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    Ghosts of Tom Joad on Sale at Amazon Now

    April 7, 2014 // 20 Comments »

    Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99PercentMy new book, Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percentis now available and shipping from Amazon in Kindle, paperback and hardcover.

    The book is off to a good start. Here what one reviewer said:

    Ghosts of Tom Joad is a book about the 99% but told from a very personal level. I needed to remind myself throughout the book that this is fiction, but it is also so many people’s real life story. Van Buren laces factual information throughout the book, but it fits into the story. It does not read like a collection of statistics or a leftist/union propaganda brochure. It reads as real life. This book is very well done on so many levels.


    Here’s another, from Daniel Ellsberg:

    In his new book Ghosts of Tom Joad Van Buren turns to the larger themes of social justice and equality, and asks uncomfortable questions about where we are headed. He is no stranger to speaking truth to power, and the critical importance of doing that in a democracy cannot be overestimated.

    Rolling Stone:

    A lyrical, and deeply reported look at America’s decline from the bottom up. Though a work of fiction, Ghosts of Tom Joad is – sadly, and importantly – based on absolute fact. Buy it, read it, think about it.

    Academy-Award nominated filmmaker James Spione:

    Like his heroes Steinbeck and Agee before him, the author takes us on an unflinching tour of America’s “broken places,” yet true to his predecessors Van Buren never loses sight of his rough characters’ resilient humanity, their deeply held yearning for the grounding connection of family and community, their stubborn hope for a better life. An urgent, important story and an incredibly necessary book.


    Ghosts of Tom Joad is an important book for me, and a once-in-a-lifetime chance for me to bring the issues of social and economic inequality in America to a wider audience, to expose clearly our apartheid of dollars in our nation. If you enjoy my writing here, or on TomDispatch, HuffPo, FireDogLake or elsewhere, picking up a copy of the book will help fuel what I hope to continue doing.

    Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percentis a good story, but with a conscience.



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in #99Percent, * Most Popular

    U.S. Government Hilariously Creates Secret-Cuba Twitter, Then Just Quits

    April 4, 2014 // 27 Comments »




    There is, clearly to at least two or three people in Washington, no greater threat to American safety and security than Cuba. America has had a Cold War hard-on over Cuba for decades, and so spending millions of taxpayer dollars on it, even if it means a lot of that money actually and knowingly gets paid to the Cuban government itself, is OK. Freedom isn’t free.


    One of the most recent such events was a failed U.S. government attempt to create a Cuba-only Twitter-like text system, and then to use subscribers’ mobile phones to seed anti-Castro propaganda. The bizarre thinking underlying all this was that such social media would foment “flash mobs” in Cuba that would somehow lead to a people power revolution to overthrow the Cuban government.

    Cuba Libre, Cuba Tweet

    In 2010, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), best known for overseeing billions of dollars in reconstruction money in the successful campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, decided to create a bare-bones “Cuban Twitter,” using cellphone text messaging to evade Cuba’s Internet restrictions. It was called ZunZuneo, apparently slang for a Cuban hummingbird’s tweet. Like Twitter, get it?

    To hide the U.S. government’s involvement in all this, fake companies were established in the Cayman Islands, while DNS spoofing and other naughty tricks were employed to disguise the origin of messages, all with the goal of making sure neither the Cuban government nor the Cuban people knew this was a U.S. propaganda ploy. The plan was, according to documents obtained by the Associated Press, for the U.S. to build a subscriber base through “non-controversial content” such as soccer scores and hurricane updates. When the network reached a critical mass of subscribers, perhaps hundreds of thousands, the U.S. would introduce political content aimed at inspiring Cubans to organize “smart mobs” that would assemble at a moment’s notice a Cuban Spring. One USAID document said the formal goal was to “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society.” This was all at a time when the U.S. fantasized that the Arab Spring would yield the same outbreak of democracy that the Ukrainian Orange Revolution is now famous for.

    Hilarious aside: USAID in its internal project documents called hard-core Castro supporters “Talibanes.”

    No Hay Problemas

    To begin, the propaganda network coincidentally activated shortly after Alan Gross, a USAID subcontractor who was sent to Cuba to surreptiously help “provide citizens access to the Internet,” was arrested. No one claims there is any connection.

    As the Cuban government became aware of the program, its users (who had no idea they were unwitting stooges in a USG black op) came under intense suspicion. This may cause Cubans to be wary of participating in future U.S. programs, and/or to be very suspicious of any legitimate third-party programs for fear of ending up in jail.

    Because sending the texts needed to participate in the program was quite expensive in Cuba, and because the U.S. sent out thousands of messages itself, significant amounts of U.S. money were paid directly to the Cuban government-owned telephone company. The good news for taxpayers was that the Spain-based front company for this mess negotiated with the Cuban government for a bulk-rate for the texts. Can I get a Viva! from the crowd?

    When the service started to become popular and exceed the technical capabilities of what the U.S. set up, the U.S. limited Cubans to only one text a day per person, unlikely to be conducive to creating flash mobs and revolution.

    Various problems capped Cuban participation in the program to only about one percent of the total population. At one point USAID claimed this was good, and kept the project “under the radar.”

    By mid-2012 Cuban users began to complain that the service worked only sporadically. Then not at all, and ZunZuneo simply vanished. The old web domain is now up for sale by a URL broker. Surprisingly, no takers to date. The ZunZuneo Facebook page is still online, last updated in May 2012. Be sure to hop online and “Like” them.

    To hide the program from Congressional scrutiny, the money spent on Cuba was taken out of funds publicly earmarked for Pakistan.

    As part of all the texting, a contractor for the project built a vast database about the Cuban subscribers, including gender, age, “receptiveness” and “political tendencies.” This will never be leaked, hacked, stolen or ever come into the hands of the Cuban government so that they can stomp out any legitimate dissent.

    A lawyer specializing in European data protection law, told the Associated Press it appeared that the U.S. program violated Spanish privacy laws because the ZunZuneo team illegally gathered personal data and sent unsolicited emails using a Spanish front company. Especially in the wake of the revelations of NSA spying throughout Europe, this is unlikely to have affect on broader relations.

    Since USAID, ostensibly a humanitarian aid organization, apparently created several international clandestine front companies, spoofed Cuban telcom networks and funneled money through Cayman Island banks, there is no chance that the CIA had anything to do with any of this.

    USAID at one point turned to Jack Dorsey, a co-founder of Twitter, to seek funding for the project. Documents show Dorsey met with Suzanne Hall, a State Department officer who worked on “new media projects.” Ms. Hall, who appears to be about 26, is captured on video here, explaining how cool social media thingies are. Please note the statue of Hillary Clinton on the bookshelf on the right side of the screen.

    Nothing in the documents available lists exactly how much this all cost American taxpayers.


    Note: As we go to press, the Cuban government is still in power and doing just fine, thank you. Please note that U.S. government efforts to promote freedom in Cuba in no way conflict with U.S. government plans to maintain its off-shore penal colony at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, indefinitely.



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in #99Percent, * Most Popular

    You Can’t Opt Out: 10 NSA Myths Debunked

    March 17, 2014 // 21 Comments »

    The debate Edward Snowden envisioned when he revealed the extent of National Security Agency (NSA) spying on Americans has taken a bad turn. Instead of a careful examination of what the NSA does, the legality of its actions, what risks it takes for what gains, and how effective the agency has been in its stated mission of protecting Americans, we increasingly have government officials or retired versions of the same demanding — quite literally — Snowden’s head and engaging in the usual fear-mongering over 9/11. They have been aided by a chorus of pundits, columnists, and present as well as former officials offering bumper-sticker slogans like “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear,” all the while claiming our freedom is in direct conflict with our security.

    It’s time to face these arguments directly. So here are ten myths about NSA surveillance that need debunking. Let’s sort them out.

    1) NSA surveillance is legal.

    True, if perhaps you put “legal” in quotes. After all, so was slavery once upon a time in the U.S. and apartheid in South Africa. Laws represent what a government and sometimes perhaps even a majority of the people want at a given point in time. They change and are changeable; what once was a potential felony in Colorado is now a tourist draw.

    Laws, manipulated for terrible ends, must be challenged when they come into conflict with the fundamental principles and morals of a free society. Laws created Nelson Mandela, the terrorist (whom the U.S. kept on its terror watch list until 2008), and laws created Nelson Mandela, the president.

    There’s a catch in the issue of legality and the NSA. Few of us can know just what the law is. What happens to you if you shoplift from a store or murder someone in a bar fight? The consequences of such actions are clearly codified and you can look them up. Is it legal to park over there? The rules are on a sign posted right where you’d like to pull in. If a cop tickets you wrongly, you can go to court and use that sign to defend yourself. Yet almost all of the applicable “law,” when it comes to the National Security Agency and its surveillance practices, was secret until Edward Snowden began releasing his documents. Secret interpretations of the shady Patriot Act made in a secret court applied. The fact that an unknown number of legal memos and interpretations of that secret law (themselves still classified) are operative means that we really don’t know what is legal anymore.

    The panel of experts appointed by President Obama to review the Snowden revelations and the NSA’s actions had a peek into the issue of “legality” and promptly raised serious questions — as did one of the two federal courts that recently ruled on some aspects of the issue. If the Obama administration and the Justice Department really believe that all the NSA’s activities will be proven legal in a court of law, why not allow them to be tested openly and unambiguously in public? After all, if you’ve done nothing illegal, then there’s nothing to hide.

    When Amnesty International first tried to bring such a question before the courts, the case was denied because that organization couldn’t prove that it had been subject to monitoring — that was a secret, of course! — and so was denied standing even to bring the suit. Snowden’s revelations seem to have changed all that. The documents made public have given “standing” to a staggering array of individuals, organizations, and countries. For the first time in 12 years, they pave the way for the issue to come to its proper venue in front of the Supremes. Openly. Publicly.

    2) If I’ve done nothing wrong, I have nothing to hide. So why should I care about any of this?

    Keep in mind that the definition of “wrong” can quickly change. And if you don’t know what the actual law really is, how can you say that you know you have done nothing wrong? If you’ve got nothing to hide, post your social security number and credit card information online, leave your curtains open at night, and see how that sits with you.

    In a larger sense, however, the very idea that “I’ve got nothing to hide” is a distraction. The Fourth Amendment guarantees a right to privacy. The Constitution does not ask if you want or need that right; it grants it to everyone, and demands that the government interfere with it only under specific circumstances.

    The Fourth Amendment came into being because of the British use of general warrants in the colonial era. Under that “law,” they could legally search whole groups of people, their possessions, and their papers without having to justify searching any specific person. Called “writs of assistance,” these general warrants allowed the King’s agents to search anyone, anytime, regardless of whether they suspected that person of a crime. The writs were most often used by Royal Customs agents (an irony perhaps, given the draconian powers now granted to U.S. Customs agents to search anyone’s personal electronics, including those of American citizens, at the border).

    The U.S. fought a revolution, and James Madison wrote the Fourth Amendment, against broad government authority to search. Whether you personally do or do not have anything to hide is not even a question that should be on the table. It should be almost un-American to ask it.

    3) But the media says the NSA only collects my “phone metadata,” so I’m safe.

    My older, conservative neighbor quickly insisted that collecting this metadata thing she had heard about on Fox was necessary to protect her from all the terrorists out here in suburbia. She then vehemently disagreed that it was okay for President Obama to know whom she called and when, from where to where and for how long, or for him to know who those people called and when, and so forth.

    Think of metadata as the index to all the content the NSA can sweep up. That agency is able to record, say, 24 hours worth of Verizon phone calls. Its operatives can then easily locate any particular call within that huge chunk of metadata. Such basic information can also provide geo-location information to track physical movements. Metadata showing that you called your doctor, followed by metadata about which lab department she called next, followed by a trip to the pharmacy might fall into the “something you want to hide” category. (Actually, using metadata to learn about your medical history may not be even necessary. An exception to the privacy policy of one of America’s larger HMOs, Kaiser Permanente, states: “We may also disclose your PHI [personal health information] to authorized federal officials as necessary for national security and intelligence activities.” BlueCross BlueShield has a similar exception as do regional medical outfits.)

    Metadata is important. Ever play the game “Six Degrees of Separation”? Silly as it seems, almost anyone is indeed just six hops away from anyone else. You know a guy in Detroit who has a friend in California who has a sister who cuts hair whose client is Kevin Bacon’s high school classmate’s cousin. You and that cousin are connected. Publicly available information tells us that the NSA traces “three hops” from a target: A knows B, C, and D. But once C morphs into a target, C’s three hops mean the NSA can poke into E, F, and G, and so forth. The Guardian calculated that if A has 50 friends, the number of targets generated under the three-hop rule would be over 1.3 million people. I really do hope that you (and everyone you know, and they know) have nothing to hide.

    4) Aren’t there are already checks and balances in our system to protect us against NSA overreach?

    In recent years, the government has treated the king of all checks and balances, the Constitution, like a used Kleenex. The secret Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Court (FISA) was set up to provide judicial oversight in a classified setting to the intelligence community.  Theoretically, the government is required to make a compelling case for the issuance of orders authorizing electronic and other surveillance, physical searches, and compelled production of business records. Either the government is very good at making its case, or the court has become a rubber stamp: that secret FISA court approved all 1,789 requests submitted to it in 2012.

    The Patriot Act elevated a once rarely used tool, the National Security Letter (NSL), into the mainstream of government practice. National Security Letters are an extraordinary search procedure that gives the FBI the power to compel the disclosure of customer records held by banks, telephone companies, Internet service providers, public libraries, and others. These entities are prohibited, or “gagged,” from telling anyone about their receipt of the NSL. Though the Justice Department itself cited abuse of the letters by the FBI in 2008, in 2012 the FBI used 15,229 National Security Letters to gather information on Americans. NSLs do not require judicial approval and the built-in gag orders prevent anyone from seeking judicial relief; indeed, most people will never even know that they were the subject of an NSL. And at the moment, the Department of Justice is trying to keep classified an 86-page court opinion that determined the government violated the spirit of federal surveillance laws and engaged in unconstitutional spying.

    Director of National Intelligence James Clapper directly lied to that check-and-balance branch of the government, Congress, in a public session. (He later termed his response the “least untruthful” answer.) And we wouldn’t even know that he lied, or much of anything else about the NSA’s surveillance activities here or globally, if it weren’t for one man’s courage in exposing them. The government had kept it all from us for 12 years and never showed the slightest sign of reconsidering any part of that policy. Without Snowden, we would not even know what needs checking and balancing.

    5) But I trust Obama (Bush, the next president) on this. 

    I can guess what your opinions are of the people that run the Transportation Safety Administration or the Internal Revenue Service. On what basis, then, can you conclude that the NSA or any other part of the government is any more trustworthy or competent, or any less petty?

    While the government does not trust you to know what it does, thanks again to the Snowden revelations, we know that the NSA trusts some foreign governments more than you. The NSA is already sharing at least some data about Americans with, at a minimum, British intelligence and the Israelis. And who knows how those governments use it or whom they share it with downstream?

    Do you really trust all of them all the time to never make mistakes or act on personal grudges or political biases? History is clear enough on what former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover did with the personal information he was able to collect on presidents, the Supreme Court, Congressional representatives, Martin Luther King, and others in the Civil Rights movement. Among other things, he used his secretly obtained information to out gay members of government. As for the NSA, so far it hasn’t even been willing to answer the question of whether it’s been spying on, surveilling, or gathering metadata on members of Congress.

    Still, let’s assume that Obama or the next president or the one after that will never do anything bad with your personal data. Once collected, however, that data potentially exists forever. If the NSA is to be believed, it claims to hold metadata for only five years, though it can keep copies of intercepted communications from or about U.S. citizens indefinitely if the material contains “significant intelligence” or “evidence” of crimes. The NSA can hold on to your encrypted communications as long as is needed to break the encryption. The NSA can also keep indefinitely any information gathered for “cryptanalytic, traffic analysis, or signal exploitation purposes.” Data held is available to whoever can access it in the future, using whatever technologies come to exist. Trusting anyone with such power is foolish. And as for data security, we know of at least one recent instance when more than 1.7 million highly-classified NSA documents just walked out the door.

    6) But don’t private companies like Facebook already have access to and share a lot of my personal data? So what’s wrong with the government having it, too?

    While private companies can pass your private information to the government, either willingly or under secret compulsion, there still are some important differences.

    At least in theory, it’s your choice to give data to private companies. You could stop using Facebook, after all. You can’t, however, opt out of the NSA. About the worst that Facebook and the others directly want is to take your money and send you spam. While certainly no angel, Facebook can’t arrest you, put you on the No-Fly list with no recourse, seize your property or put you under investigation, audit your finances, imprison you without trial as a terrorist, or order you assassinated by drone. Facebook can’t suspend your civil rights; the government can. That is a big, big difference.  And by the way, a proposed solution to the metadata collection problem — having private companies, not the NSA, hold the data — is no solution at all.  Data stored and available to NSA analysts, wherever it is, is data stored and available to NSA analysts.

    7) All this surveillance is distasteful and maybe even illegal, but isn’t it necessary to keep us safe? Isn’t it for our own good? Haven’t times changed and shouldn’t we acknowledge that?

    This isn’t a new argument; it’s Old Reliable. It was the argument that Hoover, Senator Joseph McCarthy, and so many others made to justify the particular acts they chose to endorse to protect us against Communism. The 1976 Church Committee Report, the first and only large-scale review of America’s internal spy networks, found that between 1953 and 1973 nearly a quarter of a million first-class letters were opened and photographed in the United States by the CIA. Like the NSA, it was at that time officially forbidden to spy on Americans domestically. It nonetheless produced a computerized index of nearly one and one-half million names. At least 130,000 first class letters were also opened and photographed by the FBI between 1940 and 1966, all to keep us safe and for our own good in changing times. I doubt many people now believe any of that is what kept the Reds at bay.

    The same argument was made about the necessity of domestic surveillance during the Vietnam War. Again, from the Church Report, we learned that some 300,000 individuals were indexed in a CIA computer system and that separate files were created on approximately 7,200 Americans and more than 100 domestic groups under the umbrella of Operation MH/CHAOS, designed to ferret out supposed foreign influence on the antiwar movement. Intelligence files on more than 11,000 individuals and groups were created by the Internal Revenue Service between 1969 and 1973 and tax investigations were started on the “basis of political rather than tax criteria.” I doubt many people now believe any of that is what kept the nation from descending into chaos.

    The Constitution and the Bill of Rights have matured with our nation, growing to end slavery, enhance the rights of women, and do away with Jim Crow and other immoral laws. The United States survived two world wars, the Cold War, and innumerable challenges without a massive, all-inclusive destruction of civil rights. Any previous diversions — Abraham Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War is a favorite instance cited — were short, specific, and reversed or overturned. The Founders created the Bill of Rights to address, point-by-point, the abuses of power they experienced under an oppressive British government. (Look up the never-heard-from-again Third Amendment.) A bunch of angry jihadis, real and imagined, seems a poor reason to change that system.

    8 ) Terrorists are everywhere and dangerous.

    From 1776 to 2001 the United States did not experience a terror attack anywhere close to the scale of 9/11; the worst terror attack against the United States as of 9/10, the Oklahoma City bombing, claimed 168 lives compared to some 3,000 at the Twin Towers. Since 9/11 we have not had a comparable mass-scale terror attack. No dirty bombs at the Super Bowl, no biochemical nightmares, no suicide bombers in our shopping malls or theme parks. There have been only about 20 domestic terror-related deaths since 9/11. Your chances as an American of being killed by a terrorist (the figures are for the world, not just inside the U.S.) are about 1 in 20 million. The inevitable comparison shows the odds of being struck by lightning at 1 in 5.5 million.  You are, in other words, about four times more likely to be struck by lightning than killed by a terrorist. Most of the “terrorists” arrested in this country post-9/11 have been tragicomic fabrications of the FBI. 9/11 was a one-off, an aberration, so unique that its “success” stunned even Osama bin Laden. It was a single morning of disaster and cannot be the justification for everything the government wishes to do forever after.

    9) We’ve stayed safe. Doesn’t that just prove all the government efforts have worked?

    No, that’s called false causality. There simply is no evidence that it’s true, and much to the contrary. It’s the same as believing government efforts have prevented Martian attacks or wild lions in our bedrooms. For one thing, we already know that more NSA spying would not have stopped 9/11; most of the needed information was already held by the U.S. government and was simply not properly shared or acted upon. 9/11 was a policy failure, not a matter of too-little snooping. Today, however, it remains a straw-man justification for whatever the NSA wants to do, a way of scaring you into accepting anything from the desecration of the Fourth Amendment to taking off our shoes at airport security. But the government uses this argument endlessly to promote what it wants to do.  Even the NSA’s talking points recommend their own people say: “I much prefer to be here today explaining these programs, than explaining another 9/11 event that we were not able to prevent.”

    At the same time, despite all this intrusion into our lives and the obvious violations of the Fourth Amendment, the system completely missed the Boston bombers, two of the dumbest, least sophisticated bro terrorists on the planet. Since 9/11, we have seen some 364,000 deaths in our schools, workplaces, and homes caused by privately owned firearms, and none of the spying or surveillance identified any of the killers in advance.

    Maybe we should simply stop thinking about all this surveillance as a matter of stopping terrorists and start thinking more about what it means to have a metastasized global surveillance system aimed at spying on us all, using a fake argument about the need for 100% security in return for ever more minimal privacy. So much has been justified in these years — torture, indefinite detention, the Guantanamo penal colony, drone killings, wars, and the use of Special Operations forces as global assassination teams — by some version of the so-called ticking time bomb scenario. It’s worth getting it through our heads: there has never been an actual ticking time bomb scenario. The bogeyman isn’t real. There’s no monster hiding under your bed.

    10) But doesn’t protecting America come first — before anything?

    What exactly are we protecting from what? If, instead of spending trillions of dollars on spying and domestic surveillance, we had spent that same money on repairing our infrastructure and improving our schools, wouldn’t we now have a safer, stronger America? Remember that famously absurd Vietnam War quote from an American officer talking about  brutal attack on Ben Tre, “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it”? How can anyone say we are protecting our liberty and freedom by taking it away?




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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in #99Percent, * Most Popular

    Obama NSA Speech: Pretty Words, No Real Change

    January 18, 2014 // 13 Comments »

    Bottom Line Up Front: The details of Obama’s most recent speech about “changes” to the NSA’s surveillance practices reveal that sadly little of substance will change. A few cosmetic touchups, some nice words, issues tossed into the pit of Congress to fade away in partisan rancor, and high hopes that the issue will slip away from the public eye as “fixed.” Not word one about how absent Edward Snowden’s historic disclosures the president would not even be offering this lip service, happy to allow the tumor of spying to continue to grow in secret as he had done for the last six years of his presidency.

    But let’s get specific.

    Announced Changes

    Obama announced that the U.S. will no longer electronically surveil allied, friendly, heads of state. So, Americans, the only documented way to protect yourself from NSA spying is to be chosen as leader of another country. Note that Obama did not specify what he means by allied and friendly (Turkey? Iraq? Brazil?), and he clearly did not outlaw spying on a head of state’s closest advisors, cabinet members, secretaries, code clerks and the like. This is simply a gesture; it is unlikely that any of German head of state Andrea Merkel’s cell phone conversations revealed much terrorist information anyway. Worldwide reaction, the audience to which this was aimed, has been tepid and unconvinced.

    The secret Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Court (FISA) will need to grant the NSA permission to search the phone records metadata database. Most significant here is that the NSA will continue to compile the database itself. Use of the FISA court remains just the illusion of a check and balance, because either the government is very good at making its case, or the court has become a rubber stamp: that secret FISA court approved all 1,789 requests submitted to it in 2012. Of key importance is the question of what constitutes a “search” and a “record.” FISA decisions and Department of Justice internal legal briefs dramatically broadened the definitions of those words such that a “record” may now consist of every piece of data collected by say, Verizon. It is very, very unclear that this change announced by Obama will have any real-world positive impact on protecting Americans’ privacy.

    Obama also announced that the NSA will face new limits on how far from a target it can search into the metadata. Currently the NSA traces “three hops” from a target: A knows B, C, and D. But once C morphs into a target, C’s three hops mean the NSA can poke into E, F, and G, and so forth. Obama wishes to limit this to two hops, A knows B and C. This is again a false palliative; if a “target” has fifty friends, the two hops rule authorizes access to a total of 8,170 additional people. And there is nothing to stop the NSA from redesignating any of them as a new target and thus allowing the math to expand the two hops rule indefinitely.

    Changes Thrown into Congress

    These are for all intents and purposes just throwaways. Obama knows as well as anyone that a hyper-partisan Congress, already divided on what if anything should be done with the NSA, heading into elections, will never act on these issues. Obama can take the high road and deflect any criticism from his progressive base by pointing a finger at Congress. Democrats can blame Republicans and vice-versa, so everyone wins in the calculus of Washington.

    For the record, even Obama’s Congressional changes are limp. Having private companies instead of the NSA hold data for the NSA to search? What kind of practical change would result from that? A public advocate in the FISA court? A possible, but how many, what staff and resources, what actual role would they play, under what rules of disclosure by the government would they function? The adversarial judicial process that otherwise fuels our legal system, prosecutors and defense attorneys, rules to compel disclosure, cross examination and so forth would not exist as new FISA-only “advocate” rules are created in a pseudo-parallel system. And since the whole process would remain highly-classified, no one outside the government would ever know if such advocates indeed played any role in protecting our privacy.

    The last change Obama threw to Congress concerned some form of privacy protections for foreigners. Again, this is just a sop to our “allies and friends” abroad. A Congress that apparently cares little about the privacy of Americans will never pass privacy protections for foreigners.

    Changes Not Mentioned at All

    What was not even mentioned by Obama is sadly the largest category of all. The list could fill dozens of pages, but the use of National Security Letters without judicial oversight is one of the most significant omissions. In 2012 the FBI used 15,229 National Security Letters to gather information on Americans. In addition, not a word was mentioned about pulling back the NSA’s breaking into the Internet backbone, accessing the key Google, Yahoo, Microsoft servers, the NSA use of malware to spy on computers, the NSA’s exploitation of software bugs, the NSA’s efforts to weaken encryption that puts our data at risk to ease the burden on the Agency of decoding things, the use of offensive cyberattacks, indiscriminate gathering of data in general contrary to the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against General Warrants and on and on and on and on, at least until the next revelations from Edward Snowden reveal even more NSA tricks being played on innocent Americans.

    But the mother of all omissions from the Obama speech is this one: there is no proof that all of the spying and surveillance, at the sake of our basic Constitutional rights, has resulted in the purported aim of keeping us safe. The White House’s own review panel on NSA surveillance said they discovered no evidence that the bulk collection of telephone call records thwarted any terrorist attacks.

    And there Mr. President is the real change needed. A massive, frighteningly expensive program that does much harm and no good does not need tweaking. It needs to be ended.



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in #99Percent, * Most Popular

    Author Interview: Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent

    January 13, 2014 // 11 Comments »




    An interview with Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent author Peter Van Buren, tracing the evolution of his book from John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, through Woody Guthrie, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Morello.

    The still photos in the video were taken by the author during his research travels throughout the Midwest. One location, Mingo Junction, Ohio, is famous as the shooting location for the factory scenes in Michael Cimino’s movie, The Deer Hunter. That factory, like most in the area, is now abandoned, so unneeded and unwanted that no one even bothered to tear it down.




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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in #99Percent, * Most Popular

    John Kerry Is a Man of His Times (and That’s Not a Good Thing)

    November 9, 2013 // 18 Comments »

    In the 1960s, John Kerry was distinctly a man of his times. Kennedy-esque, he went from Yale to Vietnam to fight in a lost war. When popular sentiments on that war shifted, he became one of the more poignant voices raised in protest by antiwar veterans. Now, skip past his time as a congressman, lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, senator, and presidential candidate (Swift Boated out of the race by the Republican right). Four decades after his Vietnam experience, he has achieved what will undoubtedly be the highest post of his lifetime: secretary of state. And he’s looked like a bumbler first class.  Has he also been — once again — a true man of his time, of a moment in which American foreign policy, as well as its claim to global moral and diplomatic leadership, is in remarkable disarray?

    In his nine months in office, Kerry’s State Department has one striking accomplishment to its name. It has achieved a new level of media savvy in promoting itself and plugging its highest official as a rock star, a world leader in his own right (complete with photo-ops and sophisticated image-making). In the meantime, the secretary of state has been stumbling and bloviating from one crisis to the next, one debacle to another, surrounded by the well-crafted imagery of diplomatic effectiveness. He and his errant statements have become global punch lines, but is he truly to blame for his performance?

    If statistics were diplomacy, Kerry would already be a raging success. At the State Department, his global travels are now proudly tracked by the mile, by minutes flown, and by countries visited. State even has a near-real-time ticker page set up at its website with his ever-changing data. In only nine months in office, Kerry has racked up 222,512 miles and a staggering 482.39 hours in the air (or nearly three weeks total). The numbers will be going up as Kerry is currently taking a 10-day trip to deal with another NSA crisis, in Poland this time, as well as the usual hijinks in the Middle East.  His predecessor, Hillary Clinton, set a number of diplomatic travel records. In fact, she spent literally a full year, one quarter of her four years in office, hopscotching the globe. By comparison, Cold War Secretary of State George Schultz managed less than a year of travel time in his six years in office.

    Kerry’s quick start in racking up travel miles is the most impressive aspect of his tenure so far, given that it’s been accompanied by record foreign policy stumbles and bumbles. With the thought that frenetic activity is being passed off as diplomacy and accomplishment, let’s do a little continent hopping ourselves, surveying the diplomatic and foreign policy terrain the secretary’s visited. So, fasten your seatbelt, we’re on our way!

    We’ll Be Landing in Just a Few Minutes… in Asia

    Despite Asia’s economic importance, its myriad potential flashpoints, and the crucial question of how the Sino-American relationship will evolve, Kerry has managed to visit the region just once on a largely ceremonial basis.

    Diplomatically speaking, the Obama administration’s much ballyhooed “pivot to Asia” seems to have run out of gas almost before it began and with little to show except some odd photos of the secretary of state looking like Fred Munster in Balinese dress at the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference. With President Obama then trapped in Washington by the shutdown/debt-ceiling crisis, Kerry seemed like a bystander at APEC, with China the dominant presence. He was even forced to suffer through a Happy Birthday sing-along for Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the meantime, the economy of Washington’s major ally, Japan, remains sleepy, even as opposition to the U.S.-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade pact grows and North Korea continues to expand its nuclear program seemingly unaffected by threats from Washington.

    All in all, it’s not exactly an impressive picture, but rest assured that it’ll look as fetching as a bright spring day, once we hit our next stop. In fact, ladies and gentlemen, the pilot now asks that you all return to your seats, because we will soon be landing…

    … in the Middle East

    If any area of the world lacks a single bright spot for the U.S., it’s the Middle East. The problems, of course, extend back many years and many administrations. Kerry is a relative newcomer. Still, he’s made seven of his 15 overseas trips there, with zero signs of progress on the American agenda in the region, and much that has only worsened.

    The sole pluses came from diplomatic activity initiated by powers not exactly considered Washington’s closest buddies: Russian President Putin’s moves in relation to Syria (on which more later) and new Iranian President Rouhani’s “charm offensive” in New York, which seems to have altered for the better the relationship between the two countries. In fact, both Putin’s and Rouhani’s moves are classic, well-played diplomacy, and only serve to highlight the amateurish quality of Kerry’s performance. On the other hand, the Obama administration’s major Middle East commitment — to peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians — seems destined for a graveyard already piled high with past versions of the same.

    Meanwhile, whatever spark remained of the Arab Spring in Egypt was snuffed out by a military coup, while the U.S. lamely took forever just to begin to cut off some symbolic military aid to the new government. American credibility in the region suffered further damage after State, in a seeming panic, closed embassies across the Middle East in response to a reputed major terror threat that failed to materialize anywhere but inside Washington’s Beltway.

    Prince Bandar bin Sultan of Saudi Arabia was once nicknamed “Bandar Bush” for his strong support of the U.S. during the 1991 Desert Storm campaign and the Bush dynasty.  He recently told European diplomats, however, that the Kingdom will launch a “major shift” in relations with the United States to protest Washington’s perceived inaction over the Syria war and its overtures to Iran. The Saudis were once considered, next to Israel, America’s strongest ally in the region. Kerry’s response? Fly to Paris for some “urgent talks.”

    Meanwhile, the secretary of state has made no effort to draw down his fortress embassy in Baghdad, despite its “world’s largest” personnel count in a country where an American invasion and nine-year occupation resulted in a pro-Iranian government. Memories in the region aren’t as short as at the State Department, however, and Iraqis are unlikely to forget that sanctions, the U.S. invasion, and its aftermath resulted in the deaths of an estimated 4% of their country’s population. Kerry would be quick to condemn such a figure as genocidal had the Iranians or North Koreans been involved, but he remains silent now.

    State doesn’t include Turkey in Kerry’s impressive Middle Eastern trip count, though he’s traveled there three times, with (again) little to show for his efforts. That NATO ally, which refused to help the Bush administration with its invasion of Iraq, continues to fight a border war with Iraqi Kurds. (Both sides do utilize mainly American-made weapons.) The Turks are active in Syria as well, supporting the rebels, fearing the Islamic extremists, lobbing mortar shells across the border, and suffering under the weight of that devastated country’s refugees. Meanwhile — a small regional disaster from a U.S. perspective — Turkish-Israeli relations, once close, continue to slide. Recently, the Turks even outed a Mossad spy ring to the Iranians, and no one, Israelis, Turks, or otherwise, seems to be listening to Washington.

    Now, please return your tray tables to their upright and locked position, as we make our final approach to…

    … Everywhere Else

    Following more than 12 years of war with thousands of lives lost, Kerry was recently reduced to begging Afghanistan’s corrupt president, Hamid Karzai, to allow a mini-occupation’s worth of American troops to remain in-country past a scheduled 2014 tail-tucked departure by U.S. combat troops. (Kerry’s trip to Afghanistan had to be of the unannounced variety, given the security situation there.) Pakistan, sporting only a single Kerry visit, flaunts its ties to the Taliban while collecting U.S. aid. As they say, if you don’t know who the patsy is at a poker game, it’s you.

    Relations with the next generation of developing nations, especially Brazil and India, are either stagnant or increasingly hostile, thanks in part to revelations of massive NSA spying. Brazil is even hosting an international summit to brainstorm ways to combat that agency’s Internet surveillance. Even stalwart Mexico is now lashing out at Washington over NSA surveillance.

    After a flurry of empty threats, a spiteful passport revocation by Kerry’s State Department, a bungled extradition attempt in Hong Kong, and a diplomatic fiasco in which Washington forced the Bolivian president’s airplane to land in Austria for a search, Public Enemy Number One Edward Snowden is settling into life in Moscow. He’s even receiving fellow American whistleblowers as guests. Public Enemy Number Two, Julian Assange, continues to run WikiLeaks out of the Ecuadoran embassy in London. One could argue that either of the two men have had more direct influence on America’s status abroad than Kerry.

    Now, please return to your seats, fasten your seat belts, and consider ordering a stiff drink. We’ve got some bumpy air up ahead as we’re…

    … Entering Syrian Airspace

    The final leg of this flight is Syria, which might be thought of as Kerry’s single, inadvertent diplomatic accomplishment (even if he never actually traveled there.)

    Not long before the U.S. government half-shuttered itself for lack of funds, John Kerry was point man for the administration’s all-out efforts to attack Syria. It was, he insisted, “not the time to be silent spectators to slaughter.” That statement came as he was announcing the recruitment of France to join an impending U.S. assault on military facilities in and around the Syrian capital, Damascus. Kerry also vociferously beat the drums for war at a hearing held by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

    His war diplomacy, however, quickly hit some major turbulence, as the British parliament, not eager to repeat its Iraq and Afghan misadventures, voted the once inconceivable — a straightforward, resounding no to joining yet another misguided American battle plan. France was soon backing out as well, even as Kerry clumsily tried to soften resistance to the administration’s urge to launch strikes against Bashar al-Assad’s regime with the bizarre claim that such an attack would be “unbelievably small.” (Kerry’s boss, President Obama, forcefully contradicted him the next day, insisting, “The United States military doesn’t do pinpricks.”)

    Kerry had his moment of triumph, however, on a quick stop in London, where he famously and offhandedly said at a news conference that war could be avoided if the Syrians turned in their chemical weapons. Kerry’s own State Department issued an instant rejoinder, claiming the statement had been “rhetorical.” In practically the same heartbeat, the Russians stepped into the diplomatic breach. Unable to walk his statement back, Kerry was humiliatingly forced to explain that his once-rhetorical remark was not rhetorical after all. Vladimir Putin then arose as an unlikely peacemaker and yes, Kerry took another trip, this time to “negotiate” the details with the Russians, which seems largely to have consisted of jotting down Russian terms of surrender to cable back to Washington.

    His “triumph” in hand, Kerry still wasn’t done. On September 19th, on a rare stopover in Washington, he claimed a U.N. report on Syria’s chemical weapons stated that the Assad regime was behind the chemical attack that had set the whole process in motion. (The report actually said that there was not enough evidence to assign guilt to any party.) Then, on October 7th, he effusively praised the Syrian president (from Bali) for his cooperation, only on October 14th to demand (from London) that a “transition government, a new governing entity” be put in place in Syria “in order to permit the possibility of peace.”

    But, But…

    As for Kerry’s nine-month performance review, here goes: he often seems unsure and distracted, projecting a sense that he might prefer to be anywhere else than wherever he is. In addition, he’s displayed a policy-crippling lack of information, remarkably little poise, and strikingly bad word choice, while regularly voicing surprising new positions on old issues. The logical conclusion might be to call for his instant resignation before more damage is done. (God help us, some Democratic voters may actually find themselves secretly wondering whether the country dodged a bullet in 2004 when George W. Bush won his dismal second term in office.)

    In his nine months as secretary of state, Kerry, the man, has shown a genuine capacity for mediocrity and an almost tragicomic haplessness. But blaming him would be like shouting at the waiter because your steak is undercooked.

    Whatever his failings, John Kerry is only a symptom of Washington’s lack of a coherent foreign policy or sense of mission. Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has been adrift, as big and dangerous as an iceberg but something closer to the Titanic. President Bush, the father, and President Clinton, the husband, had at least some sense of when not to overdo it. They kept their foreign interventions to relatively neat packages, perhaps recognizing that they had ever less idea what the script was anymore.

    Waking up on that clear morning of September 12, 2001, the administration of Bush, the son, substituted a crude lashing out and an urge for total domination of the Greater Middle East, and ultimately the planet, for foreign policy. Without hesitation, it claimed the world as its battlefield and then deployed the Army, the Marines, the Navy, the Air Force, growing Special Operations forces, paramilitarized intelligence outfits, and drone technology to make it so. They proved to be good killers, but someone seemed to forget that war is politics by other means. Without a thought-out political strategy behind it, war is simply violent chaos unleashed.

    Diplomacy had little role in such a black-and-white world. No time was to be wasted talking to other countries: you were either with us or against us. Even our few remaining friends and allies had a hard time keeping up, as Washington promoted torture, sent the CIA out to kidnap people off the streets of global cities, and set up its own gulag with Guantanamo as its crown jewel. And of course, none of it worked.

    Then, the hope and change Americans thought they’d voted into power in 2008 only made the situation worse. The Obama administration substituted directionless-ness for idiotic decisiveness, and visionless-ness for the global planning of mad visionaries, albeit with much the same result: spasmodic violence. The United States, after all, remains the biggest kid on the block, and still gets a modicum of respect from the tiny tots and the teens who remember better days, as well as a shrinking crew of aid-bought pals.

    The days of the United States being able to treat the world as its chessboard are over. It’s now closer to a Rubik’s Cube that Washington can’t figure out how to manipulate. Across the globe, people noted how the World’s Mightiest Army was fought to a draw (or worse) in Iraq and Afghanistan by insurgents with only small arms, roadside bombs, and suicide bombers.

    Increasingly, the world is acknowledging America’s Kerry-style clunkiness and just bypassing the U.S. Britain said no to war in Syria. Russia took over big-box diplomacy. China assumed the pivot role in Asia in every way except militarily. (They’re working on it.) The Brazilian president simply snubbed Obama, canceling a state visit over Snowden’s NSA revelations. Tiny Ecuador continues to raise a middle finger to Washington over the Assange case. These days, one can almost imagine John Kerry as the wallflower of some near-future international conference, hoping someone – anyone — will invite him to dance.

    The American Century might be said to have lasted from August 1945 until September 2001, a relatively short span of 56 years. (R.I.P.) John Kerry’s frantic bumbling did not create the present situation; it merely added mirth to the funeral preparations.




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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in #99Percent, * Most Popular

    Video Trailer: Ghosts of Tom Joad, A Story of the #99Percent

    September 19, 2013 // Comments Off




    My new book, Ghosts of Tom Joad, A Story of the #99Percent, will be available March 2014.




    Here’s a new video to give you a preview. You can learn more about the book, and see additional photos representing scenes from the book.



    Direct link to the video.




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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in #99Percent, * Most Popular

    War Comes Home: Welcome to Post-Constitution America

    August 21, 2013 // 7 Comments »

    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,’ ” 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.”


    Post-Constitutional America

    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

    Commondreams: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/08/05-3

    Salon.com: http://www.salon.com/2013/08/05/in_post_constitutional_america_we_are_all_the_governments_new_enemy_partner/

    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

    Digg.com

    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

    ZNET: http://www.zcommunications.org/welcome-to-post-constitution-america-by-peter-van-buren

    Truthdig: http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/welcome_to_post-constitution_america_20130805/

    Counterinformation: https://counterinformation.wordpress.com/2013/08/05/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

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/08/05/1228975/-Peter-Van-Buren-The-Manning-Trial-Began-on-9-11?detail=hide

    http://www.opednews.com/articles/Peter-Van-Buren-The-Manni-by-Tom-Engelhardt-130805-781.html

    http://my.firedoglake.com/tomengelhardt/2013/08/05/peter-van-buren-the-manning-trial-began-on-911/

    http://thegreenbelt.blogspot.com/2013/08/welcome-to-post-constitutional-america.html

    http://www.fromthetrenchesworldreport.com/welcome-to-post-constitution-america/52973

    http://www.blogotariat.com/node/1185276

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    Mice and Men: The Failure of Closing our MidEast Embassies

    August 7, 2013 // 8 Comments »

    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?

    Failure.

    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.”




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    Edward Snowden’s Long Flight: What a Whistleblower Thinks a Fellow Whistleblower Might Have Thought

    July 19, 2013 // 15 Comments »

    What a Whistleblower Thinks a Fellow Whistleblower Might Have Thought

    This article originally appeared on Huffington Post.

    As a State Department whistleblower, I think a lot about Edward Snowden. I can’t help myself. My friendships with other whistleblowers like Tom Drake, Jesslyn Radack, Daniel Ellsberg, and John Kiriakou lead me to believe that, however different we may be as individuals, our acts have given us much in common. I suspect that includes Snowden, though I’ve never had the slightest contact with him. Still, as he took his long flight from Hong Kong into the unknown, I couldn’t help feeling that he was thinking some of my thoughts, or I his. Here are five things that I imagine were on his mind (they would have been on mine) as that plane took off.

    I Am Afraid

    Whistleblowers act on conscience because they encounter something so horrifying, unconstitutional, wasteful, fraudulent, or mismanaged that they are overcome by the need to speak out. There is always a calculus of pain and gain (for others, if not oneself), but first thoughts are about what you’ve uncovered, the information you feel compelled to bring into the light, rather than your own circumstances.

    In my case, I was ignorant of what would happen once I blew the whistle. I didn’t expect the Department of State to attack me. Snowden was different in this. He had the example of Bradley Manning and others to learn from. He clearly never doubted that the full weight of the U.S. government would fall on him.

    He knew what to fear. He knew the Obama administration was determined to make any whistleblower pay, likely via yet another prosecution under the Espionage Act (with the potential for the death penalty). He also knew what his government had done since 9/11 without compunction: it had tortured and abused people to crush them; it had forced those it considered enemies into years of indefinite imprisonment, creating isolation cells for suspected terrorists and even a pre-trial whistleblower. It had murdered Americans without due process, and then, of course, there were the extraordinary renditions in which U.S. agents kidnapped perceived enemies and delivered them into the archipelago of post-9/11 horrors.

    Sooner or later, if you’re a whistleblower, you get scared. It’s only human. On that flight, I imagine that Edward Snowden, for all his youthful confidence and bravado, was afraid. Would the Russians turn him over to Washington as part of some secret deal, maybe the sort of spy-for-spy trade that would harken back to the Cold War era?

    Even if he made it out of Moscow, he couldn’t have doubted that the full resources of the NSA and other parts of the U.S. government would be turned on him. How many CIA case officers and Joint Special Operations Command types did the U.S. have undercover in Ecuador? After all, the dirty tricks had already started. The partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who broke Snowden’s story, had his laptop stolen from their residence in Brazil.  This happened only after Greenwald told him via Skype that he would send him an encrypted copy of Snowden’s documents. 

    In such moments, you try to push back the sense of paranoia that creeps into your mind when you realize that you are being monitored, followed, watched. It’s uncomfortable, scary. You have to wonder what your fate will be once the media grows bored with your story, or when whatever government has given you asylum changes its stance vis-a-vis the U.S. When the knock comes at the door, who will protect you? So who can doubt that fear made the journey with him?

    Could I Go Back to the U.S.?

    Amnesty International was on target when it stated that Snowden “could be at risk of ill-treatment if extradited to the U.S.” As if to prove them right, months, if not years, before any trial, Speaker of the House John Boehner called Snowden a “traitor”; Congressman Peter King called him a “defector”; and others were already demanding his execution. If that wasn’t enough, the abuse Bradley Manning suffered had already convinced Snowden that a fair trial and humane treatment were impossible dreams for a whistleblower of his sort. (He specifically cited Manning in his appeal for asylum to Ecuador.)

    So on that flight he knew — as he had long known — that the natural desire to go back to the U.S. and make a stand was beyond foolhardy. Yet the urge to return to the country he loves must have been traveling with him, too. Perhaps on that flight he found himself grimly amused that, after years of running roughshod over international standards — Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, “enhanced interrogation techniques,” “black sites” — the U.S. had the nerve to chide Hong Kong, China, and Russia for not following the rule of law. He certainly knew that his own revelations about massive NSA cyber-spying on Hong Kong and China had deeply embarrassed the Obama administration. It had, after all, been blistering the Chinese for hacking into U.S. military and corporate computers. He himself had ensured that the Chinese wouldn’t turn him over, in the same way that history — decades of U.S. bullying in Latin America — ensured that he had a shot at a future in someplace like in Ecuador.

    If he knew his extradition history, Snowden might also have thought about another time when Washington squirmed as a man it wanted left a friendly country for asylum. In 2004, the U.S. had chess great Bobby Fischer detained in Japan on charges that he had attended a 1992 match in Yugoslavia in violation of a U.S. trade ban. Others suggested that the real reason Washington was after him may have been Fischer’s post 9/11 statement: “It’s time to finish off the U.S. once and for all. This just shows what comes around, goes around.”

    Fischer’s American passport was revoked just like Snowden’s. In the fashion of Hong Kong more recently, the Japanese released Fischer on an immigration technicality, and he flew to Iceland where he was granted citizenship. I was a diplomat in Japan at the time, and had a ringside seat for the negotiations. They must have paralleled what went on in Hong Kong: the appeals to treaty and international law; U.S. diplomats sounding like so many disappointed parents scolding a child; the pale hopes expressed for future good relations; the search for a sympathetic ear among local law enforcement agencies, immigration, and the foreign ministry — anybody, in fact — and finally, the desperate attempt to call in personal favors to buy more time for whatever Plan B might be. As with Snowden, in the end the U.S. stood by helplessly as its prey flew off.

    How Will I Live Now?

    At some point every whistleblower realizes his life will never be the same. For me, that meant losing my job of 24 years at the State Department. For Tom Drake, it meant financial ruin as the government tried to bankrupt him through endless litigation. For CIA agent John Kiriakou, it might have been the moment when, convicted of disclosing classified information to journalists, he said goodbye to his family and walked into Loretto Federal Correctional Institution.

    Snowden could not have avoided anxiety about the future. Wherever he ended up, how would he live? What work would he do? He’s just turned 30 and faces, at best, a lifetime in some foreign country he’s never seen where he might not know the language or much of anything else.

    So fear again, in a slightly different form. It never leaves you, not when you take on the world’s most powerful government. Would he ever see his family and friends again? Would they disown him, fearful of retaliation or affected by the smear campaign against him? Would his parents/best friend/girlfriend come to believe he was a traitor, a defector, a dangerous man? All whistleblowers find their personal relationships strained. Marriages are tested or broken, friends lost, children teased or bullied at school. I know from my own whistleblower’s journey that it’s an ugly penalty — encouraged by a government scorned — for acting on conscience.

    If he had a deeper sense of history, Snowden might have found humor in the way the Obama administration chose to revoke his passport just before he left Hong Kong. After all, in the Cold War years, it was the “evil empire,” the Soviet Union, which was notorious for refusing to grant dissidents passports, while the U.S. regularly waived such requirements when they escaped to the West.

    To deepen the irony of the moment, perhaps he was able to Google up the 2009-2011 figures on U.S. grants of asylum: 1,222 Russians, 9,493 Chinese, and 22 Ecuadorians, not including family members. Maybe he learned that, despite the tantrums U.S. officials threw regarding the international obligation of Russia to extradite him, the U.S. has recently refused Russian requests to extradite two of its citizens.

    Snowden might have mused over then-candidate Obama’s explicit pledge to protect whistleblowers. “Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government,” Obama then said, “is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism… should be encouraged rather than stifled as they have been during the Bush administration.” It might have been Snowden’s only laugh of the flight.

    I Don’t Hate the U.S., I Love It Deeply, But Believe It Has Strayed

    On that flight, Snowden took his love of America with him. It’s what all of us whistleblowers share: a love of country, if not necessarily its government, its military, or its intelligence services. We care what happens to us the people. That may have been his anchor on his unsettling journey. It would have been mine.

    Remember, if we were working in the government in the first place, like every federal employee, soldier, and many government contractors, we had taken an oath that stated: “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” We didn’t pledge fealty to the government or a president or party, only — as the Constitution makes clear — to the ultimate source of legitimacy in our nation, “the people.”

    In an interview, Snowden indicated that he held off on making his disclosures for some time, in hopes that Barack Obama might look into the abyss and decide to become the bravest president in our history by reversing the country’s course. Only when Obama’s courage or intelligence failed was it time to become a whistleblower.

    Some pundits claim that Snowden deserves nothing, because he didn’t go through “proper channels.” They couldn’t be more wrong and Snowden knows it. As with many of us whistleblowers facing a government acting in opposition to the Constitution, Snowden went through the channels that matter most: he used a free press to speak directly to his real boss, the American people.

    In that sense, whatever the fear and anxiety about his life and his future, he must have felt easy with his actions. He had not betrayed his country, he had sought to inform it.

    As with Bradley Manning, Obama administration officials are now claiming that Snowden has blood on his hands. Typically, Secretary of State John Kerry claimed: “People may die as a consequence to what this man did. It is possible that the United States would be attacked because terrorists may now know how to protect themselves in some way or another that they didn’t know before.” Snowden had heard the same slurs circling around Bradley Manning: that he had put people in danger. After the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to speak of the war on terror, there is irony too obvious to dwell upon in such charges.

    Flying into the unknown, Snowden had to feel secure in having risked everything to show Americans how their government and the NSA bend or break laws to collect information on us in direct conflict with the Fourth Amendment’s protections. Amnesty International pointed out that blood-on-hands wasn’t at issue. “It appears he is being charged primarily for revealing U.S. and other governments’ unlawful actions that violate human rights.” Those whispers of support are something to take into the dark with you.

    I Believe in Things Bigger Than Myself

    Some of the charges against Snowden would make anyone pause: that, for instance, he did what he did for the thrill of publicity, out of narcissism, or for his own selfish reasons. To any of the members of the post-9/11 club of whistleblowers, the idea that we acted primarily for our own benefit has a theater of the absurd quality to it. Having been there, the negative sentiments expressed do not read or ring true.

    Snowden himself laughed off the notion that he had acted for his own benefit. If he had wanted money, any number of foreign governments would have paid handsomely for the information he handed out to journalists for free and he would never have had to embark on that plane flight from Hong Kong. (No one ever called Aldrich Ames a whistleblower.) If he wanted fame, there were potential book contracts and film deals to be had.

    No, it was conscience. I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere along the line Snowden had read the Declaration of the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal: “Individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience. Therefore individual citizens have the duty to violate domestic laws to prevent crimes against peace and humanity from occurring.”

    Edward Snowden undoubtedly took comfort knowing that a growing group of Americans are outraged enough to resist a government turning against its own people. His thoughts were mirrored by Julian Assange, who said, “In the Obama administration’s attempt to crush these young whistleblowers with espionage charges, the U.S. government is taking on a generation, a young generation of people who find the mass violation of the rights of privacy and open process unacceptable. In taking on the generation, the Obama administration can only lose.” Snowden surely hoped President Obama would ask himself why he has pursued more than double the number of Espionage Act cases of all his presidential predecessors combined, and why almost all of those prosecutions failed.

    On that flight, Edward Snowden must have reflected on what he had lost, including the high salary, the sweet life in Hawaii and Switzerland, the personal relationships, and the excitement of being on the inside, as well as the coolness of knowing tomorrow’s news today.  He has already lost much that matters in an individual life, but not everything that matters. Sometimes — and any whistleblower comes to know this in a deep way — you have to believe that something other, more, deeper, better than yourself matters.  You have to believe that one courageous act of conscience might make a difference in an America gone astray or simply that, matter or not, you did the right thing for your country.




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    Ghosts of Tom Joad, A Story of the #99Percent

    June 19, 2013 // 21 Comments »

    Ghosts of Tom Joad, A Story of the #99PercentIt is my pleasure to announce that my next book, Ghosts of Tom Joad, A Story of the #99Percent, will be published in Spring 2014 by Luminis Books.

    Ghosts of Tom Joad, A Story of the #99Percent is a fictional look at the New Economy, building on The Grapes of Wrath to examine the new Working Poor, and the non-working rich, to conclude we are all now the ghosts of Tom Joad.

    Ghosts of Tom Joad, A Story of the #99Percent is about growth, failure and redemption. Rich in allegory, it is funny and serious, Holden and Joe Dirt. Along the ride the story tackles bullying and suicide, first kisses and cunnilingus, and the protagonist’s struggle to overcome his father’s war that survived within him. It’s a question about how to still own something—your labor, your self-respect—you’d sold.

    The main character narrates:

    This used to be a country that talked about dreams with a straight face; it was never supposed to be the finite place we’re headed for. There were pieces of pieces of machinery from the abandoned factory left on the ground, too unimportant to sell off, too heavy to move, too bulky to bury, left scattered like clues from a lost civilization, the left droppings of our failure. Might as well been the bones of the men who worked there left. We were once the American Dream and now we just were what happened to it.


    Ghosts of Tom Joad, A Story of the #99Percent is about regime change, the death of manufacturing, the deindustrialization of America, and a way of life that was lost alongside those jobs. Wages never were higher than in 1973 and fell as poverty rose in almost equal proportion. How did we go from the booming prosperity of the 1950s and 60s to the Rust Belt of the late 1970s in the course of only two or three generations?

    A Personal Note

    For my many dear friends in State Department Diplomatic Security, I am sorry to say that the book contains nothing of official concern, and so sadly you are not going to be involved in this project. You unsuccessfully tried to sabotage my first book, We Meant Well, and now I am giving you the space to ignore me and focus on cleaning up your own house.

    For regular blog readers, Ghosts of Tom Joad, A Story of the #99Percent is the same story you may have previously known as The People on the Bus. There will be much more information to come, but trust me on this: This story will kick your ass.



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    State Department Sleaze Accumulates without Real Response

    June 16, 2013 // 56 Comments »


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

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

    A Sad Pattern of Sleaze from America’s Diplomats

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

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

    Here’s a roundup to date:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    State Department Responds

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

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

    Hillary Responds

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

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

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

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

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




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    How to Respond to Your Friends Who Think the NSA Surveillance is No Big Deal

    June 10, 2013 // 35 Comments »




    This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

    NSA surveillance is legal.

    True, as was slavery in the U.S., the Holocaust under Nazi Germany, Apartheid in South Africa and so forth. Laws mean very little when they are manipulated for evil.



    I’m not doing anything wrong, so why should I care? If you’re doing nothing wrong, then you’ve got nothing to hide!

    See above. The definition of “wrong” can change very quickly.


    I trust Obama on this.

    All of your personal data is in the hands of the same people that run the TSA, the IRS and likely the DMV. Do you trust all of them all the time to never make mistakes or act on personal grudges or political biases? Do you believe none of them would ever sell your data for personal profit ever? In fact, the NSA is already sharing your data with, at minimum, British intelligence. That’s a foreign government that your American government is informing on you to, FYI. Also, the alleged leaker, Edward Snowden, worked for a private contracting company and had access to your data.



    I really trust Obama on this.

    OK, let’s stipulate that Obama will never do anything bad with the data. But once collected, your personal data exists forever, and is available to whomever in the future can access it, using whatever technologies come to exist. Trusting anyone with such power is foolish.


    Well, there are checks and balances in the system to protect us.

    See above. Also, the king of all checks and balances in this case, the Fourth Amendment, has been treated by the government like a used Kleenex. As for the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Court (FISA), set up to review government requests for wiretapping, it approved all 1,789 requests submitted to it in 2012. The FBI made 15,229 National Security Letter requests in 2012 on Americans. None of those even require FISA rubber-stamping. And here’s DOJ trying to keep classified a court ruling that says it might have acted unconstitutionally.

    More importantly, if all the NSA’s activities are legal, why not allow them to be tested openly and unambiguously in public, in front of the Supreme Court. After all, if you’ve done nothing wrong there is nothing to hide. Unfortunately, when Amnesty International tried to bring such a case before the Court, the case was denied because Amnesty could not prove it was subject to monitoring– that was a secret!– and thus was denied standing to even bring the suit.

    Many people believe the surveillance violates both the Fourth Amendment protections against search, and the First Amendment protections on the right to peaceably assemble, online in this instance.



    There are 300 million Americans, producing a gazillion emails and Skype chats and Instagrams every day. Nobody cares about my boring stuff.

    Mining all that data is just a matter of how many computers are devoted to the task today, and using better technology in the future will make it even easier.

    But the TV says they collect only “Metadata” so I’m safe.

    Metadata is the index to all the content NSA is already sweeping up. NSA is able to record say 24 hours worth of Verizon phone calls easy enough. With the Metadata, they can then easily locate any particular call within that huge chunk of otherwise streaming data. Metadata can also provide geolocation information to track your physical movements, among other things. It is very important.



    Distasteful as this all is, it is necessary to keep us safe. It’s for our own good.

    The United States, upholding to our beautiful Bill of Rights, has survived (albeit on a sometimes bumpy road) two world wars, the Cold War and innumerable challenges without a massive, all-inclusive destruction of our civil rights. Keep in mind that the Founders created the Bill of Rights, point-by-point, specifically to address the abuses of power (look up the never-heard-from-again Third Amendment) they experienced under an oppressive British government. A bunch of angry jihadis, real and imagined, seems a poor reason to change that system. Prior to 9/11 we did not have a mass-scale terror act (by foreigners; American Citizen Timothy McVeigh pulled one off.) Since 9/11 we have not had a mass-scale terror attack. We can say 9/11 was a one-off, an aberration, and cannot be a justification for everything the government wishes to do. There is also the question of why, if the NSA is vacuuming up everything, and even sharing that collection abroad, this all needs to be kept secret from the American people. If it is for our own good, the government should be proud to tell us what they are doing for us, instead of being embarrassed when it leaks. If you’re not doing anything wrong then you’ve got nothing to hide, right?


    Terrorist are everywhere.

    Doubtful. No suicide bombers in shopping malls, no hijackings. How many Americans have died in the past twelve years due to terrorism in the U.S.? At the same time, despite all this intrusion into our lives and violations of the Fourth Amendment, the system completely missed the Boston bombers, two of the dumbest, least sophisticated bro’ terrorists in the world. Those two practiced no tradecraft at all. Maybe all this surveillance isn’t really about stopping terrorists and is more about generic spying on us all, using a fake argument of 100% security at the cost of 0% privacy? At the same time, we do have a problem with gun nuts committing mass shootings that have mowed down Americans in numbers far beyond terrorism since 9/11, but no one seems concerned about using tech to stop that. So much has been justified (torture, spying) by the so-called ticking time bomb scenario but there has never been shown an actual ticking time bomb scenario in real life.


    Protecting America comes first.

    But protecting what from what is the question. If instead of spending trillions and trillions of dollars on spying and domestic surveillance we spent that same money on repairing our infrastructure and improving our schools, wouldn’t that more directly create a stronger America?


    I just don’t care.

    Fine, enjoy your television. Just don’t be surprised when you’re woken from your deep sleep one night by a knock on the door.

    BONUS: If you’re Edward Snowden, the alleged leaker, and you have some interest in not spending the rest of your life in a U.S. supermax prison, why oh why are you in Hong Kong? Hong Kong has an active extradition agreement with the U.S. Why are you not in Ecuador, Beijing, or maybe Iceland?

    Snowden has the guts to do what the government does not have the guts to do: bring the NSA’s activities into daylight, for all to see. As a whistleblower myself, and meeting many others from Ellsberg to Drake, I know it takes enormous courage to do what Snowden did, and the willingness to give up everything– life, freedom, everything– for a good bigger than yourself. If that is not a definition of patriotism nothing else can be.

    BONUS BONUS: My interview with Agency France Press on Snowden and whistleblowing.




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

    May 17, 2013 // 12 Comments »

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

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

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

    Who Speaks?

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

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

    (1) Brigadier General Retired Robert Carr, DIA

    (2) Colonel Julian Chestnut, DIA

    (3) Classified Witness Entirety

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

    (5) John Doe (Entire)

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

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

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

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

    (9) Mr. John Kirchhofer, DIA

    (10) Ambassador Michael Kozak, Department of State

    (11) Classified Witness Entirety

    (12) Mr. Daniel Lewis, DIA

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

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

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

    (16) Mr. James Moore, Department of State

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

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

    (19) Ambassador David Pearce, Department of State

    (20) Mr. Adam Pearson, JIEDDO

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

    (22) Classified Witness in Entirety

    (23) Ambassador Stephen Seche, Department of State

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

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

    (26) Ambassador Don Yamamoto, Department of State

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

    (28) Mr. Joseph Yun, Department of State


    So Who Are These People?

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

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

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

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

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



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



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    Eric Holder is Not a Patriot

    May 15, 2013 // 9 Comments »

    Eric Holder has told us that he “recused” himself from decisions the organization he heads made to help destroy freedom of the press in the United States by seizing the phone records of the Associated Press. He simply said that he was not involved, so please address your concerns somewhere else. The President, Holder’s boss, made similar remarks. The government did things to belittle the Constitution and neither the President nor the Attorney General has much concern or connection with it all. Things happen.

    The pattern is not unique to the phone records, nor to even the nobody-is-responsible actions of the IRS against organizations seeking non-profit status whose political beliefs ran counter to the Obama Administration. Indeed, even as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton claimed that she had no idea of what was going on underneath her in the organization vis-vis Libya, and that counted as a defense. Hell, we fire football coaches when the team loses, even though they don’t punt, pass or kick themselves. Leaders are responsible for what their organizations do. That’s what the job is, not just photo-ops and world travel.

    But for all the recent “-gates” and scandals, let’s take a moment to remember the uber-scandal of the Obama Administration: it’s claim that it may legally kill Americans by drone, with no due process.

    Looking Back

    Historians of the future, if they are not imprisoned for saying so, will trace the end of America’s democratic experiment to the fearful days immediately after 9/11, what Bruce Springsteen called the days of the empty sky, when frightened, small men named Bush and Cheney made the first decisions to abandon the Constitution in the name of freedom and created a new version of the security state with the Patriot Act, Guantanamo, secret prisons and sanctioned torture by the US government. They proceeded carefully, making sure that lawyers in their employ sanctioned each dark act, much as kings in old Europe used the church to justify their own actions.

    Those same historians will remark from exile on the irony that such horrendous policies were not only upheld by Obama, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and professor of Constitutional law, but added to until we came to the place we sadly occupy today: the Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder, publicly stating that the American Government may murder one of its own citizens when it wishes to do so, and that the requirements of due process enshrined in the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment, itself drawn from the Magna Carta that was the first reflowering of basic human rights since the Greeks, can be satisfied simply by a decision by that same President.

    We will thus be remembered as the ones who gave up. No more clever wordplay (enhanced interrogations, “patriot” act, targeted killing, kinetic operations) but a simple declaration that the US Government will kill its own citizens when it wishes to, via a secret process we, and our victims, are not allowed to know or contest.

    Brevity in Our Freedom

    Like most of the Bill of Rights, the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution is beautiful in its brevity and clarity. When you are saying something true, pure, clean and right, you often do not need many words: “…nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

    There are no footnotes in the Fifth Amendment, no caveats, no secret memos, no exceptions for war, terrorism, mass rape, creation of concentration camps, acts of genocide, child torture or any evil. Those things are unnecessary, because in the beauty of what Lincoln offered to his audience as “a government of the people, by the people, for the people,” the government would be made up of us, the purpose of government was to serve us, and the government would be beholden to us. Such a government would be incapable of killing its own citizens without care and debate and open trial.

    With the excuse all tyrants proclaim, protecting the nation, on or about September 30, 2011 a US drone fired a missile in Yemen and killed American Citizen Anwar al Awlaki, born in the United States and tragically devoted to al Qaeda. A few days later the US also killed al Zawaki’s 16 year old American Citizen son. The US had shot at the elder al Awlaki before, on May 7, 2011 under Obama’s orders, and under the Bush administration. Before the US government killed his son, attorneys for al Awlaki’s father tried to persuade a US District Court to issue an injunction preventing the government killing of al Awlaki. A judge dismissed the case, ruling the father did not have standing to sue. This was the first time in our nation’s history that a father sought to sue to prevent the government from extra-legally killing his son. The judge in the case surrendered to his post-9/11 fear and wrote that it was up to the elected branches of government, not the courts, to determine whether the United States has the authority to murder its own citizens by decree.

    Fear Shaped by Lies to Compel Compliance

    Attorney General Holder said things no honest man would ever believe would be said by the highest law officer in the United States.

    Holder said “that a careful and thorough executive branch review of the facts in a case amounts to ‘due process’ and that the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment protection against depriving a citizen of his or her life without due process of law does not mandate a ‘judicial process.’”

    Holder thus also declaimed that the victim also has no right to a defense, no right to speak on his behalf, no right to examine and refute the evidence against him and no right even to know his life will be taken under the decision of a few men in Washington. Indeed, Holder made clear that the government’s decision to kill overshadowed the right to self-defense in saying “An individual’s interest in making sure that the government does not target him erroneously could not be more significant. Yet it is imperative for the government to counter threats posed by senior operational leaders of al Qaeda, and to protect the innocent people whose lives could be lost in their attacks.”

    Holder said he rejected any attempt to label such operations assassinations, invoking the same airbrush of lawfulness that fueled the Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials and the Holocaust. “Assassinations are unlawful killings. The US government’s use of lethal force in self-defense against a leader of al-Qaeda or an associated force who presents an imminent threat of violent attack would not be unlawful.” In other words, if the President does it, it is no illegal.

    Sluts All

    Historians will look back on us as the people of America who gave up on its experiment with unalienable rights, rights that are natural, not given, rights independent of governments, what our Declaration explained to an unsure forming nation as “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

    America was different. We became a country not based on a common language, or religion or anything else except adherence to a common set of beliefs, our Bill of Rights. When you take that away, there is nothing left in common, and dammit Eric Holder and Barack Obama know that.

    The saddest part of a very sad day: the majority of Americans– the consent of the governed– seemingly do not care what Holder said, and are even now bleating on internet forums and likely in comments below to this article about the need to kill more, adding terrified, empty justifications to Holder’s clever statements. We did not have our freedom taken from us, we gave it away. That is real terror.



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    Oh Poppycock!

    May 1, 2013 // 11 Comments »




    At an April 30 briefing regarding press reports that the State Department is seeking to intimidate or punish employees planning on blowing the whistle on Department incompetence surrounding the deaths at the Benghazi Consulate, deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell said:


    The State Department would never tolerate or sanction retaliation against whistleblowers on any issue, including this one. That’s an obligation we take very seriously.

    To which I reply: Poppycock.

    State retaliated against my whistleblowing with all the joy and energy of a dog rolling in its own poop. Have a look here, or here to start.

    And by the way, any of you potential State Department whistleblowers need some advice, it is info(at)wemeantwell.com



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    Your State Department Spends $704k on Gardening in Belgium

    April 15, 2013 // 32 Comments »

    With the effects of the sequester kicking in and furloughs of Federal workers underway, it appears that Washington is getting ready to cut back on expenses even when it hurts.

    SecState John Kerry warned that “the State Department will have to stop humanitarian aid to millions of people and delay efforts to ramp up diplomatic security abroad after the attack in Benghazi.”

    Kerry also warned that the State Department might not be able to effectively provide emergency services to Americans in trouble abroad, to properly vet visa applications, and or issue passports to Americans in a timely manner. “I hope that Congress can act to avoid these severe, across-the-board cuts to programs that further U.S. national security, advance America’s economic interests, protect Americans at home and abroad, and deliver results for the American people,” Kerry wrote.

    So it is good to see that State is saving its money for the important things, like dropping $704,198.30 on gardening services at the Ambassdor’s mansion at the U.S. Embassy to NATO in Belgium.

    The award provides for grass cutting, edging, trimming, weeding, and other gardening and landscaping services. It will also mandate the planting of 960 violas, tulips, and begonias. The frighteningly-specific contract says that “any pruning of trees exceeding 2.5 m in height is excluded from the contract. The Contractor shall maintain the height of grass between 4 and 6 centimeters.”


    As a matter of simple comparison, the money your State Department spends in one year on gardening for one embassy in Belgium would fund fourteen public school teachers under the Teach for America program.

    Yea Government!!!!!



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    Why Being So Right Feels So Bad

    March 22, 2013 // 21 Comments »

    Gentle readers, allow me a moment of angry self-congratulation. I’ll be back to normal with the next posting. This article originally appeared on Foreign Policy.


    I was right. When they print the next edition of my book, I’m going to change the title from We Meant Well to I Told You So.

    I spent a year in Iraq as a U.S. Foreign Service officer, leading two of the then-vaunted Provincial Reconstruction Teams. We were charged with nothing less than winning the war for America by rebuilding Iraq’s infrastructure, creating a functioning democracy and stable economy, and thus ensuring Iraq would be an ally of the United States in the war on terror. As it became more and more apparent to me over the course of my time in Iraq that we were accomplishing none of those goals (while simultaneously wasting incredible amounts of money), I was compelled to tell the American people what I saw. It would be both a lesson for history and a warning about similar efforts already under way in Afghanistan. I wrote a book and lost my career of 24 years at the State Department as a result.

    What if Iraq Turns Around?

    When, in 2010, I sent the first draft of We Meant Well, about the waste, fraud, mismanagement, and utter stupidity surrounding the Iraq reconstruction efforts, to my editor, I remember her saying, “You know the book itself won’t come out for close to a year, and if things turn around in Iraq in the meantime, that will make you look wrong.” I told her not to worry.

    When the book did come out in September 2011, most of the interviewers I met with threw in skeptical comments: “Well, maybe it will work out like in Japan,” they said, or “It’s too early to tell.” When I met with staffers from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2012, they said, “We’d like to believe you, but everything that State tells us contradicts your thesis that the money spent was just a big waste.” Foreign Policy felt the need to run an angry rebuttal (“The greatest assets in many respects were our ‘clients,’ the Iraqi ministers, provincial officials, and local residents who were active and engaged at every level”) to an excerpt from my book.

    Failure Made Official

    Well, now it’s official. Although it took 10 years for the report to come out, according to the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), “$60 billion in American taxpayer funds later, Iraq is still so unstable and broken that even its leaders question whether U.S. efforts to rebuild the war-torn nation were worth the cost.”

    Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said “that $55 billion could have brought great change in Iraq,” but the positive effects of those funds were too often “lost.”

    Iraqi parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, the country’s top Sunni official, told auditors that the rebuilding efforts did not “achieve the purpose for which it was launched. Rather, it had unfavorable outcomes in general.”

    There “was usually a Plan A but never a Plan B,” said Kurdish official Qubad Talabani, son of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

    Shiite, Sunni, Kurd. Trust me, about the only thing everybody agrees on is the United States spent a bundle of money. According to the Associated Press, to date the United States has spent more than $60 billion in reconstruction grants on Iraq. That works out to about $15 million a day. Overall, including all military and diplomatic costs and other aid, the United States has spent at least $767 billion since the U.S.-led invasion began. Some funds are still being spent on ongoing projects.

    I Told You So

    I hate to say I told you so — but I told you so. SIGIR, if you’re out there, perhaps it would have been better to agree to meet with me back in 2009. I could have saved you some time and money. SIGIR, like everything else associated with the Iraq reconstruction, was expensive. The inspectors cost taxpayers $16 million this year, a bargain compared with the $30 million a year they used up during the war era itself.

    We all know that we study history to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, so with the dreadful example of Iraq now clear, we can draw from it to avoid repeating the errors in Afghanistan. In fact, speaking of book titles, my volume on the Iraq failures was originally supposed to be called Lessons for Afghanistan from the Reconstruction of Iraq, before the editor thankfully nudged me toward the snarkier We Meant Well.

    What Went Right?

    And yet … and yet … only the day before the SIGIR report on Iraq was issued, this magazine ran a long piece by Peter Bergen titled “What Went Right.” The piece talks about al Qaeda on the run from Afghanistan (without mentioning how well the franchises in Iraq and North Africa are doing), cites gains in cell-phone usage (without discussing how much is due to billions of U.S. aid dollars dumped on the local markets), talks about how the Taliban have been vanquished (without understanding an insurgency avoids head-on clashes just before the other guys pack up and go home), and describes aspects of Kabul as “thriving” (based most likely on a conversation with some taxi driver). Incredulously, Bergen writes, “U.S. and other NATO forces have taken care to ensure that their soldiers do not contribute to the civilian death toll. Indeed, some American cities are today more violent than Afghanistan. In New Orleans, residents are now around six times more likely to be murdered than Afghan civilians are to be killed in the war” and concludes, “Maybe, not too long from now, a new generation of guidebooks will again be raving about the joys of springtime in the Hindu Kush.”

    Quite sadly, one only need change “Afghanistan” to “Iraq” in the article, and it could have been published in 2010, right down to the last line about tourists: The United States spent millions of dollars building tourist infrastructure around Iraq’s ancient archaeological sites for naught. It idiotically helped sponsor the “Iraq Tourism Week” expo in Baghdad in 2009.

    Meanwhile, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has been issuing its own reports, saying among other things that “a significant portion” of the U.S. government’s $400 million investment in large infrastructure projects in fiscal year 2011 alone may have been wasted because of poor planning. In an episode that could have come straight out of my book — except that it took place years later in Afghanistan — SIGAR released an inspection of the Imam Sahib Border Police company headquarters in Kunduz province, Afghanistan. The $7.3 million facility was built to hold 175 people, “yet only 12 were on site and no one was aware of any plans to move additional personnel to the facility. The personnel did not have keys to many of the buildings and most of the facility appeared to be unused. Additionally, there is no contract or plan to train personnel in the operations and maintenance of the facility raising questions about its sustainability.” There are many, many more examples.

    History Repeats Itself

    In asking why such mistakes are being repeated, one need only look at the people involved: A large percentage of the State Department personnel on the ground in Afghanistan are veterans of the Iraq reconstruction, as are the soldiers reconstructing alongside them. The same two U.S. Ambassadors (Zalmay Khalilzad and Ryan Crocker) ran both embassies at different times. Most of the lame and unskilled hirelings who worked with me in Iraq moved over to identical roles in Afghanistan, and even one of my old bosses found work in Afghanistan after retirement from State. On the macro level, the same massive contracting firms and security mercenaries continue to make bank. The fat paychecks help keep everyone looking the other way about “progress” and thus on-message.

    Despite SIGAR finding that “delays, cost overruns, and poor construction of infrastructure projects … resulted in lost opportunities and in incalculable waste,” the United States and its allies have already committed to $16 billion in economic aid to Afghanistan over the next four years. Costs for maintaining Afghan security forces are expected to come to over $4 billion per year.

    There is a pop-psychology definition of mental illness that applies here: doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. And there’s something grim about this. So while it feels good today to know I was right — the reconstruction of Iraq I participated in is now unambiguously acknowledged as the failure I said it was years ago — it still feels bad knowing someone else will need to write an article just like this in a few years, when we tally up the losses in Afghanistan.



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    Mission Unaccomplished: The Iraq Invasion’s Legacy

    March 20, 2013 // 24 Comments »

    Land of the FreeWhy the Invasion of Iraq Was the Single Worst Foreign Policy Decision in American History

    This article originally appeared on TomDispatch.com

    I was there. And “there” was nowhere. And nowhere was the place to be if you wanted to see the signs of end times for the American Empire up close. It was the place to be if you wanted to see the madness — and oh yes, it was madness — not filtered through a complacent and sleepy media that made Washington’s war policy seem, if not sensible, at least sane and serious enough. I stood at Ground Zero of what was intended to be the new centerpiece for a Pax Americana in the Greater Middle East.


    Not to put too fine a point on it, but the invasion of Iraq turned out to be a joke. Not for the Iraqis, of course, and not for American soldiers, and not the ha-ha sort of joke either. And here’s the saddest truth of all: on March 20th as we mark the 10th anniversary of the invasion from hell, we still don’t get it. In case you want to jump to the punch line, though, it’s this: by invading Iraq, the U.S. did more to destabilize the Middle East than we could possibly have imagined at the time. And we — and so many others — will pay the price for it for a long, long time.


    The Madness of King George

    It’s easy to forget just how normal the madness looked back then. By 2009, when I arrived in Iraq, we were already at the last-gasp moment when it came to salvaging something from what may yet be seen as the single worst foreign policy decision in American history. It was then that, as a State Department officer assigned to lead two provincial reconstruction teams in eastern Iraq, I first walked into the chicken processing plant in the middle of nowhere.

    By then, the U.S. “reconstruction” plan for that country was drowning in rivers of money foolishly spent. As the centerpiece for those American efforts — at least after Plan A, that our invading troops would be greeted with flowers and sweets as liberators, crashed and burned — we had managed to reconstruct nothing of significance. First conceived as a Marshall Plan for the New American Century, six long years later it had devolved into farce.

    In my act of the play, the U.S. spent some $2.2 million dollars to build a huge facility in the boondocks. Ignoring the stark reality that Iraqis had raised and sold chickens locally for some 2,000 years, the U.S. decided to finance the construction of a central processing facility, have the Iraqis running the plant purchase local chickens, pluck them and slice them up with complex machinery brought in from Chicago, package the breasts and wings in plastic wrap, and then truck it all to local grocery stores. Perhaps it was the desert heat, but this made sense at the time, and the plan was supported by the Army, the State Department, and the White House.

    Elegant in conception, at least to us, it failed to account for a few simple things, like a lack of regular electricity, or logistics systems to bring the chickens to and from the plant, or working capital, or… um… grocery stores. As a result, the gleaming $2.2 million plant processed no chickens. To use a few of the catchwords of that moment, it transformed nothing, empowered no one, stabilized and economically uplifted not a single Iraqi. It just sat there empty, dark, and unused in the middle of the desert. Like the chickens, we were plucked.

    In keeping with the madness of the times, however, the simple fact that the plant failed to meet any of its real-world goals did not mean the project wasn’t a success. In fact, the factory was a hit with the U.S. media. After all, for every propaganda-driven visit to the plant, my group stocked the place with hastily purchased chickens, geared up the machinery, and put on a dog-and-pony, er, chicken-and-rooster, show.

    In the dark humor of that moment, we christened the place the Potemkin Chicken Factory. In between media and VIP visits, it sat in the dark, only to rise with the rooster’s cry each morning some camera crew came out for a visit. Our factory was thus considered a great success. Robert Ford, then at the Baghdad Embassy and now America’s rugged shadow ambassador to Syria, said his visit was the best day out he enjoyed in Iraq. General Ray Odierno, then commanding all U.S. forces in Iraq, sent bloggers and camp followers to view the victory project. Some of the propaganda, which proclaimed that “teaching Iraqis methods to flourish on their own gives them the ability to provide their own stability without needing to rely on Americans,” is still online (including this charming image of American-Iraqi mentorship, a particular favorite of mine).

    We weren’t stupid, mind you. In fact, we all felt smart and clever enough to learn to look the other way. The chicken plant was a funny story at first, a kind of insider’s joke you all think you know the punch line to. Hey, we wasted some money, but $2.2 million was a small amount in a war whose costs will someday be toted up in the trillions. Really, at the end of the day, what was the harm?

    The harm was this: we wanted to leave Iraq (and Afghanistan) stable to advance American goals. We did so by spending our time and money on obviously pointless things, while most Iraqis lacked access to clean water, regular electricity, and medical or hospital care. Another State Department official in Iraq wrote in his weekly summary to me, “At our project ribbon-cuttings we are typically greeted now with a cursory ‘thank you,’ followed by a long list of crushing needs for essential services such as water and power.” How could we help stabilize Iraq when we acted like buffoons? As one Iraqi told me, “It is like I am standing naked in a room with a big hat on my head. Everyone comes in and helps put flowers and ribbons on my hat, but no one seems to notice that I am naked.”

    By 2009, of course, it should all have been so obvious. We were no longer inside the neocon dream of unrivaled global superpowerdom, just mired in what happened to it. We were a chicken factory in the desert that no one wanted.


    Time Travel to 2003

    Anniversaries are times for reflection, in part because it’s often only with hindsight that we recognize the most significant moments in our lives. On the other hand, on anniversaries it’s often hard to remember what it was really like back when it all began. Amid the chaos of the Middle East today, it’s easy, for instance, to forget what things looked like as 2003 began. Afghanistan, it appeared, had been invaded and occupied quickly and cleanly, in a way the Soviets (the British, the ancient Greeks…) could never have dreamed of. Iran was frightened, seeing the mighty American military on its eastern border and soon to be on the western one as well, and was ready to deal. Syria was controlled by the stable thuggery of Bashar al-Assad and relations were so good that the U.S. was rendering terror suspects to his secret prisons for torture.

    Most of the rest of the Middle East was tucked in for a long sleep with dictators reliable enough to maintain stability. Libya was an exception, though predictions were that before too long Muammar Qaddafi would make some sort of deal. (He did.) All that was needed was a quick slash into Iraq to establish a permanent American military presence in the heart of Mesopotamia. Our future garrisons there could obviously oversee things, providing the necessary muscle to swat down any future destabilizing elements. It all made so much sense to the neocon visionaries of the early Bush years. The only thing that Washington couldn’t imagine was this: that the primary destabilizing element would be us.

    Indeed, its mighty plan was disintegrating even as it was being dreamed up. In their lust for everything on no terms but their own, the Bush team missed a diplomatic opportunity with Iran that might have rendered today’s saber rattling unnecessary, even as Afghanistan fell apart and Iraq imploded. As part of the breakdown, desperate men, blindsided by history, turned up the volume on desperate measures: torture, secret gulags, rendition, drone killings, extra-constitutional actions at home. The sleaziest of deals were cut to try to salvage something, including ignoring the A.Q. Khan network of Pakistani nuclear proliferation in return for a cheesy Condi Rice-Qaddafi photo-op rapprochement in Libya.

    Inside Iraq, the forces of Sunni-Shia sectarian conflict had been unleashed by the U.S. invasion. That, in turn, was creating the conditions for a proxy war between the U.S. and Iran, similar to the growing proxy war between Israel and Iran inside Lebanon (where another destabilizing event, the U.S.-sanctioned Israeli invasion of 2006, followed in hand). None of this has ever ended. Today, in fact, that proxy war has simply found a fresh host, Syria, with multiple powers using “humanitarian aid” to push and shove their Sunni and Shia avatars around.

    Staggering neocon expectations, Iran emerged from the U.S. decade in Iraq economically more powerful, with sanctions-busting trade between the two neighbors now valued at some $5 billion a year and still growing. In that decade, the U.S. also managed to remove one of Iran’s strategic counterbalances, Saddam Hussein, replacing him with a government run by Nouri al-Malaki, who had once found asylum in Tehran.

    Meanwhile, Turkey is now engaged in an open war with the Kurds of northern Iraq. Turkey is, of course, part of NATO, so imagine the U.S. government sitting by silently while Germany bombed Poland. To complete the circle, Iraq’s prime minister recently warned that a victory for Syria’s rebels will spark sectarian wars in his own country and will create a new haven for al-Qaeda which would further destabilize the region.

    Meanwhile, militarily burnt out, economically reeling from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and lacking any moral standing in the Middle East post-Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, the U.S. sat on its hands as the regional spark that came to be called the Arab Spring flickered out, to be replaced by yet more destabilization across the region. And even that hasn’t stopped Washington from pursuing the latest version of the (now-nameless) global war on terror into ever-newer regions in need of destabilization.

    Having noted the ease with which a numbed American public patriotically looked the other way while our wars followed their particular paths to hell, our leaders no longer blink at the thought of sending American drones and special operations forces ever farther afield, most notably ever deeper into Africa, creating from the ashes of Iraq a frontier version of the state of perpetual war George Orwell once imagined for his dystopian novel 1984. And don’t doubt for a second that there is a direct path from the invasion of 2003 and that chicken plant to the dangerous and chaotic place that today passes for our American world.


    Happy Anniversary

    On this 10th anniversary of the Iraq War, Iraq itself remains, by any measure, a dangerous and unstable place. Even the usually sunny Department of State advises American travelers to Iraq that U.S. citizens “remain at risk for kidnapping… [as] numerous insurgent groups, including Al Qaida, remain active…” and notes that “State Department guidance to U.S. businesses in Iraq advises the use of Protective Security Details.”

    In the bigger picture, the world is also a far more dangerous place than it was in 2003. Indeed, for the State Department, which sent me to Iraq to witness the follies of empire, the world has become ever more daunting. In 2003, at that infamous “mission accomplished” moment, only Afghanistan was on the list of overseas embassies that were considered “extreme danger posts.” Soon enough, however, Iraq and Pakistan were added. Today, Yemen and Libya, once boring but secure outposts for State’s officials, now fall into the same category.

    Other places once considered safe for diplomats and their families such as Syria and Mali have been evacuated and have no American diplomatic presence at all. Even sleepy Tunisia, once calm enough that the State Department had its Arabic language school there, is now on reduced staff with no diplomatic family members resident. Egypt teeters.

    The Iranian leadership watched carefully as the American imperial version of Iraq collapsed, concluded that Washington was a paper tiger, backed away from initial offers to talk over contested issues, and instead (at least for a while) doubled-down on achieving nuclear breakout capacity, aided by the past work of that same A.Q. Khan network. North Korea, another A.Q. Khan beneficiary, followed the same pivot ever farther from Washington, while it became a genuine nuclear power. Its neighbor China pursued its own path of economic dominance, while helping to “pay” for the Iraq War by becoming the number-one holder of U.S. debt among foreign governments. It now owns more than 21% of the U.S. debt held overseas.

    And don’t put away the joke book just yet. Subbing as apologist-in-chief for an absent George W. Bush and the top officials of his administration on this 10th anniversary, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently reminded us that there is more on the horizon. Conceding that he had “long since given up trying to persuade people Iraq was the right decision,” Blair added that new crises are looming. “You’ve got one in Syria right now, you’ve got one in Iran to come,” he said. “We are in the middle of this struggle, it is going to take a generation, it is going to be very arduous and difficult. But I think we are making a mistake, a profound error, if we think we can stay out of that struggle.”

    Think of his comment as a warning. Having somehow turned much of Islam into a foe, Washington has essentially assured itself of never-ending crises that it stands no chance whatsoever of winning. In this sense, Iraq was not an aberration, but the historic zenith and nadir for a way of thinking that is only now slowing waning. For decades to come, the U.S. will have a big enough military to ensure that our decline is slow, bloody, ugly, and reluctant, if inevitable. One day, however, even the drones will have to land.

    And so, happy 10th anniversary, Iraq War! A decade after the invasion, a chaotic and unstable Middle East is the unfinished legacy of our invasion. I guess the joke is on us after all, though no one is laughing.




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    Competence v. Loyalty at State: The Return of McGurk

    March 11, 2013 // 27 Comments »

    They say one definition of mental illness is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results.

    McGurk Gets a Job?

    Such is the story of the State Department and Brett McGurk. Having failed to appoint him U.S. Ambassador to Iraq (due to McGurk’s overall incompetence and sexual dalliance), the State Department simply gave him a sequester-proof salary and a made-up desk job and waited a bit before, now, apparently anointing him as the new Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS) of State for both Iraq and Iran. The DAS job does not require Senate confirmation, the thing that tripped up McGurk the last time around.

    The Back Channel tells us that McGurk will likely be tapped as the next State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iraq and Iran. The State Department plans to combine the two offices because, well, McGurk likely can’t tell the difference between the two countries anyway, damn foreigners, and because there isn’t anything really that important going on in either place to justify its own DAS. The blog calls the appointment a “done deal.”

    Where to Begin?

    McGurk spent a good portion of the last ten years working for the U.S. Government in Iraq, advising several ambassadors and leading the failed negotiations to secure permanent U.S. bases there. You’d kinda think having that on your resume– I am partially responsible for everything that happened in Iraq for the last ten years, including America’s tail-between-its-legs retreat– might make it hard to get another job running Iraq policy. Who goes out of their way to hire the coach that lost most of his games?

    The other side of McGurk’s failed attempt at being ambassador was his questionable personal life, which in turn raised issues of judgement, decorum, discretion, and class. Like with Petraeus, it was sexual misconduct that brought the real questions of competence and ability to light.

    Six members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the time called on Obama to withdraw McGurk’s nomination, meaning that as DAS McGurk already enjoys a warm relationship with his key committee on the Hill. His appointment after the Senate nixed him will also no doubt enhance the State Department’s overall reputation during the budget process. And of course being the DAS and having everyone in your office know your sleazy backstory ensures you will be taken seriously.

    As well-documented across the internet, in addition to emails trading sex for access (a two way deal between McGurk and the then-Wall Street Journal’s Gina Chon [she resigned), we add another item, accusations of a McGurk sex tape from Iraq. The giver of the taped sex was a State Department Foreign Service Officer, gratefully female, inevitably Public Diplomacy.

    Elsewhere, the Washington Post reported that McGurk invited his then-mistress Gina Chon to be a guest lecturer at a Harvard course he taught in 2009. Harvard students attending the class had no idea that their teacher was romantically involved with Chon, who spoke to them about her experience reporting getting inside info by sleeping with her sources in Iraq, according to a student who attended.

    State Department at Work

    Only the Department of State today stands proudly alone declaring that no one else in the entire U.S. government, or the entire United States for that matter, is qualified to serve as ambassador to Iraq Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for both Iraq and Iran but a guy who has done nothing in his 39 years of life but be politically appointed to Iraq jobs (none earned, elected or competitively chosen, just appointed), making a selfish hash out of even that.

    McGurk is Not the Exception But the Rule

    McGurk’s supporters cite his years of experience in Iraq. But would you choose a heart surgeon who lost most of his patients on the operating table simply because he had been doing it for ten years? Experience is merely time served; competence requires judgement to be exercised.

    The issue of McGurk, however, is sadly not one in isolation at Foggy Bottom. While it is clear, ten years after, that the U.S. efforts in Iraq in general and the State Department-led reconstruction in the specific were almost complete failures, let’s look at (as an example) the chain of command that oversaw my own Provincial Reconstruction Teams’ efforts and see what happened to them all since:

    Me: Blacklisted by State

    My Boss: Now an Army contractor advising on reconstruction in Afghanistan

    His Boss (Not McGurk): A Deputy Assistant Secretary of State

    That Guy’s Boss: Appointed an Ambassador

    Her Boss: Appointed an Ambassador

    Ambassador to Iraq at the Time: Dean of the Korbel School of Diplomacy in Colorado

    His boss, Secretary Clinton: Waiting to become president in 2016.


    And that’s the saddest news of all: while the McGurk saga is perhaps a more extreme instance, and certainly more fun with its tawdry sex aspect than mere bureaucratic failure, the upward movement of failed people at the State Department exists almost as a policy. That policy, spelled out in a few words, is simple: people are rewarded for longevity at best, for keeping their mouths shut at worst, and competence is never really part of the calculus. While there are certainly competent people in senior positions within the State Department, they all had to primarily pass the tests of loyalty and time-served first.

    John Kerry? Yes, it’s your legacy calling, saying it has gone into hiding for its own protection…




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    I am Patient Zero in our New Economy: Raise the Minimum Wage

    March 9, 2013 // 24 Comments »

    This piece originally appeared on Huffington Post

    In his State of the Union Address, the president said that the federal minimum wage should be raised to nine dollars an hour. He said also that a person holding down a full-time job should not have to live in poverty in a country like America. I could not agree more; for the last few months I’ve lived like the people the president referred to and it is not a pretty picture.

    As research for my new book, I have been working in the minimum wage economy and trying to live on the money I make. The situation is much, much worse than the president described in his Address, a tragedy for our society. Here’s what it looks like.

    Once Upon A Time

    The last time I worked for minimum wage was in a small store in my Ohio hometown, almost a right of passage in high school, pulling in about four bucks an hour stocking shelves alongside my friends. Our girlfriends ran the registers, our moms and dads shopped in the store and a good story about a date could get you a night off from the sympathetic manager. When someone graduated, the manager would hire one of the workers’ friends and the cycle continued.

    The New World

    At age 53 I expected to be quizzed about why I was looking for minimum wage work in a big box retail store. No one cared; instead, the application process included a background and credit check, along with a drug test. Any of those anonymous agencies could have vetoed my employment and I’d never even know about it. Most places that don’t pay much seem really concerned that their workers are drug-free. I’m not sure why this is, because you can be a banker or lawyer and get through the day higher than angels on a cloud. Regardless, I did what I had to in front of another person, handing him the cup. He gave me one of those universal signs of the underemployed I now recognize, a “we’re all in it, what’re ya gonna do” look, just a little upward flick of his eyes.

    After hiring I watched a video on theft. The interesting thing was that in addition to warning us about stealing candy for breaks, we were not to steal time. The store paid us for our time and so even if we snuck out for a breath of air or flipped through a magazine, we were stealing time. Would we have liked someone from the store to come to our home (or, I guess, day-rate motel room, car back seat, shelter bunk or cardboard box under a bridge) and have them do whatever the heck the store would want from us there?

    New break policy: zero to five and a half hour shift, no break. New schedule policy: all shifts reduced to five and a half hours or less. Somebody said it was illegal not to give us breaks, but what can you do, call the cops like it was a real crime? It turns out in fact that in my state employers are not required to grant breaks to anyone over age 16; in some places minimum wage workers do eight and nine hours shifts without a meal or a chance to get off their feet for a few minutes. No one gets sick leave, holidays or accrues vacation time. No health benefits.

    Eight hours on your feet is tough, but what about sixteen? At age 53 I was the third oldest minimum wage worker at the store. With one or two exceptions, everyone on the schedule worked multiple jobs, often in adjacent stores in the same strip mall. They have to: even if the store gave us 40 hours a week for a year (a big, big if, as most places cap workers at 39 hours to avoid them becoming “full time” and possibly qualifying for benefits. In my case, as work expands and contracts, I’ve been scheduled for as few as seven hours a week at one store, without notice that my hours were going to be cut), your annual income would be only about $15k, before taxes of course. The stores adapted, actually trying pretty hard to create schedules that allowed everyone to hold down their two or three jobs. It was the norm, a fact of life, something for business to adjust to.

    Who We Are

    Who are the workers? They are adults, many single moms (64% of minimum wage employees are women), a veteran from Iraq (“the Army taught me to drive a Humvee which turns out not to be a marketable skill”), another retired guy, a couple of students who alternate semesters at work with semesters at the local community college and a small handful of recent immigrants. One guy said that because the big boxer drove his small store out of business he had to take a minimum wage job, which only pays him enough so that he sort of has to buy at the big box store. They made him a greeter at the front door and told him to be enthusiastic. He was. That guy was like Patient Zero in our New Economy.

    There is no ladder up, no promotion path. Most of us were just trying to make a little money. But some people had been yelled at too many times, or were too afraid of losing their jobs. They were broke. People—and dogs—don’t get like that quickly; it has to build up on them, or tear down on them, like erosion, one thing after another nudging them deeper into it. Then one day, if the supervisor told them by mistake to hang a sign upside down, they’d do it, more afraid of contradicting the boss than making an obvious mistake. You’d see them rushing in early to stand next to the timeclock so they would not be late. One broke down in tears when she accidentally dropped something, afraid she’d get fired on the spot for it. They walk around like the floor was all stray cat tails. It is a lousy way to live as an adult, your only incentive for doing good work being they’d let you keep a job that made you hate yourself for another day.

    You had to pay attention, but not too much. It was an acquired skill. Enough time in this retail minimum economy and it was trained into you for life, but for newcomers like me it was a slow process of getting pushed back into the ground every time we had a accidental growth spurt. None of us was trying to be great, just satisfied. This was just grey bread as you felt yourself getting more and more tired each day.

    About 30 million Americans work this way, live this way, at McJobs. We pop up like Brigadoon during election cycles, often as caricatures like Joe the Plumber, or as props for an important speech. In between such appearances, about half of all single-parent families live in poverty. These situations are not unique. Wal-Mart has more than two million employees; if Wal-Mart was an army, it would be the largest military on the planet behind China. Wal-Mart is the largest overall employer in the U.S., and the biggest employer in twenty-five states.

    More than Minimum

    I did work in retail for minimum wage, both at age 16 and again at age 53. While I lived a life from teenager stocking shelves to older adult stocking shelves, the minimum wage only rose by a few bucks. The minimum wage today is $7.25—is a big latte really what an hour of my labor is worth? While the money has not changed, what has changed is who is now working these minimum wage jobs. Once upon a time they were filled with high school kids earning pocket money. In 2013, the jobs are encumbered by adults struggling to get by. Something is wrong.

    So to the president I say, yes, please, do raise the minimum wage. But how far is the proposed nine bucks an hour going to go? Are we going to do eight hours of labor for the cell phone bill? Another twelve for the groceries each week? Another twenty or thirty for a car payment? How many hours are we going to work? How many can we work? Nobody can make a real living doing these jobs. You can’t raise a family on minimum wage. And you can’t build a nation on the working poor. Maybe what we need is to spend more on education and less on war, even out the tax laws and rules just a bit, require a standard living wage instead of a minimum one. That’s not all the answer, but it is a start. The president is right that it is time for a change, but what is needed is much more than a nudge up on the minimum wage.

    Working for minimum wage, I came to know that these were real problems, with real people behind them, lives. We have to decide if all this is just about money or if it is about more, about society, about how we live, about people, about America.



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    Sticking to Our Rights to Protect Our Rights

    February 8, 2013 // 44 Comments »

    Q: If a foreign organization kills an American overseas for political reasons, it is called…
    A: Terrorism.

    Q: If the United States kills an American overseas for political reasons, it is called…
    A: Justice.

    The Government of the United States, currently under the management of a former professor of Constitutional law, is actively killing its own citizens abroad without any form of due process. This is generally seen as a no-no as far as the Bill of Rights, the Magna Carta and playground rules goes. The silly old Fifth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees “no person shall be deprived of life without due process of law” and include no exceptions for war, terrorism, or being a really shitty human being.

    On or about May 7, 2011 a US military drone fired a missile in Yemen (which is another country that is not our country) aimed at American Citizen Anwar al Awlaki, a real-live al Qaeda guy. The missile instead blew up a car with two other people in it, quickly dubbed “al Qaeda operatives” since we killed them. The US has shot at al Awlaki before, including under the Bush administration. In justifying the assassination attempt, Obama’s counterterrorism chief Michael Leiter said al Awlaki posed a bigger threat to the U.S. homeland than bin Laden did, albeit without a whole lot of explanation as to why this was. But, let’s be charitable and agree al Awaki is a bad guy; indeed, Yemen sentenced him to ten years in jail (which is not execution, fyi) for “inciting to kill foreigners” and “forming an armed gang.”

    While the al Awlaki killing is old news, the new news is that the drone that did him fly out of a previously secret U.S. base in Saudi Arabia. Conveniently, that base was secret pretty much only from the American public, as it turns out that an “informal arrangement among several news organizations that had been aware of the location for more than a year.” Those news organizations included the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Associated Press and Fox. The limp newsies kept the secret because the Obama administration claimed disclosure might carry “potential national-security risks.” The U.S. militarization of Saudi Arabia after the 1991 Gulf War is often cited by al Qaeda as one of its prime recruitment tools, so the disclosure indeed reveals a significant dumb ass decision by the U.S.

    Attorneys for al Awlaki’s father tried to persuade a US. District Court to issue an injunction preventing the government from the targeted killing of al Awlaki in Yemen, though a judge dismissed the case, ruling the father did not have standing to sue. My research has so far been unable to disclose whether or not this is the first time a father has sought to sue the US government to prevent the government from killing his son but I’ll keep looking. The judge did call the suit “unique and extraordinary” so I am going to go for now with the idea that no one has previously sued the USG to prevent them from murdering a citizen without trial or due process. The judge wimped out and wrote that it was up to the elected branches of government, not the courts, to determine whether the United States has the authority to murder its own citizens abroad.

    Just to get ahead of the curve, and even though my own kids are non-terrorists and still in school, I have written to the president asking in advance that he not order them killed. Who knows what they might do? One kid has violated curfew a couple of times, and another stays up late some nights on Facebook, and we all know where that can lead.

    The reason I bring up this worrisome turn from regular person to wanted terrorist is because al Awlaki used to be on better terms with the US government himself. In fact, after 9/11, the Pentagon invited him to a luncheon as part of the military’s outreach to the Muslim community. Al Awlaki “was considered to be an ‘up and coming’ member of the Islamic community” by the Army. He attended a luncheon at the Pentagon in the Secretary of the Army’s Office of Government Counsel. Al Awlaki was living in the DC area at that same, the SAME AREA MY KIDS LIVE, serving as Muslim chaplain at George Washington University, the SAME UNIVERSITY MY KIDS might walk past one day.

    Even though Constitutional law professor Obama appears to have skipped reading about the Fifth Amendment (release the transcripts! Maybe he skipped class that day!), courts in Canada have not.

    A Toronto judge was justified in freeing an alleged al Qaeda collaborator given the gravity of human rights abuses committed by the United States in connection with his capture in Pakistan, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled. Judges are not expected to remain passive when countries such as the US violate the rights of alleged terrorists, the court said Friday.

    “We must adhere to our democratic and legal values, even if that adherence serves in the short term to benefit those who oppose and seek to destroy those values,” said the Canadian court.

    Golly, this means that because the US gave up its own principles in detaining and torturing this guy, the Canadians are not going to extradite him to the US. That means that the US actions were… counterproductive… to our fight against terrorism. The Bill of Rights was put in place for the tough cases, not the easy ones. Sticking with it as the guiding principle has worked well for the US for about 230 years, so why abandon all that now?

    Meanwhile, I’ll encourage my kids to stay inside when they hear drones overhead.



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    Destroying Rights Guaranteed since the Magna Carta

    February 6, 2013 // 23 Comments »




    Here are the Department of Justice’s legal arguments granting permission to the president to assassinate Americans if they are connected with al Qaeda, essentially destroying rights guaranteed citizens since the Magna Carta– right to life, right to a trial, right to due process.

    This will be one of the documents historians study years from now while chronicling the end of the American experiment in democracy. Those historians will conclude that no foreign power defeated us; we ate ourselves.

    Torture as American Policy

    The release of these legal arguments comes on the same day that the Open Society Foundation detailed the CIA’s effort to outsource torture since 9/11 in excruciating detail. Known as “extraordinary rendition,” the practice concerns taking detainees to and from U.S. custody without a legal process — think of it like an off-the-books extradition — and often entailed handing detainees over to countries that practiced torture. The Open Society Foundation found that 136 people went through the post-9/11 extraordinary rendition, and 54 countries were complicit in it. The U.S. worked with Iran to take new prisoners, and sent others into Assad’s Syria for torture.

    Justification to Ignore the Constitution

    According to MSNBC, the undated DOJ memo is entitled “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al Qa’ida or An Associated Force.” It was provided to members of the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees in June by administration officials on the condition that it be kept confidential and not discussed publicly. The white paper was represented by administration officials as a policy document that closely mirrors the arguments of classified memos on targeted killings by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. The administration has refused to turn over to Congress or release those more detailed memos publicly, or even to overtly confirm they existence.

    In the DOJ white paper, it is determined that in order for the United States of America to kill one of its own citizens, all that is needed is that “an informed, high-level official of the U.S. Government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States,” and that capture is not feasible and of course that the laws of war are followed. For those tracking the amount of blood on the president’s hands, note that no review takes place, no due process, no jury, no anything, just death because the president (or, technically, any anonymous informed high-level official) says kill that man, woman or child. This is considered by the Department of Justice to be “a lawful act of national self-defense.”

    DOJ specifically states that if the targeted individual had rights under the Fourth Amendment and the Due Process Clause, such rights would not “immunize him from a lethal operation.”

    The Fourth Amendment is a now-quaint part of the U.S. Constitution that guards against unreasonable searches and seizures, along with requiring any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause. The Due Process Clause is contained in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. It once acted as a safeguard from arbitrary denial of life, liberty, or property by the Government. The clear intent of Due Process, appearing twice in the Constitution, is to assure Americans that the government cannot act against them outside of a judicial process, a set of laws to protect against the government having too much power.

    The Department of Justice also concludes that the murder of an American Citizen under such circumstances “would not violate certain criminal provisions prohibiting the killing of U.S. nationals outside the United States; nor would it constitute the commission of a war crime or an assassination prohibited by Executive Order.”

    It was found that “the realities of the conflict and the weight of the government’s interest in protecting its citizens from an imminent attack are such that the Constitution would not require the government to provide further process to such a U.S. Citizen before using lethal force.”

    The document notes that “the condition that the operational leader present an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.” Instead, DOJ asserts a “broader definition of imminence.”

    Neatly, to conclude their argument, the Department of Justice states that due to the unique circumstances of the conflict with terror, “there exists no appropriate judicial forum to evaluate these constitutional considerations.”

    The End of the Experiment

    One is left literally gasping for air, pale with anger, wondering what we have become in America. Have we stooped to the level of the Nazi Nuremberg Laws, which in precise legalese justified the Holocaust? Have we reached the point where we believe we must destroy our beautiful Constitution in order to save it?

    Of what value anymore is the oath all Federal employees take, the same oath Obama took on the steps of the Capitol last month, promising to defend and uphold the Constitution? What value is that oath when with a memo he deems that that Constitution does not apply when there is killing to be done abroad. What type of nation declares war on its own citizens?

    Those questions are left rhetorical for now, but this much is now true: the president of the United States has granted himself legal justification to ignore the most basic tenet of freedom– the right to live– and empowered himself to kill his own citizens without any form of due process or judicial procedure. It is an easy way for a writer to grab headlines, claiming such-and-such is the end of our rights, such as the limits imposed on habeas corpus, online spying, no-fly lists, restrictions on free speech, etc. But now we have truly approached the edge, because when you are dead, killed extra judicially by your own government, well, no other theoretical rights really matter anymore.

    Abu Graid, Guantanamo, the CIA secret prisons, imprisonment without trial of Bradley Manning, those are not aberrations or exceptions– they were practice. These are indeed the darkest of days for our democratic experiment.



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    Your State Department: Male, Pale, Likely Yale

    February 1, 2013 // 13 Comments »

    The new Secretary of State will fit right in at State, being a white man from Yale (the previously Secretary fit two of the three criteria as well).

    In the good ol’ days, there were three requirements to join the Foreign Service and represent America abroad: be male, pale and Yale. The Foreign Service was distinctly male, Caucasian and very Ivy League. Luckily, America has moved on from all that; indeed, in many states non-Whites are even allowed to vote and marry. You know, melting pot, chicks can have jobs, all that stuff you see on the tee vee box.




    Except at the State Department. Have a look:



    Oops.

    The Civil Service is U.S.-based personnel, mostly in Washington DC. In the Foreign Service, the part of the State Department that staffs embassies and consulates abroad, the people that foreigners meet, the ratios are, well, kinda off. Like “it’s 1950 all over again Mrs. Cleaver.”

    Only about one out of every three Foreign Service elites is babe-a-licious; two-thirds are dudes, just like in the rest of America, hells yeah!

    For you White folks, all’s well. The Foreign Service is happily, blindingly and outstandingly W-H-I-T-E, eighty percent White. The number a’ Black folk and Asians is pretty much alike at State, guessin’ here ’cause them Asian fellas are good at test taking.

    There ain’t none of dem’ ol’ statistics published on where all dem’ White men folks went to school, but we can assume that the Ivy League and its running dog Georgetown University are well-represented. Yes, suh.

    America. Just as it should be, courtesy of your Department of State.

    Bonus: On State’s own list of “Ten Things You Should Know About the State Department,” Number 10 says that State’s employees “are the embodiments [sic] of our American values abroad.” Indeed.


    Super Bonus: In what we all hope is her last public appearance, still-lingering SecState Hillary said “If women and girls everywhere were treated as equal to men, we would see and political and economic progress everywhere.”




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    Lamb to Slaughter: Benghazi, Cheryl Mills and Hillary Clinton

    January 4, 2013 // 11 Comments »


    An interesting bit of information, unconfirmed, raises new questions about how close Hillary was to the Benghazi decisions and decision-makers. Here is what we have:

    Lamb to the Slaughter

    One of the high level employees who was reassigned/resigned/was terminated because of Benghazi was Charlene Lamb.

    Ms. Lamb’s initial appointment to her position in Diplomatic Security was opposed by a number of career Department of State employees, we are told. Her biography has been disappeared from the State Department web site but is still alive in the Cloud.

    Sources inside State say objections to Lamb’s hiring were at the time overridden by Cheryl Mills, the Number 4 at State. Ms. Mills is a Clinton political appointee (see below).

    As a result, Lamb was terminated in order to prevent the inquiry from reaching higher, into the Secretary of State’s offices, where one could point the finger at Clinton for insisting on Lamb. Lamb in kind took the fall for Clinton, in what one commentator called a “bureaucratic firewall.”

    As we now know, the Benghazi facilities were CIA, and not State Department, offices. There were no permanent State Department employees assigned to either building in that city. State merely provided the cover story on the ground, over the air via Susan Rice’s lies about that stupid anti-Islam video, and now in person as Congress looks for someone to blame so this can all just go away.


    Where was Hillary?

    Lamb being disappeared also closes off a line of inquiry into exactly what Clinton was doing the night of the attack on Benghazi.

    Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Charlene Lamb testified that on September 11, after the “full-scale assault” in Libya — “unprecedented in its size and intensity” — began about 9:40 p.m. Libyan time (4:40 p.m. Washington time), she was “in our Diplomatic Security Command Center [in Washington] monitoring multiple open lines with our agents [in Libya] for much of the attack.”

    A few days later a CNN reporter asked Hillary Clinton what she was doing as the attack occurred, and Clinton responded with a 400-word answer that avoided the question. Here is part:

    QUESTION: … could you tell us a little bit about what you were doing when that attack actually happened? I know Charlene Lamb, who as the State Department official, was mentioning that she back here in Washington was monitoring electronically from that post what was happening in real time. Could you tell us what you were doing? Were you watching? Were you talking with the President? Any details about that, please.

    SECRETARY CLINTON: … I think that it is very important to recognize that we have an investigation going on… So that’s what an investigative process is designed to do: to try to sort through all of the information, some of it contradictory and conflicting… So I’m going to be, as I have been from the very beginning, cooperating fully with the investigations that are ongoing, because nobody wants to know more about what happened and why than I do. And I think I’ll leave it at that.

    QUESTION: Mrs. Secretary, if you could, the question was –

    SECRETARY CLINTON: I know, but I’m going to leave it at that.

    Later that same day, the State Department spokesperson was asked why Clinton hadn’t answered, and provided this response:

    As you know, she’s not that interested in focusing on herself. But obviously, she was here very late that night. She was getting regular updates from both the DS Command Center and the senior NEA leadership in the building, she was making phone calls to senior people, and so she was obviously very much involved. But I think she was not interested in sort of giving a personal tick-tock. It’s not the way she operates.


    Who is Cheryl Mills?

    Cheryl Mills is an interesting person to have her name pop up in connection with covering Clinton’s role in Benghazi. As deputy counsel, Mills sat at the epicenter of the scandals in the Clinton White House for seven years, eventually delivering an impassioned defense of the president during his 1999 impeachment trial. Mills left the White House soon after, but her performance earned her a place in the hearts of the former president and his wife. When Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pursued the presidency almost a decade later, she tapped Mills to be her senior adviser and counsel on the campaign. As her campaign imploded, Mills acted as a de-facto crisis manager.

    The Washington Post describes Mills as “close with many of the women in “Hillaryland,” including Ambassador-at-Large for Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer; senior adviser to Health and Human Services Department’s Office of Health Reform Neera Tanden and Judith McHale, undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs.”

    Quick Summary

    David Petraeus, head of the CIA when its offices were overrun in Benghazi, is gone, victim of an FBI email love-trap sting that still makes little sense except as a political assassination. We won’t be hearing from him. Susan Rice, who was voted to try and pass off some lies about an anti-Islam movie to cover this all up, was thrown under the bus and we won’t be hearing from her again. Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State at the epicenter, has been incommunicado for over a month with a series of excuses and will be resigning soon.

    Why is it so hard to learn answers to some very basic questions about the decision-making behind Benghazi?




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    Benghazi Deaths: Gosh Darn, No One Really at Fault

    December 19, 2012 // 25 Comments »

    The State Department’s own version of reality in Benghazi, the Accountability Review Board (ARB) report, is ever so predictable. The report took close to three months to complete, conveniently bypassing the election to come out in the news doldrums of Christmas time. As could have been predicted, the report finds no one at State to blame really, at least not in an actionable way, and requests more money for the State Department.

    UPDATED: Only the head of State’s Diplomatic Security Bureau “resigned” (i.e., retire earlier than planned with full benefits and no official blot on his record), showing he has a micron more sense of responsibility than the people who drafted the report and, of course, the concussive-but-missing-in-action Secretary of State.

    The other three State Department officials who supposedly “resigned” over the Benghazi incident have merely been given different jobs within the State Department. The three are all relatively low-ranking employees; their names were withheld from the released version of the report and are only reported in the classified version, even though none of the three works undercover or anything like it. The classification is just to avoid embarrassing anyone.

    Money

    As always, State misses no chance to repurpose failure and tragedy (as with Iraq) into a request for more funding. The ARB report says:

    The solution requires a more serious and sustained commitment from Congress to support State Department needs, which, in total, constitute a small percentage both of the full national budget and that spent for national security. One overall conclusion in this report is that Congress must do its part to meet this challenge and provide necessary resources to the State Department to address security risks and meet mission imperatives.


    Who’s in Charge?

    The report has a few comments on leadership at State:

    Communication, cooperation, and coordination among Washington, Tripoli, and Benghazi functioned collegially at the working-level but were constrained by a lack of transparency, responsiveness, and leadership at the senior levels. Among various Department bureaus and personnel in the field, there appeared to be very real confusion over who, ultimately, was responsible and empowered to make decisions based on both policy and security considerations.

    The Board found that certain senior State Department officials within two bureaus demonstrated a lack of proactive leadership and management ability in their responses to security concerns posed by Special Mission Benghazi, given the deteriorating threat environment and the lack of reliable host government protection.


    Pretty damning stuff, right? Heads will roll? After all, four Americans were killed. But wait for the conclusion:

    However, the Board did not find reasonable cause to determine that any individual U.S. government employee breached his or her duty.


    Though the ARB report does sort of, maybe a little, touch on the real issue here:

    The Board recognizes that poor performance does not ordinarily constitute a breach of duty that would serve as a basis for disciplinary action but is instead addressed through the performance management system. However, the Board is of the view that findings of unsatisfactory leadership performance by senior officials in relation to the security incident under review should be a potential basis for discipline recommendations by future ARBs, and would recommend a revision of Department regulations or amendment to the relevant statute to this end.


    The Money Shot

    Your State Department in a nutshell: A report that concludes “poor performance” alone is grounds for, well, not much, even when that level of poor performance falls to lethal levels. Best thing to do is revise some internal rules. Meanwhile, four people are dead, leadership in disarray but really, no one will officially take any fall for any of this. Senior leadership problems point to a failure to lead even higher up (the buck stops where?) but the only person who said she would take responsibility for what happened in Benghazi, the Secretary of State herself, is not mentioned in the report and won’t even appear before Congress to talk about it because she is in bed after “falling down” at home. Add in a couple of symbolic resignations without penalty and stick a fork in it, ’cause this one’s done babies. Now, about Hillary’s Nobel prize… too early?

    Seriously, about Hillary. Let’s assume it is true she fell down and hit her head a few days ago. Why can’t she make a public statement? Is she tied to a bed? On life support? Will it all magically be OK in a couple of days (after the hearings and news cycle?) She’s working from home we’re told, not in a hospital, so it is not that serious. NFL players get concussions and are back in the game. Really really really Hillary just can’t say ANYTHING? I am not a conspiracy monger but c’mon, this s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-s disbelief just a bit much.

    Representative Allen West from Florida christened Hillary’s headache as the “Benghazi Flu,” and said “I don’t think that this should become the new normal and next thing you know four years from now we have Hillary Clinton running for president when we had this death of the ambassador” and others.



    Now, let’s watch Ambassador Chris Stevens’ body get dragged out of the Benghazi office and remember how no one will suffer, except him, for all this:




    You can read the entire steaming pile of self-cover up here if you’re having trouble sleeping for some reason, such as, perhaps Mrs. Clinton, guilt?




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    SILENCED: Documentary to Watch for in 2013

    // 5 Comments »

    Keep an eye out in 2013 for a new documentary film, SILENCED: Washington’s War on Whistleblowers.

    In addition to appearing in the film, I had the privilege of observing some of the other interviews. This is some pretty powerful stuff coming.



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    Hillary Calls in Sick on Benghazi

    December 17, 2012 // 15 Comments »

    Or will she go all-out and claim total amnesia?

    Hillary, now suffering from a self-inflicted concussion, dodges for the fifth time publicly testifying about the disaster in Benghazi. 2016 baby!

    Here is the piece-de-resistance de Clinton:

    Hillary Ducks Once

    Right after the attacks in Benghazi, when the US Government was still trying to sell the lie that it was all because of that dumb anti-Islam movie, Clinton did not go on the Sunday talk shows, Unter Fuhrer Susan Rice did it. And hey, Susan, how’d that work out for ya?

    Hillary Ducks Twice

    Then, just prior to the re-election of Barack Obama, lickspittle Hillary proudly proclaimed that she would assume full responsibility for what happened in Benghazi without actually saying or doing anything.

    Hillary Ducks a Third Time

    But, then she didn’t show up for the first round of Congressional hearings in November. Because she was “traveling.”

    MS. NULAND: Matt, they’ve asked for closed hearings, closed briefings; that’s what we’re complying with.

    QUESTION: The Secretary won’t appear before any of these committees?

    MS. NULAND: The Secretary has not been asked to appear. They’ve asked for the individuals that are coming.

    QUESTION: Would she be willing to fly back from Australia to appear?

    MS. NULAND: Again, she has not been asked to appear. She was asked to appear at House Foreign Affairs next week, and we have written back to the Chairman to say that she’ll be on travel next week.


    Hillary Ducks a Fourth Time

    So with the election now history, Congress scheduled some more hearings on Benghazi for December 20. Clinton was scheduled to appear and testify. But then we learned that State’s own internal report on the death of one of its ambassador’s abroad would be delayed and well, maybe Hillary would not be available. She is also listed as sole witness on the 9:00 am, December 20, hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Benghazi: The Attack and the Lessons Learned.

    But then, maybe Hillary would not be available to testify. Here’s the exchange:

    MS. NULAND: Again, the Hill has talked about a planning date on the calendar. That presumes that the ARB is finished. I don’t have any dates – any schedule of the Secretary’s to announce here. It’s dependent upon events between now and then.

    QUESTION: She hasn’t committed to testify?

    MS. NULAND: Again, it’s dependent on the work being finished. Okay?

    QUESTION: Are you aware that Senator Kerry announced that she will testify next Thursday?

    MS. NULAND: She has made clear that when the work is ready, she will go consult with Congress on it. And that’s a commitment she’s made, and she intends to keep it.


    Hillary Ducks a Fifth Time

    Well, because that lame prevarication was not enough, just the other day Hillary announced that she had the flu, and would need to cancel some travel and work from home for a full week (government employees get great sick leave benefits). And since that excuse did not seem, um, sympathetic enough when most Americans are forced to go to work no matter how sick they are, we learned that Hils got dehydrated, passed out, hit her head and got a concussion!

    One More Time?

    Update: “She looks forward to continuing to engage with them in January and she will be open to whatever they consider appropriate in that regard,” Spokesdrone Nuland said following the concussion.



    And We’re Spent

    She will thus not be able to testify before the Senate on December 20. Of course we then plunge into Christmas, New Years and poof! before you know it Hillary’s time is up, John Kerry is sworn in as Secretary of State and we are all told we are looking forward, not backward.

    The upshot of all this is that Hillary ends her term as SecState without any naughty video of her fibbing about Benghazi to follow her into the history books.

    Or into 2016.



    Note: Of course I am not implying that Hillary is faking her concussion for personal political gain. All of us here at We Meant Well wish her a quick recovery, and a joyous holiday. We join in thanking her for her tireless service to America and hope she and her staff are feeling well soon.



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    State Department Lost in Cyberspace Over New Social Media

    December 13, 2012 // 6 Comments »

    Foreign Policy features an article, Lost in Cyberspace, commenting on the silly, stupid, restrictive, likely even unconstitutional new rules under review at the State Department to regulate the social media and online activities of its own employees. The majority of these changes are sort of my fault, given my year-long run of writing, blogging and Tweeting about the lump of coal that our State Department has become. One part of the new rules has even been christened informally as the “Van Buren clause.”

    Nick Kristoff of the New York Times joined the battle, stating on Twitter that “@NickKristof If the State Dept is really thinking about two-day vetting of tweets, that’s the dumbest idea ever.”

    That prompted State Department social media “guru” Alec Ross to respond “@AlecJRoss My team involved in drafting/approving. Not even close to what has been blogged.”

    Ross further stated “Updating our social-media guidelines will help make the State Dept MORE open and social media-centric, not less open. It will also make us faster.”

    Oh Really?

    Is Alec Ross’ claim is true or false? I have seen a draft copy of the new rules for diplomats’ social media regulation. Here’s a diagram from that draft. Please take a look and decide for yourself whether State’s new rules will make the organization more open, faster and social media-centric:






    As for the question of State taking five days for blog posts and two days to review diplo-Tweets, here is the relevant section of the draft rules:





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    Deedy: Bar Hopping, Three Shots, One Kill

    December 10, 2012 // 16 Comments »

    The Washington Post, reluctantly getting off the sofa with a grunt to copy ‘n paste a story from the Honolulu newspaper, tells us:

    A State Department special agent charged with murder in the shooting of a man at a fast-food restaurant in Waikiki last year spent the night bar-hopping and drinking before going to the restaurant, prosecutors said.

    Suspect Christopher Deedy appeared intoxicated before firing three shots from his handgun — the first narrowly missed a customer, another lodged in a restaurant wall, and the third fatally wounded 23-year-old Kollin Elderts, prosecutors said in court papers.

    Deedy was not heard identifying himself as a law enforcement officer, but told Elderts he had a gun and would shoot him in the face, prosecutors said in the most detailed account of the shooting released thus far.

    Deedy had been “slurring his words as he argued with Elderts… While defendant was bar-hopping he was in possession of his 9 mm Glock, conduct that the Department of State’s rules clearly prohibit,” the prosecutor said.

    (New to the islands and don’t know about what Deedy done? Background here)

    I’ve been to that actual Waikiki McDonald’s (albeit sober and unarmed), and it is not a large place. Small, in fact, as fast food places go. Given that Deedy and the deceased were close enough that Deedy could kick him, it is very curious that a “Special” Agent could ripple off three shots and only get one hit. That is some pretty lousy shooting, at near point blank range. One is left to wonder if indeed Deedy was just a bad shot (not a bad assumption given that he was trained by the State Department), or perhaps something (too many Shamrock shakes?) might have impaired his aim.

    Well, the whole damn thing is on a surveillance video tape we can’t see, so this is mindless speculation. If Deedy ever goes to trial (I think the case is scheduled now for April 2013, following the Mayan apocalypse) perhaps we the public will see what the refs think of the taped replay.

    (“Special” thanks to the always-prescient Random Thoughts blog for the update on Deedy!)




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