• Hanging Out at the Playboy Mansion While Colonel Davis Waits for Justice

    May 20, 2013 // 13 Comments »

    Not to brag (OK, I’m bragging) but I am invited to the Playboy Mansion on May 22 to attend the Hugh Hefner First Amendment Awards. It is as good a place as any to hang out while one of this year’s award winners, Colonel Morris Davis, waits (and waits…) for justice as he struggles to protect his and our right to speak out against the government.

    Morris Davis v. Thomas Jefferson?

    Morris Davis is not some dour civil servant, and for most of his career, unlikely to have been a guest at the Playboy Mansion. Prior to joining the Library of Congress, he spent more than 25 years as an Air Force colonel. He was, in fact, the chief military prosecutor at Guantánamo and showed enormous courage in October 2007 when he resigned from that position and left the Air Force. Davis stated he would not use evidence obtained through torture. When a torture advocate was named his boss, Davis quit rather than face the inevitable order to reverse his position.

    Morris Davis then got fired from his research job at the Library of Congress for writing an article in the Wall Street Journal about the evils of justice perverted at Guantanamo, and a similar letter to the editor of the Washington Post. (The irony of being fired for exercising free speech while employed at Thomas Jefferson’s library evidently escaped his bosses.) With the help of the ACLU, Davis demanded his job back. On January 8, 2010, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Library of Congress on his behalf. In March 2011 a federal court ruled against the Obama Administration’s objections that the suit could go forward (You can read more about Davis’ struggle.)

    Justice Postponed is Justice Denied

    Moving “forward” is however a somewhat awkward term to use in regards to this case. In the past two years, forward has meant very little in terms of actual justice done. At about the same time in 2011 that Colonel Davis notified the government that he was going to be called as a defense witness for Bradley Manning, the Department of Justice filed a motion to dismiss Davis’ lawsuit against the government, actually seeking to make him pay the government’s court costs, and hinted at potential criminal charges because he copied some unclassified files from his office computer. Of course three years had passed since these alleged 2010 criminal acts and DOJ’s 2013 threats, so perhaps the timing was coincidence, but Colonel Davis said in an interview with me that he believes it was an attempt to discredit him and thus negate any help he could offer Manning.

    Despite DOJ’s clumsy efforts, the good news is that at a hearing about a month ago a federal judge denied the government’s stalling motion and the case is moving “forward” again. However, DOJ is again seeking to stall things with multiple delaying motions that require multiple responses, and the motions alone won’t be heard by a court until August. After that comes a lengthy discovery period that will likely take the case to the four year mark. Colonel Davis hopes he’ll get to trial before the five year point. He is a strong man, navigating more successfully between the empowering anger and the consuming bitterness than most people struggling against the government of the United States can manage. Still, it is hard for him to rationalize the amount of time and effort his own government is spending to limit the free speech rights of federal employees.

    Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Awards

    The government’s ability to limit free speech, to stopper the First Amendment, is perhaps the most critical issue our republic can face. If you were to write the history of the last decade in Washington, it might well be a story of how, issue by issue, the government freed itself from legal and constitutional bounds when it came to torture, the assassination of U.S. citizens, the holding of prisoners without trial or access to a court of law, the illegal surveillance of American citizens, and so on. In the process, it has entrenched itself in a comfortable shadowland of ever more impenetrable secrecy, while going after any whistleblower who might shine a light in. All that stands in counter to the government’s actions is the First Amendment, exactly as the Founders designed it to be.

    The Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Awards were established in 1979 to honor individuals who make significant contributions to protect First Amendment rights for Americans. Since the inception of the awards, more than 100 individuals including high school students, lawyers, librarians, journalists and educators have been honored. I am very proud that two of last year’s winners, whistleblowers Tom Drake and Jesselyn Radack, are my friends, and that Radack helped defend my right to speak against the Department of State.

    So congratulations to Colonel Davis. He earned this award and I’ll be proud to watch him receive it from Christie Hefner on May 22. He is in good company, as Daniel Ellsberg, the Vietnam War era’s version of Bradley Manning, is also being honored. By standing up against a government that is doing wrong, and seeking to bring those wrongs into daylight, both men have earned the privilege to be called patriots. All that said, it is an odd state of things. The only mainstream introspection of the government takes place on Comedy Central. Of all the possible ways I dreamed of getting into the Playboy Mansion over the years, this was not one of them. Nasty business, fighting for one’s First Amendment rights these days. Strange times make for strange bedfellows, even at the Playboy Mansion.





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    Posted in Democracy

    We are All Bradley Manning: 1000 Days in Jail without a Conviction

    February 25, 2013 // 13 Comments »

    Bradley Manning, the young army private who allegedly disclosed the Wikileaks files, must be given a fair, open and speedy trial. He has been held over three years, often in solitary and inhumane conditions. He has been convicted of no crime. This is simply and self-evidently wrong.

    The crimes Manning is accused of, a cascading series of offenses all restating that he leaked classified material, hurt no one; the government, in fact, has gone out of its way to declare that it need not show any damage done in its pursuit of the death penalty for Manning. The US Department of State, whose 100,000 leaked cables have been on the internet for over three years, formed then quickly disbanded a “task force” designed to show all the terrible things that resulted from Manning’s alleged disclosures. The Department has since, in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, itself released documents Manning is threatened with the gallows for releasing. No harm has been shown, no lives lost, no American goals thwarted.

    I probably had dinner with Bradley Manning when we were both stationed at Forward Operating Base Hammer in Iraq at the same time (I worked for the Department of State). The office where he allegedly did his dirty work was down the hall from mine, so it is hard to believe we never walked past each other or shared a table in the single cafeteria on base.

    In 2011 as a State Department employee, I linked from my personal blog to a document on the Wikileaks site, a document that may have been provided by Manning. In return for this simple internet link, the State Department took away my security clearance, threatened me with prosecution and stripped me of my career of 24 years as a diplomat, all without any review, due process or opportunity to rebut their silly accusation that I too had disclosed classified material, via a hyperlink. My life changed, with a stroke of a pen, as is said.

    Bradley Manning, convicted of no crime, is in his third year of incarceration. He spent part of the first year in a literal cage in Kuwait, followed by a year or more in custody where he was stripped of his clothing, not allowed contact with any humans besides his jailers and constantly mocked, ridiculed a and taunted, all without any review, due process or opportunity to rebut the accusations against him. With a stroke of a pen, as is said.

    A lot of things happen now in America with the stroke of a pen: innocent people end up on no-fly lists, Occupy organizers have their phone calls and emails monitored, jobs are denied to hard working people after some “background check” fails and in the ultimate, a drone may kill a person. All without any review, due process or opportunity to rebut.

    Our nation was founded on a set of ideas, some dating as far back as the Magna Carta. Chief among those ideas was an overriding principle that the people should be able to live their lives unmolested by their government, and that to ensure that, restraints were written into law that would prevent the government from taking away someone’s privacy, freedom or life arbitrarily. Courts, open and public, would weigh the government’s desire to deprive people of their lives against these broader principles. It was what made America a special place, perhaps the only nation founded on an idea. We have abandoned those concepts. We have failed Bradley Manning and we have failed ourselves.

    I don’t know what Bradley Manning did, and neither do you. A court must decide, in a speedy and open manner because that is what our America is about. Everyday Manning is denied that right—and it was 1000 days as of February 23—we are all denied that right. America is nothing but a sum of its people, and when we deny justice to one we deny it to all. Give Bradley Manning a fair, speedy and open trial for his sake, for our own sake and for this nation’s sake.



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    Posted in Democracy

    After a Year of Serious Roars and Growls, State Dept Officially Retires FSO-Non Grata

    October 13, 2012 // 20 Comments »

    The most important foreign service blog out there, Diplopundit, has a nice write up, sort of an obituary really, of this past year, my struggle with the State Department.

    Diplopundit focuses on the big picture. Forget about what you think of me or my book or my efforts and think about the institution, the venerable Department of State. Diplopundit posits that over the past year dozens or more staffers have been involved in my prosecution, memos written, maybe even awards and kudos handed out to workers who participated. And the sum of all that time, money and effort was?

    Pretty much squat.

    Despite the full resources of the Department of State, I did and still do continue to speak out. I retired maybe a bit earlier than I was originally planning, but I did retire free and normal. More importantly, what I wrote stands. The descriptions of waste and mismanagement in Iraq reconstruction I wrote have entered the zeitgeist and will pretty much always be there as a counterpoint to State’s own rapidly discredited happy talk version of events (By the way, how’s Iraq working out? That World’s Largest Embassy in Baghdad still seem like a good idea?)

    What does it say about an institution like State that not only did it expend all these resources against one employee, but that its expenditure accomplished nothing? What does it say about State when it reacts this violently against a critic, a whistleblower, one of its own long-serving employees who only told the story of his own experiences?

    Despite the thousands of pages of crap turned out by State in its witch hunt and the hundreds or more personhours expended, not once did they claim anything I wrote was false. Not one fact was ever challenged. Not one figure or example was ever offered in rebuttal. The only things that oozed out were sad personal attacks against me.

    Now, what does that say about your Department of State? Madame Secretary, a response in defense of your organization? Don’t worry if you’re too busy to respond now, we’ll be asking the same questions in 2016.



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    Posted in Democracy

    Something Stinks

    September 13, 2012 // 5 Comments »

    There is something very wrong here. I just wasted thirteen minutes of my life watching the supposed trailer of the supposed movie that has inflamed protesters in Egypt and Libya. The film purports to depict scenes from the life of the Prophet Muhammad.

    The version I watched is on YouTube. I have no interest in reposting it here, but YouTube says some half a million people have watched the English version, so go see it yourself if you care to.

    The film is a poorly made and amateur-acted video. The acting is 1970′s porno quality, and most scenes are shot with a cheesy green screen background and hopelessly fake dubbed in dialogue. Most of what you see is offensive to nearly everyone, with rude remarks about child molestation, homosexuality and near-constant vicious remarks about Islam and the Koran. It looks like it was thrown together in an afternoon with the design of just pissing people off.

    The Atlantic has an article linking the film to Florida racist “preacher” Terry Jones, the asshole who got worldwide attention for himself by threatening to desecrate the Koran (thanks media!) Another web site has a few details about the video’s titular producer, who it claims is an Egyptian Coptic Christian living in California. The AP thinks it has found another Coptic Christian who was involved in the film. Gawker interviews one of the “actresses,” seen in the video receiving simulated oral sex, claiming she had no idea what the movie was about. Gawker is also trolling for more info on the whole thing if you care to submit anything (I certainly don’t want it).

    The Internet conspiracy tubes are overflowing, claiming the film is an Israeli and/or CIA deep cover op to justify US military intervention in the Middle East. It all somehow ties into invading Iran and maybe 9/11 somehow. Others claim the film was made by some mysterious Arabs to justify throwing the US out of the Middle East.

    I am not a big conspiracy guy, but everything about this smells bad. Just how did this crappy video come to the attention of so many people? The YouTube version I watched was posted there in July; why now did everyone wake up to it? Who bothered to even spend lunch money on such horrible garbage? There is a lot unknown. I’d like to hope all those people monitoring everything everywhere could take a few minutes to figure out who and what is behind this mess.

    BONUS: For the few dumbasses mumbling about “free speech,” this is not it. Hate speech can and is limitable.



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    Posted in Democracy

    On Social Media, State Department Stands Alone

    July 15, 2012 // 5 Comments »




    (This article was originally published on the Huffington Post, June 1, 2012)

    As other parts of the Federal government begin to examine their own practices toward social media and publication review, the State Department stands alone in clinging to a 19th century model emphasizing lack of transparency and message control. That State seeks this modus in a largely unclassified world and while other agencies move toward change makes even more ripe State’s policies for a judicial challenge.

    Introspection at the CIA

    The CIA, for example, has begun a voluntary internal investigation into whether a process designed to screen books by former employees for classified information is wrongly and unconstitutionally being used to censor agency critics. The investigation is aimed at determining whether some redactions have been politically motivated. The target of the probe is the agency’s Publications Review Board, which is supposed to focus on whether publication of material would threaten national security interests. CIA critics said the disparities in the review process are particularly apparent in books that deal with controversial subjects, including waterboarding and other forms of “authorized” torture. (The Washington Post story on the CIA’s internal reform was of course not included in the State Department’s own internal press summary of the same day’s “Federal News.”)

    Embracing Social Media in the Army

    The State Department’s regulations also trail behind other government agencies, particularly the military. Military regulations concerning blogging and social media are not onerous and do not involve pre-clearance requirements. The Army encourages blogging in both official and private capacities, and has published glossy brochure-ware highlighting best practices for each. Though the Army heavily regulated military blogging briefly in 2008, it quickly reversed course. Military Law statutes, regulations, and cases available do not contain any references to pre-clearance requirements.

    In fact, the Army social media guidelines are all online, in a colorful, user-friendly slideshow. They begin with the stated premise that “It is important to be as transparent as possible. As communicators, we need to be the first with the truth, whether it’s good or bad.” The emphasis in the Army guidelines is on good judgement– don’t post things online that could endanger soldiers’ lives– with not a word mentioned about the need to pre-clear (indeed, the Army emphasizes the value of social media is in its immediacy) or the requirement to say only “nice things.” Indeed, the introduction to the social media guidelines emphasizes displaying the good with the bad, with “truth” as the goal. The Army guidelines provide lots of examples and include easy-to-understand (“soldier-proof”) checklists of Do’s and Don’t's.

    State Stands Alone

    And then, standing alone, is the State Department.

    State has its own regulations (not “guidelines”) on social media. No slick slide shows at State. The social media regs start with 15 pages of text, and begin by citing 27 Executive Orders, OMB decisions and Federal laws the user is responsible for following, including 18 U.S.C. 713 and 1017, Use of Department and Government Seals (rather than prohibiting the use of Seals and logos, as State does, the Army includes links to web-ready artwork so social media users get the images right) and whatever the Anti-Lobbying Act of 1913, is.

    The secret sauce hidden in State’s hefty social media regulations is 3 FAM 4170, Official Clearance of Speaking, Writing, and Teaching. That reg is State’s requirement that all social media, even when posted as a private citizen, be pre-cleared, and that the State Department is allowed up to 30 working days to act.

    That means the State Department demands of all of its thousands of employees that they seek pre-clearance for every blog post, update and Tweet, every day, 24/7. An exaggeration on my part? Sorry, no– have a look at the compliance letter I was forced to sign as a condition of employment, which specifically mentions these things even when done by an employee in his or her private capacity.

    Obviously State cannot pre-clear what must add up to millions of social media utterances each week, and so it does not. In many instances when I have sought pre-clearance for a blog post on some timely matter, State simply sat on a response until, weeks later, the blog post was so irrelevant that it was not usable anymore. The law anticipated this type of government-foot-dragging-as-shadow-censorship, and in a seminal case on the free speech rights of Federal workers, stated:

    But even then insistence on advance approval would raise a further question, as before-the-fact condemnation of speech raises special concerns such as undue delay-the review itself plus time needed for a speaker to secure judicial relief-and stifling of expression that in hindsight would have been viewed as harmless or not worth the enforcement effort.


    Droppin’ Some Law On ‘Ya

    It was actions such as this that lead the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to assert that the State Department violated my First Amendment free speech rights and acted unconstitutionally. My attempts to clear items for publication were met with lengthy delays and periods of no contact. It was indeed such actions by the Department that often lead me to publish without preclearance so that the material was relevant to breaking news.

    Want some law? Specifically on the issue of foot dragging on pre-clearance as a clever technique to kill a story, in Weaver the Court noted “if the prior review were extensive, of course, it might delay constitutionally protected speech to a time when its only relevance was to historians.” In Crue v. Aiken, the 7th Circuit found a pre-clearance directive without a schedule for the review of proposed communications problematic because nothing prevented the reviewing official from delaying approval of communications until they were no longer relevant. (Crue v. Aiken, 370 F.3d 668, 679 (7th Cir. 2004)).

    In Davis v. New Jersey Dept. of Law & Pub. Safety, the NJ Superior Court recognized that “before-the-fact review and approval requirements restrict employee speech—and raise special concerns such as undue delay and stifling of expression that in hindsight may be viewed as harmless or not worth the enforcement effort.” (Davis v. New Jersey Dept. of Law & Pub. Safety, Div. of State Police, 742 A.2d 619, 628-29 (Ch. Div. 1999)). Davis citing the Supreme Court in Freedman v. State of Maryland, notes that the danger present when a regulation “is made unduly onerous, by reason of delay or otherwise, to seek judicial review, the censor’s determination may in practice be final.” (Freedman v. State of Md., 380 U.S. 51, 58, 85 S. Ct. 734, 738, 13 L. Ed. 2d 649 (1965)).

    I know, I know, too heavy Doc. It took the ACLU five dense pages to spell out in legal detail all the ways the State Department social media regulations were unconstitutional and violated my First Amendment free speech rights.

    Bottom Line

    So it is not as simple as some claim, broadly announcing that Federal employees give up their First Amendment rights, or that social media and the responsibilities of a classified job are incompatible. Federal employees do not give up their First Amendment rights, and there is plenty of law to substantiate that.

    The bottom line is this: If the hyper-classified CIA recognizes the need for an internal review of its pre-clearance process, why doesn’t the State Department? If the military, with its obvious day-to-day operational need for secrecy and its immediate impact on soldiers’ lives, can co-exist without pre-clearance restraints on blogs, why can’t State?

    Given the chance to make sane, voluntary changes to an obviously out-dated social media policy that stands outside the boundaries of other Federal agencies with a whole lot more secrets to protect, State appears ready to instead insist on having those changes dictated to it by a court. That is an expensive, and in this case, unnecessary way to change out-dated regulations.



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    Posted in Democracy

    Radack, Drake Win Hugh Hefner First Amendment Award

    June 5, 2012 // 2 Comments »

    I am very pleased and proud that my attorney, Jesslyn Radack of the Government Accountability Project, and my friend and colleague Tom Drake, NSA Whistleblower, are the winners of this year’s Hugh M. Hefner Foundation First Amendment Awards. Radack and Drake are being acknowledged for their critical work exposing national security hypocrisy and abuses.

    The Hefner Foundation has given out the First Amendment Awards since 1980, honoring those who have made contributions to the protections afforded under the First Amendment. Radack and Drake join an impressive rank of winners, including the likes of Walter Karp, Studs Terkel, Cecile Richards, Michael Moore, John Seigenthaler, Bill Maher, and Molly Ivins.

    Tom Drake blew the whistle on fraud, waste and abuse within the NSA and was rewarded by being prosecuted under the Espionage Act, a tactic the Obama administration has now used six times against intelligence whistleblowers, more than all previous administrations combined. Radack, herself a Department of Justice whistleblower, represented Drake and played a vital role in winning his case in the court of public opinion.

    My congratulations to Jesslyn and Tom on the award, and here’s hoping that Jess soon adds a victory for free speech over the State Department in my own case to her impressive resume.



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    Posted in Democracy

    US Ambassador: State Dept. promotes freedom abroad but supresses whistleblower here

    June 4, 2012 // 2 Comments »

    In addition to the ACLU, the Government Accountability Project, the Project on Government Oversight and others chastising the Department of State for hypocritically supporting web freedom abroad while planning to fire me here at home for writing this blog, former US Ambassador to Mozambique and Peru Dennis Jett now joins the growing list of prominent critics.

    Ambassador Jett writes:

    Secretary of State Hillary Clinton forcefully intervened recently on behalf of Chen Guancheng, the blind Chinese dissident, who has been hounded by his government for criticizing official policy. It’s too bad she won’t afford the same consideration to the employees of her own department.

    Secretary Clinton has made defending the kind of freedom of expression that Chen tried to practice one of the hallmarks of her time in office. In a speech at the Newseum in Washington in early 2010, she insisted citizens must have the right to criticize their governments not just in the public square, but also in blogs, emails, social networks, text messages and other new forums for exchanging ideas. Governments should not attempt to censor or limit such activity she asserted, noting proudly that the State Department was working in more than 40 countries to help individuals silenced by oppressive governments.

    Why, then, is the State Department trying to silence one of its employees for remarks it does not like and attempting to criminalize his exercise of freedom of speech? The book and a blog by Van Buren were apparently more freedom-of-expression than the State Department could tolerate however.

    The chilling effect on State Department employees of such a blatant attempt to silence unwelcome opinions is apparently not limited to Van Buren’s case. The American Foreign Service Association, the professional association of the Foreign Service, gives four annual awards each to recognize employees who have “exhibited extraordinary accomplishment involving initiative, integrity, intellectual courage and constructive dissent.” In three of the last four years, there has been no winner of the award for either junior officers or senior officers.



    Read Ambassador Jett’s full article online now.



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    Posted in Democracy

    Thanks to Penn State!

    May 27, 2012 // 1 Comment »

    My thanks to everyone at Penn State for hosting me recently when I spoke at the university.

    My talk was part of The School of International Affairs’ Global Issues Colloquium, bringing leading thinkers, authors, and scholars to Penn State to discuss the latest research and trends in foreign relations, conflict resolution, food security, poverty, religion, terrorism, and nation building. Organized by Professor Dennis Jett, a retired U.S. Ambassador, all presentations are open to the public and webcast live.

    The theme of the series is best expressed by Ambassador Jett. “Major international problems cannot be solved through just one academic discipline,” said Amb. Jett. “Our guests have a wide range of practical experiences and perspectives to share.”

    You can read more about my presentation here.

    Comments were positive; one student wrote the presentation was “informative, hilarious and heart felt. The entire class, including myself, enjoyed meeting you and hearing the truth.”



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    Posted in Democracy

    WaPo: ACLU throws support behind State Department whistleblower

    May 24, 2012 // 3 Comments »




    Today’s Washington Post featured a story on how the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has continued to support my case that the Department of State has continued to violate my First Amendment rights by moving to fire me because of this blog. You can read the entire story here.

    The State Department puts together an overnight, internal-use only media summary for busy diplomats to read first thing in the morning as a way of quickly knowing what happened whilst they acquired their beauty sleep. Though the summary features most every story about the Department from the Washington Post, inexplicably today’s WaPo piece about the ACLU was omitted. One day the State Department will realize that its lame efforts to control every message only end up making them look dumber and dumber all the time. That day is, however, not today.

    I was very gratified to see that the nation’s premier authority on free speech, the ACLU, studied the State Department’s actions and, in five pages of legal analysis, concluded unambiguously that the Department of State acted unconstitutionally and violated my First Amendment rights.

    The ACLU didn’t just say that government employees retain their free speech rights, it laid out the legal doctrine behind that statement in great detail. This helps not only me, but also every other US government employee out there who still believes his/her oath is to the Constitution, and is not some silly loyalty pledge designed to hide their agency’s dirty laundry.

    The State Department may still fire me, but they now are on notice that the issues they will fire me for will not go away. Ultimately, State’s actions against the Constitution will need to be judged not by their own misguided ideas but by a court.

    It is also a shame that the State Department, the part of the US government directly charged with speaking abroad about America’s democracy and freedoms, feels it necessary to deny its own employees those same freedoms. It weakens the institution, and it weakens the State Department’s own credibility overseas.

    Who knows, maybe the Chinese government will step in and demand the US recognize my rights as a citizen?



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    Posted in Democracy

    Clinton Drowns on Own Hypocrisy

    May 23, 2012 // 5 Comments »




    Holding one of her endless signature “Town Hall Meetings,” this time on the role of enhancing civil society, Secretary Clinton stated (apparently without irony as she is programmed to do):

    Each time a reporter is silenced or an activist is threatened it doesnt strengthen government, it weakens a nation… We have to continue making the case for respect, tolerance, openness, which are at the root of sustainable democracy.

    Meanwhile, in a parallel universe, The American Conservative said:

    The American Civil Liberties Union has weighed in on the case of Peter Van Buren, saying his [planned] firing from the State Department this year is unconstitutional, as it violates his First Amendment right to free speech “and creates the appearance of impermissible retaliation for Mr. Van Buren’s criticism of the State Department.”

    So what is it about Van Buren’s writings that the U.S government fears so much? In plain language and with honesty, Van Buren was able to open a window into the Iraq War policy that very few, if any, had been able to do before.

    “I’ll be gone one way or the other soon enough,” said Van Buren, “but there will be another blogger and another author and another employee unafraid to speak out coming up behind me…The government thinks they can bully us, but not when we stick together and fight back. That’s a good thing about America.”

    To be continued.

    In other news, Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize statue momentarily became alive, and immediately tried to commit suicide by jumping off a high shelf. After having it thrashed, Obama then ordered that it be melted down and re-manufactured in Hellfire missile parts.


    Read the full story at The American Conservative. You can also learn more with articles on Fire Dog Lake and Wired.com

    Also:

    Diplopundit

    Daily Kos

    Findlaw

    Peter B. Collins Radio Show (West Coast, California and Pacific NW)

    The Pulse Morning Show (Maine, New England)

    Cryptome

    Whistleblower.org

    Repressive Blog

    Reason.com

    Jezebel

    Cancer Site Online

    TechInvestor news

    Shareconnector

    RoadRunner

    Hacking Expose




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    Posted in Democracy

    Nipple Question to the State Department

    May 17, 2012 // Comments Off

    might be mineIn a statement to the Washington Post, State Department spokesman Mark C. Toner said the censored Foreign Service blog that addressed one breast cancer survivor’s story “has been restored” on the State Department’s recruitment page. “It had been taken down as part of a periodic effort by a contractor to review and freshen the blog links on the site.”

    Does this mean I’m still getting fired for my blog? My story was also in the Washington Post but I am being punished, not rewarded, for the interview I gave.

    It sure seems the primary difference between the blogs you endorse and mine is simply the content; judging based on what I write is why the ACLU admonished the Department for violating my first amendment rights. The current “Nipple-gate” story just enforces that.

    Can I haz my job pleaz?



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    Posted in Democracy

    Mrs. Clinton, you have a problem.

    // 1 Comment »




    It was with great pleasure that I saw my friend at the Washington Post, Lisa Rein, bring more daylight on the latest anti-free speech action by the State Department, State’s censoring of a blog because it mentioned the writer’s battle with breast cancer. Lisa Rein has written about my own efforts to reform State’s unconstitutional practices, and I was pleased to bring the latest act of the Department to her attention. I am very glad she took the story.

    It is now time for the Department of State to stand up and admit it: I have a problem with blogs. I need help.

    The State Department has pressured numerous employees to quit blogging at the risk of their career. When I refused to cave in, they began termination proceedings.

    Yet the State Department tries to use employee blogs it agrees with as bait to attract new recruits, even listing some on its own US Government website. State turns a blind eye to the fact that not all of those blogs include the proper disclaimer, and that not all of those blog adhere to the same pre-clearance regulations I am being fired for and which the ACLU has declared unconstitutional. I doubt all of those “acceptable” bloggers have been forced to sign a Compliance Letter as a condition of continued employment. Blogger Jen did not get pre-permission from State to speak to the Post yesterday, though I am being fired for not getting pre-permission from State to speak to the Post in the past.

    All this double-talk because State wants the advertising bang such first-hand accounts provide to its recruitment efforts.

    In Jen’s case, State was happy to pimp her blog on its own web site as long as she was writing plucky tales of life abroad. But, as soon as she mentioned her battle with breast cancer, State deep sixed her blog, disappeared it. State will break the rules for verbiage it likes, and enforce the rules right up to termination when it does not like what someone says.

    Another State Department blogger puts it this way:

    Simply put, the State Department has two completely opposite opinions when it comes to social media (like blogging). One side of State wants nothing more than to shut down all State blogs. Period. Blogs by employees, blogs by spouses, it doesn’t matter – all of them should be GONE.

    My husband has personally seen this side of State many, many times, via many different official people, during the course of an uncountable number of official meetings over the last few years. As many of my readers know, my blog has been shut down twice…most recently, just a couple of months ago. The only reason why my blog is up now and still exists today is because my DS Special Agent husband feels most emphatically that: I am a private U.S. citizen, and my blog represents/is protected by my right to freedom of speech.

    Believe me when I say that he has endured much in defense of his position.

    Being on The Official Blog List actually painted an even bigger bulls eye on my back. And not just on my back, but on the backs of other State bloggers on The List. To date, to my knowledge, at least three State bloggers (and perhaps even up to five) on The List have since been shut down. And there were probably, oh, I don’t know, only about a dozen or so blogs on that List when it began. So, you know, not the best odds of bloggy survival.


    So there it is. This is not an isolated incident, a disgruntled employee or two who can be disappeared to fix the problem.

    Mrs. Clinton, you now have the Washington Post– twice– pointing out the hypocrisy your Department visits upon social media. You have the American Civil Liberties Union stating your policies are unconstitutional and that you violate the First Amendment rights of your own employees. You have droids in your organization who mistreat people with breast cancer because of blogs. This story is spreading now via breast cancer awareness sites. You have a lot of employees who think it is time for a more rational policy, one that is applied equally to all.

    Mrs. Clinton, you have a problem. Admit it, and seek a solution. It won’t go away by itself. You have to do something about it.




    (Inside baseball extra bonus: The State Department publishes daily an internal-only summary of Washington Post articles. Curiously, the WaPo article on Jen’s blog was omitted. One can guess why such self-censorship seems to make sense to the ever-skittish State Department)

    (Extra, extra bonus: In a statement to the Washington Post, State Department spokesman Mark C. Toner said the blog “has been restored” on the State Department’s recruitment page. “It had been taken down as part of a periodic effort by a contractor to review and freshen the blog links on the site.” Like everyone believes that. OMG, does he kiss his mother with that mouth?)




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    Posted in Democracy

    State Department Does Not Care for Breast Cancer Talk

    May 16, 2012 // 4 Comments »

    Don’t bury the lede: The State Department disowned a blog by a Foreign Service officer’s spouse because it discussed her own struggle with breast cancer instead of the happy traveling tales they seek.

    I’m sure by now you’ve seen the ACLU statement, which basically says the State Department rules on blogs and free speech would not withstand a Constitutional challenge, and that my First Amendment rights were violated. In support of me, the ACLU did a deep dive into the books, and found State’s regulations wanting, particularly as they apply to new media/social media.

    I am not the only Foreign Service blogger out here, of course. There are hundreds of us. In fact, to cozy up to “young people” who are considering a career in the Foreign Service, State even links to some illegal Foreign Service blogs on its own US Government web page. Have a look! Linking to those blogs is an attempt to show that the State Department is a “with it” place to work, a “groovy gig” for “teens” who Twitter or something.

    Some are More Equal Than Others

    Now the question is of course why are some blogs that violate the rules quite officially accepted by the State Department, and why are other blogs that violate the rules (mine!) fodder to get the author fired. It seems to have something to do with content; if what you write fits State’s agenda, you can break the rules all you want. You don’t even have to update– one linked blog hasn’t been touched for over a year but since it paints a happy-rosy picture of our 51st state in Iraq, it is all OK.

    Since State refuses to join the current century and update its social media guidelines, and since writing down “we’ll screw you if you cross us” would not help attract job candidates, we in the blogosphere are forced to identify the boundaries by bumping into them, like walking through the house in the dark.

    Cancer is Not Allowed

    A new boundary at State is nipples. Can’t talk about them. Or breast cancer, don’t talk about that either. One long time Foreign Service blogger, Jen, was dumped from the official list of good blogs by the Department of State. She received an email from State explaining why:


    Hopefully, you can understand that some topics covered in your blog are very personal in nature, e.g. nipple cozies, and wouldn’t necessarily resonate with the majority of potential candidates who are interested in learning about the FS life overseas. Through our years of recruitment experience, we found that FS prospects want to learn more about the work that’s conducted, the people and cultures with whom they will interact, the travel experiences, and the individual stories our employees have to share.

    Jen’s response was straightforward:


    So you mean describing stories about life after a diagnosis of breast cancer while your FS husband is serving in Iraq on an unaccompanied tour 6,219 miles away is not an individual story? You mean detailing how you got through said issue, how you managed to pick yourself up off the floor each day despite feeling like your world had completely fallen apart (oh, wait, it had) and managed to somehow dust yourself off and keep going with your Foreign Service life is of no interest? Guess that means I am the *only* one who will ever have to deal with such a thing.

    The fact that we ended up doing a second unaccompanied tour? Booooring. Or that I had what, 4 surgeries in the past 18 months (scheduled AROUND my husband’s most recent posting, so that he would be able to complete his obligations?)? Um, hello, that’s *too* personal, repugnant even!

    So, as a public service, all State Department personnel should in their blogs a) not mention nipples; b) pretend everything is as happy as pooping out unicorns and gold dust and c) tell spunky stories of adventure abroad so that gullible young people will continue to join the ranks of we few, we happy few.

    Meanwhile, Hilary Clinton’s State Department will continue to pretend to support breast cancer awareness when it has propaganda value, while hoping any of her employees or their family members afflicted with the disease will just shut the hell up.

    And to bring it all full circle, the State Department censored Jen’s blog about her breast cancer the day after they got the ACLU letter talking about first amendment rights.



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    Posted in Democracy

    A New Low: State Department Censors Internal Dialogue to Block ACLU Discussion

    // 2 Comments »

    A comment on the story below of the ACLU’s support of free speech for federal employees humorously remarked

    The State Department has classified the ACLU letter and issued a warning to its busy workers in the hive not to read the letter: “federal employees and contractors who believe they may have inadvertently accessed or downloaded this letter without prior authorization, should contact their information security offices for assistance.”

    Well, fiction became reality as the State Department has stooped to a new low, censoring comments on the ACLU from a purely internal discussion Intranet forum.

    Sounding Board

    Hillary Clinton initiated something at State called the “Sounding Board,” a forum available to State Department employees only on the internal Intranet. It is not available to the public. Clinton described the initiative as

    I ask you to apply the same robust diplomacy and engagement inside this building and at other posts across the world, a willingness to discuss and debate, to be open-minded, forward-thinking, to share better ideas, better methods, better ways of executing the very difficult tasks confronting us.

    And inaugurated the forum with the vision statement that it

    Afford employees the opportunity to provide feedback on management ideas, programs, and initiatives, Promote open debate and discussion on innovation and reform, Foster discourse between employees and the Department’s senior leadership.


    My Contribution to the Sounding Board

    So it seemed to me that the world’s premier free speech advocate, the ACLU, declaiming that the State Department’s regulations blocking blogging and the first amendment rights of its employees were unconstitutional, might be of interest to other employees, and that the need to discuss changing those regulations is real. I posted this comment on the internal forum with links:

    The ACLU, in reviewing State’s preclearance policies in relation to my case, has found them to be unconstitutional and to exercise unjustified restraint. Now, the question is, will the Department change, or again have to be forced to change?

    Ok, right? No naughty words, nothing inflammatory. And so State censored it, deleted it, disappeared it so that no employee could see it, based on an anonymous accusation. Accusations at State are always made anonymously. Here’s what the moderator said

    The Sounding Board wasn’t designed to handle individually-specific cases, or cases that are under formal review of any sort. Our publishing guidelines state this, but more honestly, there are issues that are much bigger than our two moderators can handle. And yours is one of them. We have to let the procedures set in place, that you’re exercising, run their course.


    What it Means

    The State Department now has fallen to the level of censoring its own discussion forum specifically designed to “promote open debate and discussion on innovation and reform.” They want to disappear ideas that they don’t agree with. I’ve resubmitted the comment in hopes that the Stasi at State are down at Starbucks and it’ll slip through. Jeez, grow a pair, will ya’?

    Update

    State, to their credit, has now allowed a modified version of my comment online, with a note that discussion of my specific case will not be allowed.

    OK, cool. I don’t really care that employees talk about me (though they are welcome). My case itself is getting plenty of media and attention beyond the internal Sounding Board. My point is to discuss the use of social media by employees, and the ACLU statement is significant. I don’t recall in my own 24 years too many other instances where some of State regulations have been labeled unconstitutional. Social media will continue to grow, and the Department needs realistic, clear rules that are applied uniformly. Without them, you have the chaos that I have participated in for the past year or so. That does no one any good.

    State dragged its feet on the treatment of women and African Americans, and suffered for it. State took the lead on rights for LGBT employees and has profited from it. State should step up on the issue of social media and let itself be seen as a model of the free speech it advocates worldwide.



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    Posted in Democracy

    ACLU: State Department Violates Van Buren’s Constitutional Rights

    // 5 Comments »



    (This article also appeared on the Huffington Post, May 17, 2012)

    The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in a letter to the Department of State, said today that the Department’s actions against my book and this blog are unconstitutional, that State’s actions “constitute a violation of Van Buren’s constitutional rights.”

    Straight up, no qualifiers.

    The ACLU reminds the State Department that the Courts have said that “Speech concerning public affairs is more than self-expression, it is the essence of self-government” and citing the numerous legal challenges the State Department has willfully ignored that grant government employees the same First Amendment rights all Americans enjoy.

    Which is what we’ve been saying all along, here, in the New York Times, on NPR, CNN and elsewhere.

    After reviewing the State Department’s policies and regulations, the ACLU states that “The State Department’s pre-publication review process, as it applies to blogs and articles raises serious Constitutional questions,” then goes on to detail those questions. The ACLU notes that State’s actions toward me are but one example of its unconstitutional actions and apply to other employees as well. They conclude that “it is highly unlikely that the State Department could sustain its burden of demonstrating that its policy is constitutional… There is no justification for such expansive prior restraint on State Department employees’ speech.”

    Now them’s fightin’ words, folks.

    Read the entire letter on the ACLU’s website. It is powerful stuff.

    What It Means

    The ACLU’s announcement that the Department of State has violated the Constitutional rights, the First Amendment rights, of one of its own employees comes to the day, 225 years later, that the Constitutional Convention opened in Philadelphia and the founders began writing an extraordinary document. The First Amendment was added later, but the spirit of free speech underlies every clause and sentence of the original document. It is embedded in the very parchment.

    The Founders would retch to see what has become of the spirit of the Enlightment that drove them, simply because America got frightened after 9/11. Those beautiful words of the First Amendment, almost haiku-like, are the sparse poetry of the American democratic experiment. The Founders purposely wrote the First Amendment to read broadly, and not like a snippet of tax code, in order to emphasize that it should encompass everything from shouted religious rantings to eloquent political criticism. Madison and Jefferson were strong enough to give away the power of a government they would run, and place it in the hands of the people that government would serve. There’s courage most of us can never fully understand.

    Now, very sadly, our first Cabinet agency, the Department of State, the part of the US government that speaks most directly to people abroad about freedom and democracy, is run by much smaller men and women. They are afraid of their own employees and afraid of what you– The People– will know the way they go about their wretched business. Hillary Clinton, herself a candidate to take over the seat once held by giants like Jefferson, Adams and Madison, has turned her internal security against a blog, and ordered her frightened followers to get rid of one employee because of a book. Her acts now have a label that will follow her and her Department long past my departure: Unconstitutional.

    Every fluffy speech she makes to Syrian bloggers, or Chinese dissenters, will carry an asterisk– but Madame Secretary, as you criticize oppressive regimes for shutting down free speech, didn’t you order your own followers to silence a critic? Didn’t your Department act unconstitutionally? Are your actions somehow different than Bejing’s?

    Did not you violate, willfully, clearly and repeatedly Madame Secretary the First Amendment rights of an American Citizen? How will you answer them Madame Secretary? Will you lie? Will you defame the ACLU? Will you apply your own legal skills to the analysis of your wrongs? Mumble about a disgruntled employee? Or will you remain silent?

    Of course the State Department has not responded to all this. They have not answered me, they have not answered your letters and emails, they have not answered Members of Congress and they have not answered the ACLU. Why not? There is the ACLU letter, five dense pages of legal justification that leads to the core statement:

    State’s actions constitute a violation of Van Buren’s constitutional rights.. That is the issue. Now, finally, Madame Secretary, how will you answer?



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    Posted in Democracy

    What it All Means: Is America Served Well by Silencing Dissent?

    May 15, 2012 // 4 Comments »

    For those joining our story already in progress, here’s the Twitter-length summary: I’ve worked for the State Department as a Foreign Service Office for some 24 years. I spent a year in Iraq, wrote a book critical of the State Department’s waste and mismanagement in Iraq, blogged about it and now am being fired from the State Department for all that.

    Diplopundit, still the best blog and perhaps the best news source on the State Department, has written a long piece trying to answer the question of what all that means:

    Had Mr. Van Buren, a midlevel FS-01 quit after his return from Baghdad, then wrote his book, we probably would be talking about his book for like, 15 minutes, then forget about it. But that’s not how it happens. He got his 15 minutes of fame plus more. Along the way, we learned a bit more not only about how we spent $44.6 billion in taxpayer funds on rebuilding Iraq but also on the the shallowness of our convictions– from our tolerance to dissenting views, to our much touted push for Internet Freedom and 21st Century Statecraft, as long as they’re not our guys.

    The State Department spends much money and effort to recruit and train the “best and the brightest” to represent America overseas, then proceeds to hammer and shape them into, I’m sorry to say, drones, who follow directions, not cause waves and most importantly, whose stingers are without barbs… How can we cultivate leaders, risk takers, innovators and independent thinkers for the 21st century in an environment that penalizes such traits?

    No matter how Peter Van Buren’s case turns out, the signal had been sent loud and clearly. A Director General of the Foreign Service once testified in the case of a DS agent dismissed for “notoriously disgraceful conduct” and said, “I think it’s important to send a message to the entire State Department that. . . you cannot do this.” That’s the same message broadcasted now in Foggy Bottom’s billboard.

    I’m sure the State Department can argue that “enforcing” the rules is done to promote the proper functioning of the Service. But does the proper functioning of the Service trumps everything else? If the State Department can make sure that another Peter Van Buren will never happen again in the future, that is good for the organization.

    But are we, the American public better served?


    Best to read the entire article, over at Diplopundit.



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    Posted in Democracy

    She remained silent. We do not.

    April 10, 2012 // 30 Comments »

    “Countries that restrict free access to information or violate the basic rights of internet users risk walling themselves off from the progress of the next century,” said SecState Hillary Clinton.

    Clinton has made internet freedom and the rights of bloggers and journalists a cornerstone of her foreign policy, going as far as citing the free use of social media as a prime mover in the Arab Spring. At the Conference on Internet Freedom at the Hague, Clinton said:


    When ideas are blocked, information deleted, conversations stifled, and people constrained in their choices, the internet is diminished for all of us.

    In China, several dozen companies signed a pledge in October, committing to strengthen their – quote – “self-management, self-restraint, and strict self-discipline.” Now, if they were talking about fiscal responsibility, we might all agree. But they were talking about offering web-based services to the Chinese people, which is code for getting in line with the government’s tight control over the internet.

    The United States wants the internet to remain a space where economic, political, and social exchanges flourish. To do that, we need to protect people who exercise their rights online.

    Yet inside her own Department of State, Clinton presides over the censoring of the internet, blocking objectionable web sites that refer to Wikileaks, such as TomDispatch (above), while allowing sites that play to State’s own point of view, such as Fox.com, which also refer to Wikileaks. The use of specialized software and VPNs that State recommends to Iranians to circumvent the firewall block placed by the Tehran government are prohibited by the State Department to its own employees to get around State’s own firewall blocks.

    While Clinton mocks Chinese companies, claiming terms like “self-management, self-restraint, and strict self-discipline” equate to censorship, her own Department’s social media guidance reminds employees to “be mindful of the weight of your expressed views as a U.S. government official,” and to “Remember that you are a Foreign Service USG employee.” Official guidance reminds employees that “All Department organizations with a social media site must monitor user-generated content,” and cites 27 laws and regulations that must be followed to be acceptable to the government. Self-censorship is the byword at State, as it is in China. Government bureaucrats know that this sort of slow-drip intimidation keeps people in line. They are meant to see what’s happening and remain silent.

    One web site reported that when Matt Armstrong was hired as Executive Director for the now defunct Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, a condition to his hiring was to stop blogging. The condition was set by the office of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

    Whistleblower Ray McGovern was arrested merely for physically standing and turning his back on Clinton at a public rally where she was speaking about the importance of freedom of speech. Did Secretary of State Clinton say anything about the arrest?

    She remained silent.

    We do not.



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    Posted in Democracy

    Michael Moore.com Supports We Meant Well

    March 21, 2012 // 1 Comment »

    Thinking they can sell their version of events– punish the whistleblower (me) instead of investigating the allegations ($44 billion wasted on Iraq reconstruction)– the State Department continues its dripping treacle hypocrisy, proclaiming rights for internet advocates and free speech abroad while citing “regulations” they wrote themselves that prevent free speech within its own ranks.

    Good news is that not everyone is swallowing this. MichaelMoore.com today asks:

    Dear Hillary: Please Speak Out Against
    This Attack on Free Speech in a Far-Away Land – Clinton’s State Department moves to fire Peter Van Buren, foreign service officer, author and MichaelMoore.com blogger for writing unflattering things about his time in Iraq

    Powerful Words! Where Is This Lady Now?
    “In America, we are proud of our long and distinctive record of championing [] freedom of speech … we have worked to share our best practices.” – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, three short months ago

    Awesome, Now We Need Russia to Protest for Us
    “The American media, always ready to stand behind Russian whistleblowers, shows remarkably little interest in whistleblowers operating closer to home.” –Voice of Russia, radio network run by Putin’s government

    DO SOMETHING: Call Hillary Clinton at 202-647-4000. Politely remind Secretary Clinton that her nice-sounding speeches about freedom of speech would come across better if they weren’t all a bunch of crap.


    Diplopundit today sadly catalogs the Foreign Service blogs (“free speech”) that have gone dark, wondering if this is “is the ‘Peter Van Buren’ effect on the FS blogosphere.”

    Some inside the State Department are secretly proud of the blogs closing down, knowing that by stiffling free speech they have made their internal bosses happy. State is a terminally inward looking bureaucracy, doomed to a slow ride into irrelevancy, largely because it is so inwardly focused. Drones will continue to write speeches for Hillary demanding free speech in China while two floors below them other drones crush dissent within Hillary’s own employee ranks.

    State doesn’t seem to care, or even realize, that the rest of the world sees through this hypocrisy. The result? Pretty soon no one will listen to Hillary anymore but her own loyal lickspittles, making a perfect circle inside the Department while the rest of the world turns the channel. No wonder Congress continues to cut back State’s budget and reduce its ranks year after year.

    With just a little more effort, the State Department will become the late-night cable public access show of the world, watched and listened to only by its own staff. They’ll be happy then.



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    Posted in Democracy

    The Hypocrisy of Free Speech

    February 26, 2012 // 2 Comments »

    At the White House ABC’s Jake Tapper called out spokesperson James Carney on how the Obama Administration could square lauding free speech and internet freedom abroad while engaging in a record-setting campaign to silence whistleblowers at home. Carney (what a name, you can’t make this stuff up) ignored the question of why exposing government wrongdoing is desired when the target is Syria, China or Iran, but despicable when the target is the United States.

    Free Speech Hypocrisy at the White House

    Carney said “I’m not making the assumption” that the Espionage Act prosecutions suppress whistleblowers, yet the Justice Department is using the prosecutions for exactly that purpose. In the now-failed case against National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Thomas Drake, prosecutor William Welch II demanded a harsh sentence for Drake specifically to “send a message” to other employees. Of the six Espionage Act prosecutions under the Obama Administration, all involve journalists working with consciencious government employees trying to bring illegal, wasteful or immoral acts into the daylight. The Obama administration, which arrived in Washington promoting “sunshine” in government, turns out to be committed to silence and the censoring of less-than-positive news about its own workings. This administration fears the noise of democracy, preferring the silence of compliance just like in China, Iran and elsewhere.

    Free Speech Hypocrisy at Other Agencies

    At the Food and Drug Administration, they spy on their own employees’ email to prevent them from exposing wrongdoings.

    At the Department of Defense, a soldier who speaks out about government lies in Afghanistan finds himself under investigation. Four employees of the Air Force Mortuary in Dover, Delaware, attempted to address shortcomings at the facility, which handles the remains of all American service members who die overseas. Retaliation against them included firings and suspensions. Bradley Manning is in his second year of confinement without trial for allegedly leaking Secret level documents that embarrassed the government, while a Top Secret leak that favors the Department of Defense position goes unpunished.

    Free Speech Hypocrisy at the State Department

    The same level of hypocrisy that applies to the White House also applies to the State Department. Secretary of State Clinton has made internet freedom and the rights of bloggers and journalists a cornerstone of her foreign policy, going as far as citing the free use of social media as a prime mover in the Arab Spring. At the Conference on Internet Freedom at the Hague, Clinton said:


    When ideas are blocked, information deleted, conversations stifled, and people constrained in their choices, the internet is diminished for all of us.

    In China, several dozen companies signed a pledge in October, committing to strengthen their – quote – “self-management, self-restraint, and strict self-discipline.” Now, if they were talking about fiscal responsibility, we might all agree. But they were talking about offering web-based services to the Chinese people, which is code for getting in line with the government’s tight control over the internet.

    The United States wants the internet to remain a space where economic, political, and social exchanges flourish. To do that, we need to protect people who exercise their rights online.

    Yet inside her own Department of State, Clinton presides over the censoring of the internet, blocking objectionable web sites that refer to Wikileaks, such as TomDispatch (above), while allowing sites that play to State’s own point of view, such as Fox.com, which also refer to Wikileaks. The use of specialized software and VPNs that State recommends to Iranians to circumvent the firewall block placed by the Tehran government are prohibited by the State Department to its own employees to get around State’s own firewall blocks.

    While Clinton mocks Chinese companies, claiming terms like “self-management, self-restraint, and strict self-discipline” equate to censorship, her own Department’s social media guidance reminds employees to “be mindful of the weight of your expressed views as a U.S. government official,” and to “Remember that you are a Foreign Service USG employee.” Official guidance reminds employees that “All Department organizations with a social media site must monitor user-generated content,” and cites 27 laws and regulations that must be followed to be acceptable to the government. Self-censorship is the byword at State, as it is in China. Government bureaucrats know that this sort of slow-drip intimidation keeps people in line. They are meant to see what’s happening and remain silent.

    One web site reported that when Matt Armstrong was hired as Executive Director for the now defunct Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, a condition to his hiring was to stop blogging. The condition was set by the office of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

    Whistleblower Ray McGovern was arrested merely for physically standing and turning his back on Clinton at a public rally where she was speaking about the importance of freedom of speech. Did Secretary of State Clinton say anything about the arrest? She remained silent.

    Another State Department official wrote in the Foreign Service Journal:


    Anyone who has been called on the carpet for blogging — especially those who have been summoned more than once — can tell you that the only consistent aspect of the State Department’s feedback is inconsistency. Blogging is encouraged by some elements within the department and is even discussed on the official careers page, complete with a substantial set of links to popular Foreign Service-related blogs. Yet even bloggers listed there are sometimes targeted for official harassment by other elements within the department for having a blog in the first place.



    Free Speech: All Politics is Local

    I am told that, in its 223 years of existence, I am the only Foreign Service Officer ever to have written a critical book about the State Department while still employed there. We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People exposed what State did not want people to know: that they had wasted enormous amounts of money in Iraq, mostly due to ignorance and a desire for short-term successes that could be trumpeted back home. For the crime of writing this book and maintaining a blog that occasionally embarrasses, State Department officials destroyed my career, even as they confirm my thesis, and their own failure, by reducing the Baghdad Embassy to half its size in the face of Iraq’s unraveling.

    “The State Department was aware of Mr. Van Buren’s book long prior to its release,” explained attorney Jesslyn Radack of the Government Accountability Project, who now represents me. “Yet instead of addressing the ample evidence of fraud, waste, and abuse in the book, State targeted the whistleblower. The State Department’s retaliatory actions are a transparent attempt to intimidate and silence an employee whose critique of fraudulent, wasteful, and mismanaged U.S. reconstruction efforts in Iraq embarrassed the agency.”

    The State Department took away my security clearance of 23 years over this posting and its Wikileaks link.

    The State Department banned me from their building because I did not get permission for this article.

    The State Department threw me out of my job because this posting offended the Secretary of State.

    The State Department even chastised me for using its official seal in a satirical piece, showing censorship can be comprehensive, and petty, and that they know no boundaries between the two.



    What is Not Petty

    It is easy to magic-wand the problem of hypocrisy away– didn’t those government whistleblowers “break” rules? Well, yes, US government rules, the same as Syrian journalists broke Syrian government rules. Aren’t those websites blocked by the State Department objectionable on national security grounds? Yes, of course, the same way Tehran or Beijing claims its own national security is harmed by the web sites they block. The State Department blocks Wikileaks with its firewall same as China does not block the same site. But aren’t this blog’s posts offensive and not always “mindful of the weight of your expressed views as a U.S. government official”? Perhaps, but the highest standards we pretend to uphold in the First Amendment make no exceptions for offense nor include special categories for US government officials.

    What is considered innocent, mindful and respectful today can be found to be offensive tomorrow by a government scared that its own employees will reveal its sad inner workings to the people it purports to serve. You cannot pick and choose among free speech; you get Richard Pryor, Kid Cudi and the KKK saying the N-word, Bill Maher and Glenn Beck, Your Candidate and that Other Idiot, the Pledge and flag burning. Inside of State, my blog and the so-called innocuous “Mommy Blogs” are no different, just occupying different points on the same continuum. My rights taken today, yours tomorrow.

    If the US government in general, and the Secretary of State in particular, wish to be taken seriously around the world as advocates of a free internet and for free speech, they need to practice the same inside their own organizations. They cannot advocate for such abroad while using bully boy tactics to silence those at home.

    As one Foreign Service blogger remarked about State’s free speech hypocrisy, “Your actions speak so loudly I can hardly hear what you’re saying.”

    Can you hear us Mr. President? Madame Secretary? We are standing just outside your door, shouting.




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    Posted in Democracy

    Hypocrisy at State: Freedom’s for the Other Guy

    June 17, 2011 // 7 Comments »

    Diplopundit has written a sad, excellent piece about the State Department’s hypocritical stance on online freedom of speech, how the Department spends millions abroad to ensure the rights of Mideast bloggers to criticize their governments, while spending tax dollars at home silencing its own employees who choose to blog objectively about State.

    There are three kinds of State Department blogs (a whole list is here). The most benign are the so-called travelogue types, where families chronicle their adventures abroad. These blogs do sometimes run afoul of Mother State when they create anything less than a fully happy family picture of a particular country but usually putter along with their small familiar audiences.

    The second category are the echo chambers, blogs written by State officials that simply reiterate the party line. They could be taken right from the day’s official talking points, and often are. State seems to leave these alone, allowing even one of its spokespeople in Iraq to have one.

    Finally, there are those who write objectively about State, pointing out that some things are alright, some just OK and some in need of change. In contrast to the military, which has always encouraged soldiers to speak their minds and allowed/tolerated soldier blogs (some excellent writing about Iraq came out of this genre), State can act more like the Mafia than a freedom advocate, demanding that “nobody talks about the family outside the family.”

    Diplopundit talks about this, and has served as a repository of State blogs that have gone dark under pressure. He refers to the people at Foggy Bottom whose apparent job it is to enforce the family rules as “tigers,” and notes that they try very hard to scare people into compliance because today, in a Wikileaked world, anything written down seems to splatter across the web. State has little interest in providing written blog fodder for those who might “talk about the family outside the family.”

    Diplopundit writes:

    The State Department has been known to muzzle its Foreign Service (FS) bloggers in various different ways. It had already driven an FS blogger to “sail into the sunset” (shaky current assignment, no forward assignment, etc, etc.). These FS bloggers write on their own free time, not on taxpayers’ dime. It has caused the shutdown of several blogs and continues to threaten its diplomats and their spouses who blog or tweet about stuff outside the chalked lines with all sorts of punishments. Always behind closed doors, of course, and in almost non-existent paper trail.

    If you hear very little about this, it’s because the shutdown also comes with a non-disclosure agreement; if the blogger squeaks, they can send you to a mission in the Arctic region, or they send the employee, then the offending spouse blogger dines with guilt every single day afterwards.


    Some will say that the “privilege” of speaking ends when you take a job at Foggy Bottom. Not true. The State Department has an official policy on its employees writing personal things and participating in social media. You can read it here and here.

    There is actually nothing in there that prohibits employees from writing and speaking per se. There is a pre-clearance process, which on paper at least focuses mainly on three things: that the writing contain nothing classified, that the writing not contain anything protected by the Privacy Act and that the writer not misrepresent his/her personal views as State Department policy. There are some other common-sense restrictions on talking about contracts and procurement deals, and giving away details on policy arguments.

    Nothing written down however that says “don’t write anything we won’t like or you’ll get whacked.”

    One of the unexpected things about operating a blog like this is the emails we receive. Some of course are selling Viagra and manly growth pills, some (mostly written ALL IN CAPS!1!) are threats and many are thoughtful responses from Foreign Service people. These people, like the critical bloggers, are not out on a witch hunt despite sometimes being the targets of witch hunts themselves. They bought into the idea learned somewhere along the way that open discussion is good, that airing problems can help solve problems, that responsible criticism can make an organization’s other statements more credible, that free speech is not an abstract, or a tool swung just against foreign regimes that we oppose, but in fact an obligation.




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    Posted in Democracy

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