FAH-9 H-050 Disciplinary Action (Disciplinary and Other Action)
12 FAM Exhibit 023 section 2.4 12 FAH-9 H-110 Qualification (Qualification)
12 FAM Exhibit 023 section 2.11 12 FAH-9 H-211 Carrying Firearms (Carrying Firearms on Aircraft) on Aircraft
12 FAM Exhibit 023 section 2.12 12 FAH-9 H-212 Other
COMMENT: The move of these regulations from unclassified to classified was made formal on November 29, 2011. Deedy shot the guy on November 5, 2011. One wonders exactly when Diplomatic Security started the change-over, and why.
What this all means is that the State Department’s rules for how its armed Diplomatic Security agents act in public are classified. A jury can’t see them. A defense lawyer can’t see them. You can’t see them.
What’s up State? Why did your Standards of Conduct and regs about Prescription Meds need to become classified? Why can’t the public you interact with know whether your agents can carry while affected by their meds?
The usual web tools (Wayback, etc.) do not pull up the old version of the FAM. Anyone who happens to have an older unclassified version of 12 FAM hanging around may wish to share…
This article originally appeared on TomDispatch.com. In light of the Bradley Manning verdict, this seemed worth re-reading.
On July 30, 1778, the Continental Congress created the first whistleblower protection law, stating “that it is the duty of all persons in the service of the United States to give the earliest information to Congress or other proper authority of any misconduct, frauds, or misdemeanors committed by any officers or persons in the service of these states.”
Two hundred thirty-five years later, on July 30, 2013, Bradley Manning was found guilty on 20 of the 22 charges for which he was prosecuted, specifically for “espionage” and for videos of war atrocities he released, but not for “aiding the enemy.”
Days after the verdict, with sentencing hearings in which Manning could receive 136 years of prison time ongoing, the pundits have had their say. The problem is that they missed the most chilling aspect of the Manning case: the way it ushered us, almost unnoticed, into post-Constitutional America.
The Weapons of War Come Home
Even before the Manning trial began, the emerging look of that new America was coming into view. In recent years, weapons, tactics, and techniques developed in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as in the war on terror have begun arriving in “the homeland.”
Consider, for instance, the rise of the warrior cop, of increasingly up-armored police departments across the country often filled with former military personnel encouraged to use the sort of rough tactics they once wielded in combat zones. Supporting them are the kinds of weaponry that once would have been inconceivable in police departments, including armored vehicles, typically bought with Department of Homeland Security grants. Recently, the director of the FBI informed a Senate committee that the Bureau was deploying its first drones over the United States. Meanwhile, Customs and Border Protection, part of the Department of Homeland Security and already flying an expanding fleet of Predator drones, the very ones used in America’s war zones, is eager to arm them with “non-lethal” weaponry to “immobilize targets of interest.”
Above all, surveillance technology has been coming home from our distant war zones. The National Security Agency (NSA), for instance, pioneered the use of cell phones to track potential enemy movements in Iraq and Afghanistan. The NSA did this in one of several ways. With the aim of remotely turning on cell phones as audio monitoring or GPS devices, rogue signals could be sent out through an existing network, or NSA software could be implanted on phones disguised as downloads of porn or games.
Using fake cell phone towers that actually intercept phone signals en route to real towers, the U.S. could harvest hardware information in Iraq and Afghanistan that would forever label a phone and allow the NSA to always uniquely identify it, even if the SIM card was changed. The fake cell towers also allowed the NSA to gather precise location data for the phone, vacuum up metadata, and monitor what was being said.
At one point, more than 100 NSA teams had been scouring Iraq for snippets of electronic data that might be useful to military planners. The agency’s director, General Keith Alexander, changed that: he devised a strategy called Real Time Regional Gateway to grab every Iraqi text, phone call, email, and social media interaction. “Rather than look for a single needle in the haystack, his approach was, ‘Let’s collect the whole haystack,’â€Š” said one former senior U.S. intelligence official. “Collect it all, tag it, store it, and whatever it is you want, you go searching for it.”
Sound familiar, Mr. Snowden?
Welcome Home, Soldier (Part I)
Thanks to Edward Snowden, we now know that the “collect it all” technique employed by the NSA in Iraq would soon enough be used to collect American metadata and other electronically available information, including credit card transactions, air ticket purchases, and financial records. At the vast new $2 billion data center it is building in Bluffdale, Utah, and at other locations, the NSA is following its Iraq script of saving everything, so that once an American became a target, his or her whole history can be combed through. Such searches do not require approval by a court, or even an NSA supervisor. As it happened, however, the job was easier to accomplish in the U.S. than in Iraq, as internet companies and telephone service providers are required by secret law to hand over the required data, neatly formatted, with no messy spying required.
When the U.S. wanted something in Iraq or Afghanistan, they sent guys to kick down doors and take it. This, too, may be beginning to happen here at home. Recently, despite other valuable and easily portable objects lying nearby, computers, and only computers, were stolen from the law offices representing State Department whistleblower Aurelia Fedenisn. Similarly, a Washington law firm representing NSA whistleblower Tom Drake had computers, and only computers, stolen from its office.
In these years, the FBI has brought two other NSA wartime tools home. The Bureau now uses a device called Stingray to recreate those battlefield fake cell phone towers and track people in the U.S. without their knowledge. Stingray offers some unique advantages: it bypasses the phone company entirely, which is, of course, handy in a war zone in which a phone company may be controlled by less than cooperative types, or if phone companies no longer cooperate with the government, or simply if you don’t want the phone company or anyone else to know you’re snooping. American phone companies seem to have been quite cooperative. Verizon, for instance, admits hacking its own cellular modems (“air cards”) to facilitate FBI intrusion.
The FBI is also following NSA’s lead implanting spyware and other hacker software developed for our war zones secretly and remotely in American computers and cell phones. The Bureau can then remotely turn on phone and laptop microphones, even webcams, to monitor citizens, while files can be pulled from a computer or implanted onto a computer.
Among the latest examples of war technology making the trip back to the homeland is the aerostat, a tethered medium-sized blimp. Anyone who served in Iraq or Afghanistan will recognize the thing, as one or more of them flew over nearly every military base of any size or importance. The Army recently announced plans to operate two such blimps over Washington, D.C., starting in 2014. Allegedly they are only to serve as anti-missile defenses, though in our war zones they were used as massive surveillance platforms. As a taste of the sorts of surveillance systems the aerostats were equipped with abroad but the Army says they won’t have here at home, consider Gorgon Stare, a system that can transmit live images of an entire town. And unlike drones, an aerostat never needs to land. Ever.
Welcome Home, Soldier (Part II)
And so to Bradley Manning.
As the weaponry and technology of war came home, so did a new, increasingly Guantanamo-ized definition of justice. This is one thing the Manning case has made clear.
As a start, Manning was treated no differently than America’s war-on-terror prisoners at Guantanamo and the black sites that the Bush administration set up around the world. Picked up on the “battlefield,” Manning was first kept incommunicado in a cage in Kuwait for two months with no access to a lawyer. Then, despite being an active duty member of the Army, he was handed over to the Marines, who also guard Guantanamo, to be held in a military prison in Quantico, Virginia.
What followed were three years of cruel detainment, where, as might well have happened at Gitmo, Manning, kept in isolation, was deprived of clothing, communications, legal advice, and sleep. The sleep deprivation regime imposed on him certainly met any standard, other than Washington’s and possibly Pyongyang’s, for torture. In return for such abuse, even after a judge had formally ruled that he was subjected to excessively harsh treatment, Manning will only get a 112-day reduction in his eventual sentence.
Eventually the Obama administration decided Manning was to be tried as a soldier before a military court. In the courtroom, itself inside a military facility that also houses NSA headquarters, there was a strikingly gulag-like atmosphere. His trial was built around secret witnesses and secret evidence; severe restrictions were put on the press — the Army denied press passes to 270 of the 350 media organizations that applied; and there was a clear appearance of injustice. Among other things, the judge ruled against nearly every defense motion.
During the months of the trial, the U.S. military refused to release official transcripts of the proceedings. Even a private courtroom sketch artist was barred from the room. Independent journalist and activist Alexa O’Brien then took it upon herself to attend the trial daily, defy the Army, and make an unofficial record of the proceedings by hand. Later in the trial, armed military police were stationed behind reporters listening to testimony. Above all, the feeling that Manning’s fate was predetermined could hardly be avoided. After all, President Obama, the former Constitutional law professor, essentially proclaimed him guilty back in 2011 and the Department of Defense didn’t hesitate to state more generally that “leaking is tantamount to aiding the enemies of the United States.”
As at Guantanamo, rules of evidence reaching back to early English common law were turned upside down. In Manning’s case, he was convicted of espionage, even though the prosecution did not have to prove either his intent to help another government or that harm was caused; a civilian court had already paved the way for such a ruling in another whistleblower case. In addition, the government was allowed to label Manning a “traitor” and an “anarchist” in open court, though he was on trial for neither treason nor anarchy. His Army supervisor in the U.S. and Iraq was allowed to testify against him despite having made biased and homophobic statements about him in a movie built around portraying Manning as a sad, sexually-confused, attention-seeking young man mesmerized by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Finally, the same judge who essentially harassed the press throughout Manning’s trial issued a 24-hour advance notice of her verdict to ensure maximum coverage only of the denouement, not the process.
Given all this, it is small comfort to know that Manning, nailed on the Espionage Act after multiple failures in other cases by the Obama administration, was not convicted of the extreme charge of “aiding the enemy.”
Not Manning Alone
Someday, Manning’s case may be seen as a bitter landmark on the road to a post-Constitutional America, but it won’t be seen as the first case in the development of the post-Constitutional system. Immediately following 9/11, top officials in the Bush administration decided to “take the gloves off.” Soon after, a wounded John Walker Lindh, the so-called American Taliban, was captured on an Afghan battlefield, held in a windowless shipping container, refused access to a lawyer even after he demanded one as an American citizen, and interrogated against his will by the FBI. Access to medical care was used as a bribe to solicit information from him. “Evidence” obtained by such means was then used to convict him in court.
Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen who clumsily plotted to detonate a nonexistent “dirty bomb,” was held incommunicado for more three years, over a year of which was in a South Carolina military jail. He was arrested only as a material witness and was not formally charged with a crime until years later. He was given no means to challenge his detention under habeas corpus, as President Bush designated him an “enemy combatant.” Pictures of Padilla being moved wearing sound-proof and light-proof gear strongly suggest he was subjected to the same psychosis-inducing sensory deprivation used as “white torture” against America’s foreign enemies in Guantanamo.
Certainly, the most egregious case of pre-Manning post-Constitutional justice was the execution of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki by drone in Yemen, without due process or trial, for being an al-Qaeda propagandist. In this, President Obama and his top counterterrorism advisors quite literally took on the role of judge, jury, and executioner. In a similar fashion, again in Yemen, the U.S. killed al-Awlaki’s American teenage son, a boy no one claimed was connected to terrorism. Obama administration lawyers went on to claim the legal right to execute U.S. citizens without trial or due process and have admitted to killing four Americans. Attorney General Eric Holder declared that “United States citizenship alone does not make such individuals immune from being targeted.”
Then-FBI Director Robert Mueller, asked in a Congressional hearing if the FBI could assassinate an American citizen in the United States, replied that he simply did not know. “I have to go back. Uh, I’m not certain whether that was addressed or not.” He added, “I’m going to defer that to others in the Department of Justice.” As if competing for an Orwellian prize, an unnamed Obama administration official told the Washington Post, “What constitutes due process in this case is a due process in war.”
So welcome to post-Constitutional America. Its shape is, ominously enough, beginning to come into view.
Orwell’s famed dystopian novel 1984 was not intended as an instruction manual, but just days before the Manning verdict, the Obama administration essentially buried its now-ironic-campaign promise to protect whistleblowers, sending it down Washington’s version of the memory hole. Post-9/11, torture famously stopped being torture if an American did it, and its users were not prosecutable by the Justice Department.
Similarly, full-spectrum spying is not considered to violate the Fourth Amendment and does not even require probable cause. Low-level NSA analysts have desktop access to the private emails and phone calls of Americans. The Post Office photographs the envelopes of every one of the 160 billion pieces of mail it handles, collecting the metadata of “to:” and “from:” addresses. An Obama administration Insider Threat Program requires federal employees (including the Peace Corps) to report on the suspicious behavior of coworkers.
Government officials concerned over possible wrongdoing in their departments or agencies who “go through proper channels” are fired or prosecuted. Government whistleblowers are commanded to return to face justice, while law-breakers in the service of the government are allowed to flee justice. CIA officers who destroy evidence of torture go free, while a CIA agent who blew the whistle on torture is locked up.
Secret laws and secret courts can create secret law you can’t know about for “crimes” you don’t even know exist. You can nonetheless be arrested for committing them. Thanks to the PATRIOT Act, citizens, even librarians, can be served by the FBI with a National Security Letter (not requiring a court order) demanding records and other information, and gagging them from revealing to anyone that such information has been demanded or such a letter delivered. Citizens may be held without trial, and denied their Constitutional rights as soon as they are designated “terrorists.” Lawyers and habeas corpus are available only when the government allows.
In the last decade, 10 times as many employers turned to FBI criminal databases to screen job applicants. The press is restricted when it comes to covering “open trials.” The war on whistleblowers is metastasizing into a war on the First Amendment. People may now be convicted based on secret testimony by unnamed persons. Military courts and jails can replace civilian ones. Justice can be twisted and tangled into an almost unrecognizable form and then used to send a young man to prison for decades. Claiming its actions lawful while shielding the “legal” opinions cited, often even from Congress, the government can send its drones to assassinate its own citizens.
One by one, the tools and attitudes of the war on terror, of a world in which the “gloves” are eternally off, have come home. The comic strip character Pogo’s classic warning — “We have met the enemy and he is us” — seems ever less like a metaphor. According to the government, increasingly we are now indeed their enemy.
This article also appeared on:
The Nation http://www.thenation.com/article/175589/welcome-post-constitution-america
Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-van-buren/bradley-manning-trial_b_3707109.html
Michael Moore: http://www.michaelmoore.com/words/mike-friends-blog/welcome-post-constitution-america-what-if-your-country-begins-change-and-no-one-notices
Asia Times: http://www.atimes.com/atimes/World/WOR-01-060813.html
Mother Jones: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/08/bradley-manning-constitutional-rights
Le Monde Diplomatique (English): http://mondediplo.com/openpage/welcome-to-post-constitution-america
Information Clearing House: http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article35760.htm
Nation of Change: http://www.nationofchange.org/welcome-post-constitution-america-1375712052
Middle East online: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=60564
al-Arab online: http://www.alarabonline.org/english/display.asp?fname=\2013\08\08-05\zopinionz\970.htm&dismode=x&ts=8/5/2013%2011:15:21%20AM
Democratic Underground: http://www.democraticunderground.com/10023408050
Outlook India: http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?287286
Smirking Chimp: http://smirkingchimp.com/thread/tom-engelhardt/50975/tomgram-peter-van-buren-the-manning-trial-began-on-9-11
Though indeed “You just can’t make these things up,” every once in a while something so ridiculous comes along that it refines stupid. Of all the critical issues that need attention in Afghanistan– poverty, corruption, the drug trade, cross-border war with Pakistan, the impending U.S. troop pullout/retreat/giving up because we’re tired thing, most informed people will agree that what has been missing from the conversation is that we need more car shows in Afghanistan. While there are no quick solutions to complex problems, clearly the missing piece after twelve years and a trillion dollars is a car show.
Thus into the breach comes the brave lads and lasses of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul’s Public Affairs staff. In a very neatly-typed press release (the event was not covered by the main stream media, ‘natch), the Embassy congratulated itself heartily on the one-day event.
Chargé d’Affaires Ambassador Tina Kaidanow said, “What you see here today is more than a car show; it is an example of how far Afghanistan has come in economic terms, and it highlights the promise of an even brighter and more prosperous future for Afghanistan if this country can continue on the road of economic reform and commercial development.”
Because she works for the State Department, even when boldly fibbing about the idiocy of holding a car show in an active war zone, Ms. Kaidanow had to throw in the final conditional “if” clause. Well played!
Now of course since Afghanistan is indeed still a dangerous, chaotic war zone mostly in the hands of thugs and terrorizers, the car show was actually held deep inside the walled grounds of the U.S. Embassy itself. One does wonder under such circumstances how many “Afghans,” as we call the still living local fauna, were able to attend.
Sorry this is such a short blog post. Despite both extensive searching and an unanswered email to Embassy Kabul, I have found no notice or coverage of this historic event anywhere except the Embassy’s own press release. I was able to locate numerous reports and gory videos of the almost-daily car bombings that take place in Afghanistan, though sadly few seem to involve U.S. vehicles. It would certainly help sales if Afghans bought U.S. cars and then immediately blew them up and needed a quick replacement.
Perhaps the Embassy will look into that marketing angle.
Sorry for the late notice, but apparently unbeknownst to me, big, BIG changes took place a few years ago at the State Department. With the pace of change at State such as it is, it can be hard to keep up. I guess I am a little surprised this is not still being talked about on State’s social media, or that someone has not made a Gangnam Style-Call Me Maybe mashup video about it.
Nonetheless, for the naysayers who claim the State Department cannot change, have a look at what one alert reader of this blog noticed online:
Even U.S. diplomats have responded to the age’s new imperatives. In 2004, the U.S. State Department declared that it was abandoning the font it had used for years — Courier New 12 — and replacing it with a new standard font that would henceforth be required in all documents: Times New Roman 14. The internal memorandum announcing the change explained that the Times New Roman font “takes up almost exactly the same area on the page as Courier New 12, while offering a crisper, cleaner, more modern look.” What was more remarkable than the change itself — and what would have been unthinkable had the change occurred a generation ago — was that everybody in the State Department understood what the memo was talking about.
(Special thanks to ever-alert reader Lisa for this breaking news. It takes a village to run this blog, people.)
Diplomatic Security Special Agent Chris Deedy, accused of second degree murder in the shooting death of a Hawaiian man, took the stand to testify. I was unable to locate a transcript of the testimony. However, the Associated Press’ report on the trial quoted Deedy. Text from that article appears below.
As a public service, I have tried to match up Deedy’s version of events with the video of the events. The video is linked at the end of this post if you want to watch along. Most of the times mentioned below refer to the video running time so you can compare and decide for yourself. The actual time passed on-the-ground is noted when it was possible to learn it. As always, it is up to the jury to decide, and everyone is innocent until proven guilty.
Tale of the Tape
Deedy said he intervened because Elderts was bothering a customer.
At 1:58 on the video a person wearing a jacket labeled “Security” is seen standing. That same person is present behind Deedy later in the video. The person does not appear to be actively involved in the incident.
The person allegedly being bothered enters at around 3:48 on the video. Already at the counter, Elderts, whom Deedy shot, appears to be speaking to the person. Both have their backs to Deedy in a noisy restaurant. They are a step apart and do not appear to physically interact. Deedy is seated talking with friends. The counter workers do not appear to stop service, though one briefly extends her arm toward Elderts. This is the situation Deedy states he interceded in.
Deedy stands up at 4:39. His female friend stands up and approaches Deedy at around 5:30. Deedy does not appear to speak/engage with anyone until 6:29, after Elderts and the other person have left the counter and taken seats. Deedy has his hands in his pockets and does not appear to have flashed his law enforcement credentials on first encounter.
It is around 8:57 Deedy first appears to show something in his wallet to the seated Elderts. Deedy’s friend Adam Gutowski, who has not been claimed to be a law enforcement official, is also on his feet in front of Elderts. It is unknown if Elderts as a local Hawaiian was familiar with the role of State Department Diplomatic Security as a law enforcement agency with the authority to use deadly force.
Deedy originally claimed as his defense he was acting in his capacity as a federal law enforcement official, but dropped that defense in favor of self defense.
At 10:17 Deedy’s female friend and another person appear to back him away from the seated Elderts. A small crowd has gathered. No one appears to be interceding with Elderts. Elderts stands around 10:24. At 10:33 Deedy reaches behind his back and touches what may be his service weapon.
Elderts and his friend Shane Medeiros attacked his friend, Adam Gutowski, the agent testified. “The dark blood on his face, the kicks connecting to his head,” Deedy said. “I needed to stop this assault.”
This alleged assault of Gutowski does not appear to have been captured on the video from either of the two security cameras. Deedy has been knocked onto the floor at 12:28. He is on his back looking upward.
Deedy said he rose to his feet after being knocked to the floor and stood to face Elderts with his empty hands in front of him. “I was issuing a warning, a command: ‘Stop, I’ll shoot,’” Deedy said. “As I drew my weapon and put my hand forward, I said ‘freeze.’”
This appears to be at 12:32. At 14:23 the final series of events between Deedy and Elderts that ended in the shooting takes place. 14:35 shows a seated patron covering his ears. Deedy and Elderts are still standing.
The unidentified people talking over the video discuss the on-the-ground timing between the start of the events and the person covering his ears. They say four tenths of a second passed. It appears the implication is that the ear covering signifies the first of the three shots Deedy fired. This suggests Deedy’s verbal commands, warning and first shot may have taken place in a very short period of time.
Deedy used footage from a bystander’s cellphone camera to show that he used his knife to help cut Eldert’s shirt and rendered aid.
What happened after the shots on the floor cannot be seen on the publicly available video. However, Deedy is seen on his feet and across the restaurant at 16:49 on the video. The commentators say the on-the-ground time at this point is 2:43:11.
This would suggest approximately one minute passed between the first shot, whatever happened on the ground out of sight, and Deedy stepping away.
At 17:53 on the video Deedy appears to pick one or two things off the floor and may put them in his pants pocket. This seems to take place before any aid was rendered to Elderts. A person in law enforcement who viewed this video suggested that Deedy may be recovering his spent cartridges, the brass part expelled from a weapon when fired. Recovered brass, if available to the police, can potentially be used a evidence from a crime scene.
Deedy returns to the prone Elderts. This may be the time when Deedy stated he rendered first aid. Deedy testified that “he used his knife to help cut Eldert’s shirt and rendered aid. He’s heard on the video — amid Hawaiian music playing in the restaurant — imploring Elderts to breathe.”
More from Deedy’s Testimony
Deedy said he was shocked to hear he was being arrested for murder after fighting for his life.
In his testimony shown on video, Deedy stated he first learned he was arrested for murder when he overheard a police officer mention it on a cell phone (or the radio, Deedy said he was unsure which device was used) while in the police car. A person in law enforcement who viewed this video told me that police typically state one’s reason for arrest at the time of arrest, though at times charges can be added later. It is unknown how much time passed between Deedy being arrested inside the restaurant and his overhearing the reason for his arrest inside the car.
Deedy spent most of his testimony during the first two days speaking about moments displayed on frames of security camera footage. At one point Wednesday afternoon, he gave a hint of fatigue, saying he’d been watching the video for hours but didn’t recall the events in frame grabs.
A prosecutor began cross-examining Deedy in the afternoon. Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Janice Futa asked him why he told a nurse at the hospital that he hadn’t been drinking.
“I don’t recall any of the questions she asked me,” Deedy said. “I just said no to everything.”
Deedy said in court however he only had about four beers or less over 5 ½ hours that night.
Comment: I was unable to learn from State’s Diplomatic Security what its regulations are for its agents carrying their service weapon while drinking, or to intervene in things after drinking. Deedy refused to take a sobriety test at the scene and the Hawaiian police did not seek to compel him to do so.
Hawaii self-defense law contains a provision that outside one’s home one is required to retreat and avoid a confrontation unless in fear of one’s life. At what point the requirement to retreat kicks in and out will likely be a point of law argued in Deedy’s case.
One source describes the Hawaiian law as:
You can use deadly force when you believe it is the only viable means necessary to prevent a threat of death, serious bodily harm, kidnapping, rape or forcible sodomy. You have no duty to retreat if these actions take place in your dwelling or place of work. If the threat occurs in a place other than your home or place of work you have a duty to retreat if you are able to do so in “complete safety.”
The question Hawaiian law seems to demand an answer to is this: Did a Man have to die?
UPDATE: The al Qaeda “conference call” that prompted US Embassy closures a week ago in the Middle East was a lie.
(This article originally appeared on Huffington Post)
What do you call it when you follow the same strategy for twelve years not only without success, but with negative results? What if time shows that that strategy actually helps the enemy you seek to defeat?
Failing to Learn
America’s global war of terror can this week be declared officially a failure, total and complete. After twelve years of invasions, drones, torture, spying and gulags, the U.S. closed its embassies and consulates across (only) the Muslim world. Not for a day, but in most cases heading toward a week, with terror warnings on file lasting through the month. The U.S. evacuated all non-essential diplomatic and military personnel from Yemen; dependents are already gone from most other MidEast posts. Only our fortress embassies in Kabul and Baghdad ironically were considered safe enough to reopen a day or two ago.
The cause of all this? Apparently a message from al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri to his second in command in Yemen telling him to “do something.”
U.S. government sources (one hopes for a robust investigation) later revealed concerns over a vast al Qaeda plot to capture Yemen’s oil supply infrastructure, vene taking over cities and ports, while simultaneously bombarding Western embassies with a string of suicide blasts. The BBC reported that all appeared to be part of a “complex and audacious” plot designed to enact revenge after a series of U.S. drone strikes.
“Senior U.S. officials” (one hopes for a robust investigation) also revealed al Qaeda in Yemen has devised a new kind of liquid explosive that can be embedded in clothing, and which is not detectable by current security measures. That is of course an odd thing to say, revealing to the enemy that we can’t stop them– “It’s ingenious,” one of the officials said. Those same government officials also revived the now-crusty fear meme of the “Frankenbombers,” suicide bombers who carry explosives sewn into their body cavities.
Failure to Understand
All this might be read in one of three ways:
– The simplest explanation is that the threat is indeed real. Twelves years of war has simply pushed the terror threat around, spilled mercury-like, from country to country. A Whack-a-Mole war.
– U.S. officials, perhaps still reeling from Edward Snowden’s NSA disclosures, chose to exaggerate a threat, in essence creating a strawman that could then be defeated. In favor of this argument are the many “leaks” noted above, essentially disclosing raw intel, specific conversations that would clearly reveal to the al Qaeda people concerned how and when they were monitored. Usually try to avoid that in the spy biz. The Frankenbomber stuff is pure 2001 scare tactic recycled. The idea that al Qaeda sought to seize infrastructure is a certain falsehood , as the whole point of guerrilla war is never to seize things, which would create a concentrated, open, stationary target that plays right into the Big Hardware advantage the U.S. holds. Just does not make sense, and supports the idea that this is all made-up for some U.S. domestic purpose.
– However, the third way of looking at this is that the U.S. has failed to walk away from the climate of fear and paranoia that has distorted foreign and domestic policy since 9/12, Chicken Littles if you will. What if the U.S. really believed that al Qaeda was planning to take over Yemen this week in spite of the odd inconsistencies? What if “chatter” was enough to provoke the last Superpower into a super-sized public cower?
Failure to Not Act
The why in this case may not matter, when the what is so controlling. As I hit “submit” on this article, no embassies have been attacked; the only killings in Yemen we know of are a string of U.S. drone strikes coupled with public plans to deploy (additional?) special forces on the ground. That sadly predictable resort to violence by the U.S. shows that we have fundamentally failed to understand that in a guerrilla war one cannot shoot one’s way out. You win by offering a better idea to people than the other side, while at the same time luring the other side into acts of violence and political repression that make them lose the support of those same people. This is asymmetrical warfare 101 stuff.
So the U.S. embassy closures, the ramped up drone strikes, the threat of special forces, may be seen as failure in this light:
–al Qaeda blowing up an empty embassy would still make spectacular headlines and score their political points, the goal of terror. Even an empty embassy in smoldering ruins will drive home the weakness of the U.S. to defend itself, and provoke a significant and violent response that plays into al Qaeda’s long-game goals. The closures accomplish little strategically, though of course may still be necessary to protect lives. Nobody wants to be the last man to die for a mistake, reminded now-Secretary of State John Kerry during the Vietnam War.
–How long will the embassies remain shuttered this time? What about next week, next month, and so on? Media across the world are showing images of closed U.S facilities, a powerful propaganda image.
–In the populations al Qaeda seeks to influence, claiming they “humbled and scared” the US twelve years after 9/11 simply by ramping up their chatter seems an effective al Qaeda strategy. That the U.S. response is again to unleash violence in the Muslim world, especially significant this week as the Eid holidays begin, drives home al Qaeda’s point that America is at war with Islam– see, they may say, words alone are enough to unleash the beast against you.
Of Mice and Men: Historical Failure
My office is home to a few mice that have been here longer than I have. I feel they are cowards because they will not stand and fight, though I outweigh them by 200 pounds. They burrowed into my coworker’s desk and ate his Twizzlers. My colleague set traps. He comes from Ohio, where he has a nice lake house free of mice. It is better to fight them here than at home he says, but fight we must. Some have argued we can’t kill our way out of this dilemma. Leaving aside the issue of whether we should have moved uninvited into the mouse house in the first place, and leaving aside how the mice did not see themselves as liberated even after we got rid of the stray cats around here, they breed like rabbits. We can kill a few mice each day, but they just make more. We can’t kill all of them. Right now it is technology versus ideology. I hope the mice never learn to build car bombs or we are real trouble. God is with the patient, says an Arab proverb. We have the watch, but they have the time, says an American joke.
Analogies only go so far of course. What is clear is that al Qaeda’s strategy is as old as history, and the U.S. reaction both equally historic and predictable. As with the British thrashing about as their empire collapsed, the world’s greatest military defeated by natives with old rifles, so now goes the U.S., by its own hand.
Indeed, as a more eloquent commentator has said, “We continue to pay in blood because we can’t learn how to do something besides fight.”
If you’re not up-to-date on the Hawaiian murder trial of accused State Department Diplomatic Security Agent Chris Deedy, here is the 411.
New video of the shooting is now online. Watch the whole thing, but things do get interesting around 4:30 in. Let’s have a look:
Here’s the link if you can’t see the embedded video above.
– I do not know who is speaking on the video. Maybe a cop and the judge?
– This video, in comparison to previous releases, shows the interaction preceding the shooting more clearly.
– “Diamond Head side” and “Ewa Side” are Hawaiian terms roughly denoting East and West.
– At around 4:30 as Deedy gets up he appears to either scratch his back or touch his weapon.
– At around 16:00 Deedy may leave the scene; some witnesses and one of the 911 calls support this.
– It appears several people several times try to back Deedy off, which he appears to resist.
– Look for the guy in the lower right corner of the screen to cover his ears; this may be the moment of the shots.
–Anybody know who Jessica West in the video is? She does not appear to be Deedy’s spouse based on other photos.
Everyone is innocent until proven guilty like they on TV so we wait now for the Hawaiian court to issue a verdict.
The whistleblower statement is online, buried in a less prominent location multiple clicks deep. While I regret the technical error, my sentiments are unchanged.
(On the day Bradley Manning’s verdict is announced, Orwell’s Memory Hole is indeed alive in the United States. This excellent article was not written by me, and originally appeared on TechDirt)
The folks from the Sunlight Foundation have noticed that the Change.gov website, which was set up by the Obama transition team after the election in 2008 has suddenly been scrubbed of all of its original content. They noted that the front page had pointed to the White House website for a while, but you could still access a variety of old material and agendas. They were wondering why the administration would suddenly pull all that interesting archival information… and hit upon a clue.
A little bit from the “ethics agenda”:
Protect Whistleblowers: Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance. Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government. Obama will ensure that federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing whistleblower claims and whistleblowers have full access to courts and due process.
Yeah. That statement seems a bit embarrassing at the very same time Obama’s administration is threatening trade sanctions against anyone who grants asylum to Ed Snowden. Also… at the same time that we get to see how whistleblower Bradley Manning’s “full access to courts and due process” will turn out. So far, it’s been anything but reasonable, considering that the UN has already condemned Manning’s treatment as “cruel and inhuman.” And people wonder why Snowden left the country…
MY COMMENT: Yeah, Hope and Change my ass.
Bonus: Make you own Hope and Change poster here.
This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post.
I get a lot of conspiracy emails at my blog, wemeantwell.com. Various “truthers” want me to believe that the CIA or the Mossad or the Spiders from Mars did 9/11, and that Obama was born on the Planet Mongo and is thus not even human, never mind an American Citizen. C’mon folks, try it again, using “facts” this time.
At the same time, I find myself worrying a bit. Stuff that fell into the conspiracy theory catalog last year now is old news: the government is indeed reading your email, your snail mail, your Facebook, all the while listening in on your calls. Torture and indefinite extra-judicial imprisonment are just another thing the government does. Whatever really happened to bin Laden will likely never be known, as the records were secretly moved into CIA hands where they will not be subject to Freedom of Information Act requests. Drones have been used in the U.S. Oh, and a secret court is making secret laws that affect all of us, in secret.
So, given all that, this next item is probably nothing. Another coincidence.
Two burglars broke into a Dallas law firm, bashing through a wall, and stealing only three computers while leaving other valuables behind. The law firm targeted represents State Department whistleblower Aurelia Fedenisn. Fedenisn revealed that she’d seen internal investigations called off by higher ups. The State Department accused her of removing “highly sensitive, internal documents” containing “personal information and unsubstantiated allegations,” and explained that it was working to secure the documents once again. The thieves also tried to pry open a filing cabinet at the lawyer’s office. Coincidence.
An office across the hallway from the whistleblower’s lawyers that was left unlocked and was full of valuables, as well as fourteen other computers, was untouched by the thieves. Coincidence.
Not too long ago, a thief entered the offices of the Government Accountability Project, one of America’s premier whistleblower representatives, and stole only some attorney laptops. Nothing else, not even purses left out. The theft occurred just as the government’s case against NSA whistleblower Tom Drake was collapsing. His attorneys’ computers were taken. Coincidence.
In 1971 John Ehrlichman, assistant to president Nixon, approved a covert operation to break into Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office and examine his medical files. The purpose was to get a “mother lode” of information about Ellsberg’s mental state to use to discredit him.
Naw, I think I’ve just seen to many spy dramas on TV lately. I mean, who could think that the government would be involved in anything like breaking into a law office in search of info on one of its whistleblower critics?
Also coincidences: Death of Andrew Breitbart, the coroner who handled Breitbart’s case and died of arsenic poisoning, and Michael Hastings, where the LAPD refuses to release the accident and toxicology reports, or make the crashed Mercedes available for inspection. Nothing to see here you proles, go about your business.
To my State Department colleagues: Did you really sign up to help restrict the rights of an American to speak freely and to seek asylum?
This will make us all proud to implement: Lindsey Graham demanded the State Department coordinate with lawmakers on setting penalties against nations that seek to help Edward Snowden avoid extradition to the United States. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the proposal unanimously by voice vote as an amendment to next year’s $50.6 billion diplomacy and international aid bill.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said “[Russia] still has the opportunity to do the right thing and return Mr. Snowden to the United States.” The Department made similar statements to China and Hong Kong, as well as several European and Latin American nations. You know; you delivered the demarches and the place-holder extradition requests to forty-some countries recently.
The White House and the State Department complained that the Russian government permitted Snowden to meet with human rights groups at the Moscow airport. “Providing a propaganda platform for Mr. Snowden runs counter to the Russian government’s previous declarations of neutrality,” Jay Carney said.
Obama has pressured Russia privately, and publically seeks “clarity” about Snowden’s request for asylum. Ever seen that before?
The U.S. criticized Snowden for speaking to internationally-respected groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. In fact, the Obama administration urged human rights groups not to help Snowden. In response, the Human Rights Watch General Counsel said Snowden “should be allowed at least to make that claim and have it heard.” Has that ever happened before in your careers? Lifetimes?
Here’s a link to what some in the old USSR might have considered a propaganda platform, a speech by dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn after he was granted refuge in the United States. We facilitated the U.S. giving such “propaganda platforms” to prisoners and fugitives and enemies of (other) states such as Nelson Mandela and Aung Su Kyi.
I understand we all were hired to represent the views of the U.S. government overseas, and that part of the deal is of course we may not always agree with those views. I publically supported the USG’s position under multiple presidents, Reagan, through to Obama, for 24 years, though I blew the whistle on State mismanagement of the Iraq reconstruction at the end as an act of conscience, and gave up my career in return.
We also were hired to protect American citizens abroad, even though we may not always agree with their views. Some of those Amcits we helped were criminals in jail, and not very nice people and we all did it, proud that our country cared about all its citizens without prejudice, simply because they were American. That to me always represented the best of us. I am still proud of that despite all the ugliness that passed between the Department and me.
About a year ago the U.S. gave Chinese dissident Chen Guang Cheng refuge in our embassy in Beijing before allowing him to enter the United States. Chen had escaped from Chinese government house arrest and was a fugitive upon reaching the U.S. embassy. You know better than most pundits the agreements the U.S. has signed on asylum, and you have cited them to foreign governments on the behalf of the United States. Are some fugitives more equal than others? Some governments? When threats are the only you wield, is that still called diplomacy?
We are sworn under oath to support and defend the Constitution. Violations of the Constitution are not a policy or view of the United States that we are bound to support and defend.
The key question is: Are we Americans or just employees?
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