The web’s biggest content providers have started using automation to remove “extremist propaganda” videos from their sites.
YouTube (owned by Google) and Facebook are among the sites deploying systems to block or rapidly take down Islamic State videos and other similar material, sources said, though no company would confirm the action.
The technology employed was originally developed to remove copyright-protected content on video sites. It looks for “hashes,” unique digital fingerprints that Internet companies automatically assign to specific videos, allowing all content with matching fingerprints to be removed rapidly. Someone finds an offensive video, tags it, and then searches find other copies across the Internet.
Newly posted videos would be checked against a database of banned content to identify unauthorized information.
The system was kicked off in late April, amid pressure from an Obama White House concerned about online radicalization. Internet companies held a conference call to discuss options, including use of a content-blocking system put forward by the private Counter Extremism Project, a nonprofit controlled in part by George W. Bush Homeland Security Advisor Frances Townsend.
Get it yet?
Government and private industry will decide what content you (as well as journalists and academics) may see on the Internet. What is and is not allowable will be decided by a closed process, and will be automated. A database will be drawn upon for decision making.
Databases and tagging can be hacked/manipulated, perhaps by governmental intelligence organizations, maybe some bad guys, hell, even by advertisers to control what is available to you online.
Since content removed equals content prohibited, you’ll never know what you can’t see. The obvious slippery slope is in decisions about what is “extremist” and what is legitimate free, political speech that, while offensive, has a right to be heard and a place in the market of ideas.
So how about blocking all videos of police violence during say a Ferguson/Baltimore scenario, so as not to “inflame” a situation?
And even if Government A plays nicely, Government B may not, and dictatorships and oligarchies will have a new tool for repression. In the same way Western companies are forced now by China, for example, to adjust content, they will likely be forced to add things to the no-fly database of ideas. Corporations will be in a position to censor things on behalf of governments.
Via the Edward Snowden documents, we already know that many tech companies cooperate directly with the NSA and others, either voluntarily, or under pressure from secret national security practices and laws. It is not a matter of “it can happen here,” but one of “it is already happening here.”
But, some will say, Google, et al, are private companies. They can do what they want with their businesses, and you don’t have to use them.
Certain private businesses, such as power companies and transportation providers, have become clearly so much a part of society that they indeed can’t just do what they want. They become public utilities, and there is no doubt that organizations like Google are squarely in the category.
Lastly, for those who prefer dictionary things, do check up on the definition of true fascism: a collusion between government and industry.
Diplopundit has a copy of the (leaked) revised rules for the use of social media by State Department employees. The rules have not been formalized, so let’s hope some smidgen of change is still possible, but my own sources confirm that what you can read about here are authentic. These rules are horrible and childish, a pathetic over-reactive lashing-out over how poorly State handled the media swirl around my book We Meant Well.
For example, there are some wonderful catch-all “standards” that would not pass legal review at a junior high student council but which will control America’s diplomats. Here’s one:
Employees at all levels are expected to exhibit at all times the highest standards of character, integrity, and conduct, and to maintain a high level of efficiency and productivity.
Leaving aside the yucks so obvious even I won’t crack jokes about them concerning efficiency and productivity, what definitions and details will define and explain what the hell the “highest standards” of character, integrity, and conduct are? For example, is lying about what happened in Benghazi a highest standard? What about making a sex tape on the roof of the Baghdad embassy? Shooting an unarmed man in a McDonald’s? Wasting billions on faux reconstruction projects in Iraq, Haiti and Afghanistan? I guess all that is OK just as long as you don’t Tweet about it.
The new standards also seek to codify that what can’t be disclosed is “protected information.” In addition to the legally-based actual USG-wide standard classifications of Top Secret, Secret and Confidential, the State Department created its own unique category called Sensitive But Unclassified (SBU). State then declared that everything it does on its Unclassified network is actually SBU, meaning under the new rules “disclosing” an email from Diplomat A to Diplomat B asking when lunch is will be a violation. FYI, State is also seeking desperately to invoke the SBU rule against Bradley Manning to make his alleged Wikileaks leaks seem more horrible. State also cited my own release of SBU information (in my case, a Diplomatic Security memo written to me about me) as justification for suspending my security clearance. Of course such nonsense makes no sense in that outside of the State Department possession of such documents is not a crime, and of course as unclassified documents they should be all available under the Freedom of Information Act.
The State Department will have the most restrictive social media rules of any Federal agency under these new standards, proposing, among other amazing things, that all Department employee Facebook posts and Tweets of “matters of official concern” (whatever your boss chooses to define that as) undergo a two-day review process. Such rules will either require hundreds of full-time reviewers, or, most likely, be ignored in most instances and hauled out selectively when needed to punish an individual. Such selective application begs for a lawsuit.
These changes show clearly that the State Department fears what its own employees will say about it, what truths they will reveal. Like the corrupt Communist bureaucracies of the old Eastern Europe, more and more resources will be devoted to monitoring one’s own workers, with snitches no doubt favored and promoted for “outing” social media deviants. Perhaps next Foreign Service children, no doubt more computer-savvy than their diplo-parents, will be schooled in spying on what Mommy and Daddy do online. One can only see this as positive, the bureaucracy at State consuming itself, with no one in the organization willing to trust anyone else. Whatever shreds of free speech credibility abroad are left will clearly dissipate. One can hear laughter in Beijing. 21st Century Diplomacy indeed.
Really, these people are pathetic. Very sad, very paranoid, for a once-distinguished organization that purports speak for free speech around the globe. We’ll keep all this at hand for 2016 as a further example of how Hillary Clinton really rolls. And when are we going to stop saying “1984-like” and start saying “State Department-like”?
The Washington Post is also covering this story. It quotes State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner as saying with a straight face the changes are merely updates “to recognize the dynamic and decentralized nature of the 21st century information environment.”
While the State Department continues to prohibit me from working at my capacity because they do not like what I have written, the rest of the world looks on wondering how such an institution can be so petty, so hypocritical, so false in its calls for internet freedom.
NPR “All Things Considered” interviewed me about the situation:
Without his security clearance, Van Buren will likely be forced into retirement by the end of the year. But he says the trouble he’s been through was worth it.
“The story that people were hearing back home was not the story of what we were doing there on the ground,” he says.
Van Buren says he realized that this was a story that needed to be told, particularly as he watched the program in Iraq being folded up, packed up and shipped off to Afghanistan, where in fact the same process is going on right now.
“When I go home and turn on the news and listen to the Secretary of State claiming that the rights of bloggers in China need to be respected, that journalists in Syria have a right to speak back to their government … and at the same time, the same Secretary of State’s organization is seeking to oust me, to destroy me, to push me out of it,” he says, “I realize that that level of hypocrisy needs to be answered.”
Find out more about the hypocrisy of your government by listening to the full interview, now online.
After months of cheap shots, bully boy retaliation, McCarthy-tactics and a damn cold shoulder, the Department of State finally responded to my book and blog. It was a wimpy, written response from the weekend spokesperson pulled away from delivering the weather and sports news to my interview on NPR, but a response nonetheless.
Let’s reprint the State Department’s response in its entirety and break it down:
The State Department values the opinions of its employees and encourages expression of differing viewpoints and is committed to fairness in the workplace. There are many examples of employees publishing articles and books in their private capacity that do not reflect Department views.
Yeah, right. I call bullshit. It would be cool if they would cite one published book besides mine critical of the State Department written by an active duty, employed Foreign Service Officer. I say they can’t because there isn’t one. And since they said “many” and “books,” let’s have more than one example please. Put up or shut up State.
At the same time, the Department of State has an obligation to ensure that official information is released in an authorized and appropriate manner, that classified and other protected material is not improperly disclosed, and that the views an employee expresses in his or her private capacity are not attributed to the U.S. government.
Actually, I agree with this.
Can State point to a single instance where I have released official information not already available elsewhere, absent perhaps my book, which was approved (perhaps by accident) by the State Department? Even if that is true, about when was State planning on releasing anything about the failure of the PRT program in Iraq? The only thing I have seen is a crude propaganda video about how wonderful the PRT program was.
Can State point to any classified information I have disclosed? Way back in October, the State Department’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Pubic Affairs Dana Smith claimed I revealed classified CIA info in my book. She sent a public unclassified fax to my New York publisher listing the alledged classified info (Doh!). That was that; we never heard back from Smith, the FBI, the Justice Department or the CIA on that made-up bunch of garbage howler.
And a link to Wikileaks counts as disclosing classified info, as State has claimed, even though the linked document is still on the web and has been quoted in several newspapers before me, and even though when I asked if I should take the link down State said not to?
Lastly, is there anyone anywhere who thinks this blog, with its daily flow of sarcasm, offensive criticism, swear words, evil clown photos, Simpsons references and sad attempts at humor might be confused with an official US Government statement? Even if the owned-by-the-People State Department seal appears? And lastly, for the deeply confused, the State Department recommended disclaimer appears below each of these blog posts. Duh.
The point is this: I agree with the State Department on these restrictions. I agree so much that I have not violated them.
Foreign Service Officers and other employees are well aware that they are expected to meet these obligations.
I have met all of my obligations State. You cleared my book. I never revealed classified info, personnel information, or pretended to be making official statements. Face it– you just do not like what I have written and you have retaliated because of that. You don’t like free speech that criticizes you. You don’t like when someone makes fun of the Secretary. You don’t like when someone blows the whistle on your massive money pit in Baghdad. You don’t like when your own employees exercise the same rights you demand for bloggers in China, because this time it is you, not the evil Reds, who are being called out.
I guess when you throw pies at clowns you can expect to get some whipped cream on your clothes.
I get an email like this one every week from the State Department.
They apparently have someone/someones’ whose job it is to cut and paste articles from this blog into a handy weekly gazette format. Since I am a certified teleworker for the State Department, as well as the author of these blog posts, perhaps I could be tasked directly with making up the gazette each week as a way to save some money in these tough budgetary times, though apparently the State Department has enough people working for it that someone has as their daily duty to read and cut and paste my blog fodder.
Entry Level Officers at the State Department, be cautious if someone offers you a “social media” job!
Be sure to see that though the gazette is for last week, they also mention a Financial Times interview with me from December. That one must have slipped through their poorly-worded Google Alert! See, if I was making up the gazette myself I would have definitely caught that one, just saying.
Of course, why bother to cut and paste the gazette when all the articles are just right here online anyway?
When I was interrogated about this blog by the big bad wolves in Diplomatic Security, they at least had printed out, in color, the hundreds of articles from this blog’s inception in April 2011, a serious phone book-sized stack o’ dead trees. State and technology have never really gotten along well I guess.
Plus the gazette format really does not take full advantage of the medium, as it does not include the funny/ironic photos and occasional cartoons I feature on the blog. I mean, this blog post does not work at all without the visuals. Oh well, that’s a bureaucracy for you, no real sense of humor.
Just for grins, I have today filed a Freedom of Information Act request for all of the past gazettes. Let’s see how long it takes State to respond and if they respond with some sort of Ministry of Silly Walks-like excuse about why they won’t release to me my own writing.
And finally here’s a cartoon especially for the anonymous troll inside State who compiles my weekly gazette.
Not to suggest State is overstaffed, but somehow in managing all those international thingies they also have time to demand that I remove the State Department Seal from a blog post. The post, linked here, used the Seal as part of a satirical/parody memo from Hillary to the media, instructing them on how the Department wants them to not tell the truth about events in Iraq. No sentient being could have confused that blog post with an actual State Department memo.
If you want to see the offensive blog post, click here. If you want to see a real State Department memo, go troll through the 250,000 documents on Wikileaks. I shouldn’t post a link to Wikileaks on this blog, or I’ll get in trouble again with the nancy boys who run Diplomatic Security. Read’in is hard work, and they still are sorting out a “link” from a “leak.”
If you’d like to read the State Department’s email to me demanding I remove the Seal from my blog, here it is.
There is, as always, precedent. In 2005 the George W. Bush White House demanded that The Onion stop using George’s seal. So, um, right on State, you’re in lock step with the White House on this issue, albeit seven years late.
Now of course the State Department hasn’t bothered to contact all the other people on the web using their Seal. They didn’t even bother to contact me when I last used that same Seal on this same blog a few months ago. Wonder why now?
Timing is everything in life. Earlier this month I filed a complaint against the Department for retaliatory personnel practices with the Office of the Special Counsel. By coincidence, of course, State kicked its introspection of me and my blog into a higher gear that same week. For those keeping score, that is retaliation for complaining about earlier retaliation. More on this on a later blog post.
Anyway, a lesser man would be angry, or bitter, over such pettiness, but me, I just want to be friends. Who can get mad over a cute, cuddly seal anyway? So be sure to check out my replacement seal.
The Washington Post has an article this morning on DHS Monitoring of Social Media Concerns Civil Liberties Advocates, which discusses the Department of Homeland Security’s 3-year-old practice of monitoring social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
Predictably, [a] senior DHS official said the department does not monitor dissent or gather reports tracking citizens’ views.
Maybe DHS doesn’t, but the State Department does.
I represent a State Department 23-year-veteran of the Foreign Service, Peter Van Buren, where the State Department admits that it does precisely that: monitor his personal Internet activity on his home computer during his private time.
Peter Van Buren wrote a book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (Metropolitan Books 2011), which is highly critical of our gross reconstruction fraud in Iraq. It went through pre-publication review and the State Department approved it by default by letting its own 30-day review period expire.
A month before the publication of his book, Mr. Van Buren began to experience a series of adverse personnel actions, which are ongoing today.
The State Department tried a variety of different tactics to censor Mr. Van Buren’s book and prevent him from promoting it. After vague references to ethics rules failed, it tried threats of criminal action. After those failed, it started coming down on his blogs (which had been posted since April 2011 without criticism) and live media appearances, [saying the contents of which] needed to be pre-cleared.
There are many incarnations of the State Department’s increasingly-restrictive policies regarding linking–not leaking–to WikiLeaks documents, with which they tried to jack up Van Buren. But now he is getting his own personal “compliance letters” that say things like:
You must comply fully with applicable policies and regulations regarding official clearance of public speeches, writings and teaching materials, including blogs, tweets and other communications via social media, on matters of official concern, whether prepared in an official or private capacity (Emphasis added).
Although hundreds of State Department employees write blogs (the State Department even links to the ones it likes), and thousands have Facebook accounts, Mr. Van Buren has been told (the government usually doesn’t admit this) that all his Internet activity on his personal computer in his private capacity is being monitored.
This is outrageous. I recommend that the democracy-loving, Internet-freedom-promoting State Department read the First Amendment.
Thanks for your interest in my book. I’m sorry that some of it is not to your liking and that you have formally requested in a letter to the publisher redactions of embarrassing information freely available online (including info from a scene in Black Hawk Down, great movie), but I want to find a way to make it right. Here’s an idea– don’t say no yet, think it over.
Let’s look at how the Department of Defense used some taxpayer moolah. The Defense Intelligence Agency tried to stop Americans from reading former Army Intelligence Officer Anthony Shaffer’s book, Operation Dark Heart: Spycraft and Special Ops on the Frontlines of Afghanistan — and the Path to Victory. The Defense Department spent nearly $50,000 of your taxpayer money (ka-ching!) to buy up and destroy the first printing of the book. A subsequent printing redacted all sorts of information, including the fact that the author’s pseudonym, Chris Stryker, was John Wayne’s character in the 1949 film, Sands of Iwo Jima (also a great flick).
So here’s the offer. I know that State’s budget is not nearly as big as DOD’s. So, you agree to buy the first printing of my book, and I’ll do my best to negotiate with the publisher to get you a wholesale rate. You list up your redactions, and then we’ll reprint without the Black Hawk Down thingie. I personally promise to not put my unredacted copies on eBay. I already mailed one to my Mom (Hi Mom!), so that one is off the table, yeah? Deal????? I didn’t use a macho pseudonym like “Stryker,” so you have some savings right there.
Are words really that scary? Did I set fire to the flag using a cute puppy soaked in gasoline? Did I step on a tiger’s tail?
The State Department has done a number of things to try and prevent me from publishing my book, and threatened, promised or suggested they will do more. The book is on sale now, today, so they have turned to seeking to punish me as an example to others; easier to stop books that are never written.
We’ll focus on only one action at this time (if you want more, have a look at TomDispatch). We’ll take the Department’s word for it that the sudden review of my old travel vouchers from early 2009 (guess what, not in my favor so I had to repay $$$ to the government) is just a coincidence, that after years this week they just decided to take a look.
Almost two years ago, on nearly my first day as a PRT Team Leader in Iraq, I chose not to sign off on a $25,000 project to provide free sheep to five Iraqi widows. This story makes up part of a chapter in my book, “Sheep for Widows.” I felt the project was poorly conceived and would waste taxpayer/your $25,000 without furthering the US’ efforts to rebuild Iraq. Upset because I had pissed on their fire, the contractors involved in the project got together and complained to the Embassy that I raised my voice at them, even supposedly making one battle-hardened veteran contractor cry. I claim it didn’t happen that way, the contractors said it did.
As for the Sheep for Widows project itself, curiously, my boss, and later his own boss, did not overrule me as they could have, and the project was never funded.
Now, almost two years later, the State Department is still pursuing this supposed “raising of one’s voice” as a “discipline case” against me, claiming of course that it has nothing to do with this book.
Nope, nothing at all.
Just like the travel voucher review.
Despite the ultimate penalty for my misconduct being nothing but a “Letter of Reprimand” more worthy of Ferris Bueller, the State Department sent an investigator all the way from Washington to Baghdad to gather evidence. The investigator, since one of the contractors to whom a voice was allegedly raised was female, thought that I might have thus committed sexual harassment, and pursued the charge with zeal. She interviewed only the people who had made accusations. Despite requests by me that she also interview other witnesses, perhaps some who were not complainants, she did not.
Ironically, the investigator works for the Office of Civil Rights, S/OCR, which reports directly to the Secretary of State herself, Hillary Rodham Clinton. This is a lot of juice being applied to a a pretty minor thing, even if true (it’s not).
With the exception of my Iraq boss (who said in writing that the ambiguous he said/she said matter had been settled with a stern talking-to saying “get along”), everyone the investigator talked to was a contractor whose one-year-at-a-time $250,000+ contracts depended on the State Department’s regular renewals. One of the contractors, scheduled at first to be let go, instead had a contract renewed after the investigation commenced. Despite the “incident” taking maybe five minutes of real time in 2009, the investigator came up with 77 questions for me to answer under oath, this part of the several hundred page Report of Investigation (ROI). The Department has assigned a team of lawyers you’re paying for to depose me yet again on these identical questions because, well, they can.
When I objected to the ROI in a formal grievance, the State Department assigned the same lawyer prosecuting me for the alleged raising of a voice to review the grievance that sought to throw out the interviews that formed the basis of all charges. This essentially means that the prosecutor was allowed to rule on a motion to throw out the evidence that forms her own case. When I objected to this as a bit biased and unfair, I was told to shut up, it was OK, by a Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS), backed up by the Director General of the Foreign Service, the chief HR Officer for the whole Department of State.
To give you a sense of how much effort the State Department is spending on this case, have a look just at their filing just to try and prevent a short delay in the procedures (Dept Resp to Motion for Stay).
But as we stand today, even the State Department couldn’t figure out a way to make an alleged raised voice in the midst of a shooting war grounds for sexual harassment, so I was found guilty of the catch-all of “misconduct.” When I tried to appeal that decision, I was told that I could not ask more than 30 questions of the entire world of people in my defense, and that the State Department would first have to approve those questions in advance. One of the key witnesses ignored by State, a soldier, has died in the interim and can no longer testify on my behalf. Yeah, we thought it too, Kafkaesque.
The effect is chilling.
The State Department only interviewed people who had accused me and who had a clear financial incentive to side with the Department. The State Department refused to interview anyone else. They then found me guilty, and will only allow me a scant few emasculated questions. This shuts out of the process most of the people who might help establish my side of the story.
It essentially assures a guilty verdict every time by eliminating the defense.
No court would allow that, but State treats the employees it does not like that way, just like back when Uncle Joe McCarthy turned his wrath on the Department itself with similar tactics. They learn slow in Foggy Bottom, but they do learn.
The State Department does business this way, and everyone should know that.
Also, please note that the State Department has expended over 1000 personnel hours and the cost of a round-trip to Iraq for the investigator in pursuing a case whose absolute worst possible outcome is a simple Letter of Reprimand. Oh yeah—that investigator, the one who refused to interview neutral witnesses, remember she works for the State Department’s Office of Civil Rights. Ironic.
The book is out.
Congress, as it makes its budget decisions, should be aware of how State chooses to use its limited resources. Really, bullying is kind of immature for a Cabinet agency.
Is the juice worth the squeeze Hillary? They work for you. Is this the public image you want for your agency, because it is the image your staff is creating.
If you’ve come over from TomDispatch after reading my article there, I am fairly certain of at least one thing (besides your good taste in blogs): You don’t work for the State Department.
The State Department continues to block web sites within our offices such as Tom’s because they may contain content from Wikileaks, which although available all over the web, is still considered classified by the State Department. If you try to access a forbidden site, you get a message like this (click on the graphic below and it will enlarge so that your computer at home will look like a real US Government computer. Pretend you’re a real diplomat!):
The doesn’t-make-sense part is that the State firewall does not block mainstream web sites that have a lot more Wikileaks content than Tom’s. Examples include the Washington Post, The New York Times and the Guardian UK. All of these sites have and continue to include Wikileaks material that is otherwise still classified within Foggy Bottom.
Just to make sure our quotient of irony stays at Defcon 99, the State Department plans to spend $19 million on breaking Internet censorship overseas. State says it will give $19 million dollars to efforts to evade Internet controls in China, Iran and other authoritarian states which block online access to “politically sensitive material.” Michael Posner, the Assistant Secretary of State in charge of human rights, said that the funding would support technology to identify what countries are trying to censor and “redirecting information back in that governments have initially blocked; this is a cat-and-mouse game. We’re trying to stay one step ahead of the cat through email or posting it on blogs or RSS feeds or websites that the government hasn’t figured out how to block.”
I emailed a colleague in Beijing, and yes, Tom Dispatch is available there to him, at home. In his US Embassy office however, the site is still blocked.