• Kerry Tells Snowden to “Man Up” and Come Home

    May 29, 2014 // 48 Comments »




    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who at this point has all the credibility of a minor Kardashian just out of rehab, somehow was allowed on national television to say this:

    If Mr. Snowden wants to come back to the United States, we’ll have him on a flight today. [He] should stand up in the United States and make his case to the American people… A patriot would not run away… Let him come back and make his case. If he cares so much about America and he believes in America, he should trust the American system of justice.

    A near-complete failure as Secretary of State (if you are not sure, read this), Kerry is apparently relegated within the Obama administration to the role of mumbling bully-boy statements, faux-machismo rantings whose intended audience and purpose are very, very unclear. Did Kerry think he might persuade Snowden to take up the challenge and fly back to the U.S.? Maybe meet Kerry in the Octagon mano-a-mano? No, Kerry sounded much more like Grandpa Simpson than America’s Senior Diplomat.

    And Kerry should know better. He once, perhaps briefly, was also brave enough to act on conscience.

    Kerry’s Fall from Courage

    In the 1960s, Kennedy-esque, Kerry went from Yale to Vietnam to fight in what he came to see as a lost war. He became one of the more poignant voices raised in protest by antiwar veterans. He threw away his medals, no doubt causing some pundit of the day to claim he had harmed America in the eyes of its enemies, perhaps disgraced his fellow service members. Four decades after his Vietnam experience, he has achieved what will undoubtedly be the highest post of his lifetime: secretary of state. What does he do from that peak? Make fun of Edward Snowden.

    (I’ll keep the focus on Kerry here, but is important to mention that the things said about Snowden are the same old lazy, sad tropes said about whistleblowers since Dan Ellsberg. They should face justice. They harmed America (never any specifics on that one) and so forth.)

    Make His Case to the American People?

    Having watched Manning, Snowden (and Kerry if he’d admit it) knows what he could expect from American justice.

    Trials under the Espionage Act, which the U.S. says is how Snowden will be charged, quite specifically prohibit discussion of anything except proof or rebuttal that the accused did leak classified information. A jury is not allowed to rule on, or even hear about, motive and intent.

    John Kiriakou, the former CIA officer who was the first to go on-the-record with the media about waterboarding, pled guilty in his Espionage Act case last year partially because a judge ruled he couldn’t tell the jury about his lack of intent to harm the United States. In the case of State Department official Stephen Kim, the judge ruled the prosecution “need not show that the information he allegedly leaked could damage U.S. national security or benefit a foreign power, even potentially.” In the Espionage Act case against NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, the government filed motions to make sure the words “whistleblowing” or “overclassification” would never be uttered at trial. In Chelsea Manning’s trial, Manning’s defense wanted to argue she intended to inform the public, that the military was afflicted with a deep and unnecessary addiction to overclassification, and that the government’s own internal assessments showed she caused no real damage to U.S. interests. All this information was ruled inadmissible.

    A SuperMax cell is not a very good bully pulpit.

    Kerry is either lying, or his hopelessly ignorant.

    John Kerry, here’s a deal Snowden might accept: When the Department of Justice agrees to charge James Clapper, national director of intelligence, for lying under oath to Congress about the surveillance of Americans, Snowden will know American justice is fair and equally applied, and come home for a trial. Better yet Kerry, promise that both trials will be televised live with no sealed documents or secret sessions. Deal?

    Fair Trial?

    As for any sort of a fair trial, John Kerry claimed in the past “People may die as a consequence to what this man [Snowden] did. It is possible that the United States would be attacked because terrorists may now know how to protect themselves in some way or another that they didn’t know before.”

    Despite the fact that none of that has happened in the long year since Snowden’s information has been on the Internet worldwide, it does suggest officers of the United States government such as Kerry have stepped back from the now-quaint notion of innocent until proven guilty.

    Patriots Don’t Run

    As for Kerry’s remark about patriots not running, the Secretary should check with the Department of State he titularly heads up. He’d learn between 2009-2011 the U.S. granted asylum to 1,222 Russians, 9,493 Chinese, and 22 Ecuadorians, not including family members, among many others from a variety of countries. The U.S. acknowledges these people as patriots, men and women who took a dangerous and principled stand against a government they felt had gone wrong. A double-standard is no standard at all.

    Love of Country

    As for love of country, which Kerry maintains Snowden does not have until he surrenders himself to American authorities, Snowden took his love of America with him. Unlike whatever topsy-turvy version Kerry might still hold to, love of country does not necessarily mean love for its government, its military, or its intelligence services. Snowden, and Kerry took an oath that stated: “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” He didn’t pledge fealty to the government or a president or party, only — as the Constitution makes clear — to the ultimate source of legitimacy in our nation, The People.

    In an interview, Snowden indicated that he held off on making his disclosures for some time, in hopes that Obama might look into the abyss and decide to become the bravest president in our history by reversing the country’s course. Only when Obama’s courage or intelligence failed was it time to become a whistleblower. Snowden risked everything, and gained almost nothing personally, not to betray his country, but to inform it.

    John Kerry, love is expressed through one’s actions, not just words. Snowden clearly believes something other, more, deeper, better than himself matters. He has to believe that one courageous act of conscience can change his country. I think once, long ago, John Kerry might have believed that, too.


    BONUS: John Kerry, who said patriots don’t run, and that people should face justice, make their case to the American people and trust in the system, is currently running away from a Congressional subpoena because he doesn’t want to talk about Benghazi.



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

    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State

    Would You Have Chelsea Manning’s Courage When Called?

    February 19, 2014 // 13 Comments »

    The Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence (SAAII; I am a proud voting member) have voted overwhelmingly to present the 2014 Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence to Chelsea Manning. The award ceremony will be held February 19, 2014 at Oxford University’s Oxford Union Society. Chelsea will send a statement, and SAAII members will be hosted for dinner at the Ecuadoran Embassy in London.

    With more than a little irony, while I was in Iraq working for the State Department, Chelsea Manning’s office was across the hall from mine. While I was winning the war by writing emails to the embassy, Manning was across the hall capturing the texts of hundreds of thousands of State Department cables, famously released by Wikileaks, showing that was could never be won.

    My war in Iraq ended in near-complete failure. What Manning did will have an impact far beyond that terrible struggle. In this video, I ask the question of why I didn’t do what Manning did, and challenge the audience: when faced with history, would you have the courage to do what Manning did?

    I didn’t.



    BONUS: Seated to my right on the panel is Daniel Ellsberg. On my immediate left is Michael Ratner, one of Manning’s attorneys. The woman on the end is Jesselyn Radack, who currently serves on Edward Snowden’s defense team, and is a whistleblower herself.



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State

    Whistleblowing is About the Message, Not the Messenger

    January 9, 2014 // 18 Comments »

    The current media pablum about whether Snowden is “narcissistic” or “spiteful” or the devil himself is nonsense.


    This kind of thing has become a set-piece in America to dehumanize and discredit whistleblowers so as to dilute public support for the vital information they make available. In high school debate class this lame name-calling is known as ad hominem, one of the lowest forms of argument. The idea is that a claim is rejected on the basis of some irrelevant fact about the person presenting the claim. First comes an attack against the character of person making the claim. Second, this attack is taken to be evidence against the claim the person in question is making, just like stating 1+3=2.

    The technique is in full use against NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, particularly swirling around demands by the New York Times and The Guardian that the U.S. government grant him clemency.

    The use of cheap ad hominem takes its crudest form in “opinion pieces” such as those by Washington Post typist Ruth Marcus. In the course of only a couple of hundred words, Marcus (who has never actually spoken to Snowden) calls Snowden messianic, smug, self-righteous, egotistical, disingenuous, megalomaniacal, overwrought, feckless and insufferable before concluding “The whistleblower personality is rarely an attractive one. Whistleblowers tend to be the difficult ones, the sort who tend to feel freer to speak out precisely because they don’t fit in. So perhaps it is not a surprise that the biggest whistleblower of all time has an unpleasant personality to match.” In an earlier piece, Marcus announced that “Snowden is no Socrates and no Martin Luther King,” as if anyone but her was even making such assertions. She concludes that “Socrates is [sic] a great philosopher and Snowden the lowest type of menial.”

    Former National Security Agency and CIA head Michael Hayden said of Snowden: “I used to say he was a defector… I’m now kind of drifting in the direction of perhaps more harsh language… such as traitor.”

    None of this is new. After Daniel Ellsberg exposed America’s duplicitous history in Vietnam by leaking the Pentagon Papers, the Nixon White House broke into his psychiatrist’s office looking for dirt to smear him. Chelsea Manning’s sexuality featured prominently and pruriently in media coverage of her disclosures. NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake described his own experience as “the politics of personal destruction while also engaging in abject, cut throat character assassination, and complete fabrication and frame up.” When the State Department was seeking to prosecute/fire me because of my own whistleblowing (seriously minor compared to Snowden of course) they pushed out all sorts of nasty things, and several media people accused me of being bad in some way. I was typically asked to “respond” to questions that I blew the whistle as part of some self-promotion campaign, or that I was simply a disgruntled employee out for revenge.

    When asked to respond to such statements, I would cut them off and stipulate “I am indeed a terrible person, mean to babies and puppies. And so what? This must be about the message, not the messenger. I don’t matter. What I said is either true or made up (of course it was true). Focus your energy on that. What I said either exposed government waste and mismanagement or it did not (it did), so focus your energy on that and not whether I return my library books on time (I do).

    The technique of smearing the messenger is crudely wielded when people try to diminish Snowden’s information’s value by criticizing him for not “manning up” to face consequences in the U.S., or for “selling out” to the Russians for asylum. Snowden, having watched what happened to Manning, Drake and others, knew he would be unlikely to be handled justly. The Espionage Act of 1917 carries the death penalty, and as we learned with the Manning trial the government need not prove any actual damage was done or any foreign power was actually aided to gain a conviction. The proceedings would all be classified and Snowden would be held in devastating pretrial detention in some Supermax. He would be prohibited from discussing his case with anyone but perhaps his lawyer and denied any outside contact or information. I don’t think Snowden wanted to live in Russia but under those circumstances he did not have many options outside of basically handing himself over to the U.S. government to be disappeared. To put this in some perspective, the U.S., after all, takes in many political asylees each year, the circumstances of which ebb and flow with U.S. policy of the moment. Other countries do the same and unless one is willing to condemn all those political asylees in the same way as one does Snowden (no guts, face the music, etc.) than it isn’t right to single him out.

    Snowden. I don’t know the guy. Maybe he is cool, fun to hang around with, quick with a joke and nice to babies, puppies and kittens. Maybe he is not. But outside the guilty pleasures of gossip (what new diet trick is Edward using to stay trim? Is it true about him and Lady Gaga?!?), Snowden, in a larger sense, in a good way, doesn’t matter as a person. What matters is what he has revealed to us about a national security state that has clearly gone quite insane, violating our liberty and our freedom to live without unwarranted search and seizure of our private lives.

    We would know nothing about the extent of NSA intrusion without Snowden’s information. Whether the debate on the NSA leads anywhere or not is an evolving question, but, without Snowden’s leaks, it would not be happening in any form. Let’s focus on Snowden’s information to save our democracy and leave the hypocrisy outside the door, the name-calling on the schoolyard and the gossiping for the Kardashians.


    BONUS: No one in government takes an “oath of secrecy.” I held a TS clearance for 23 years. You sign a paper promising to follow the rules on handling classified info. However, you do swear one oath, to preserve and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. Snowden believed he was acting on that oath in revealing the extent that the NSA had spun out of control. That action is called “conscience,” and it requires significant courage. FYI.



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

    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State

    Whistleblowers Write Open Letter to Federal Employees after Snowden

    December 23, 2013 // 5 Comments »



    I know you’re out there, and this is for you.

    Somewhere there is a Federal government employee who has witnessed an act of government waste, fraud, malfeasance or mismanagement and is unsure what to do next. Several former whistleblowers have written a letter to you. I fully endorse what they say (see my additional thoughts here), and encourage you to take the hard, right choice over staying silent.

    We’re all depending on you.

    (This open letter originally appeared in the UK’s Guardian newspaper; links added)

    The Letter

    At least since the aftermath of September 2001, western governments and intelligence agencies have been hard at work expanding the scope of their own power, while eroding privacy, civil liberties and public control of policy. What used to be viewed as paranoid, Orwellian, tin-foil hat fantasies turned out post-Snowden, to be not even the whole story.

    What’s really remarkable is that we’ve been warned for years that these things were going on: wholesale surveillance of entire populations, militarization of the internet, the end of privacy. All is done in the name of “national security”, which has more or less become a chant to fence off debate and make sure governments aren’t held to account – that they can’t be held to account – because everything is being done in the dark. Secret laws, secret interpretations of secret laws by secret courts and no effective parliamentary oversight whatsoever.

    By and large the media have paid scant attention to this, even as more and more courageous, principled whistleblowers stepped forward. The unprecedented persecution of truth-tellers, initiated by the Bush administration and severely accelerated by the Obama administration, has been mostly ignored, while record numbers of well-meaning people are charged with serious felonies simply for letting their fellow citizens know what’s going on.

    It’s one of the bitter ironies of our time that while John Kiriakou (ex-CIA) is in prison for blowing the whistle on US torture, the torturers and their enablers walk free.

    Likewise WikiLeaks-source Chelsea (née Bradley) Manning was charged with – amongst other serious crimes – aiding the enemy (read: the public). Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison while the people who planned the illegal and disastrous war on Iraq in 2003 are still treated as dignitaries.

    Numerous ex-NSA officials have come forward in the past decade, disclosing massive fraud, vast illegalities and abuse of power in said agency, including Thomas Drake, William Binney and Kirk Wiebe. The response was 100% persecution and 0% accountability by both the NSA and the rest of government. Blowing the whistle on powerful factions is not a fun thing to do, but despite the poor track record of western media, whistleblowing remains the last avenue for truth, balanced debate and upholding democracy – that fragile construct which Winston Churchill is quoted as calling “the worst form of government, except all the others”.

    Since the summer of 2013, the public has witnessed a shift in debate over these matters. The reason is that one courageous person: Edward Snowden. He not only blew the whistle on the litany of government abuses but made sure to supply an avalanche of supporting documents to a few trustworthy journalists. The echoes of his actions are still heard around the world – and there are still many revelations to come.

    For every Daniel Ellsberg, Drake, Binney, Katharine Gun, Manning or Snowden, there are thousands of civil servants who go by their daily job of spying on everybody and feeding cooked or even made-up information to the public and parliament, destroying everything we as a society pretend to care about.

    Some of them may feel favourable towards what they’re doing, but many of them are able to hear their inner Jiminy Cricket over the voices of their leaders and crooked politicians – and of the people whose intimate communication they’re tapping.

    Hidden away in offices of various government departments, intelligence agencies, police forces and armed forces are dozens and dozens of people who are very much upset by what our societies are turning into: at the very least, turnkey tyrannies.

    One of them is you.

    You’re thinking:

    ● Undermining democracy and eroding civil liberties isn’t put explicitly in your job contract.
    ● You grew up in a democratic society and want to keep it that way
    ● You were taught to respect ordinary people’s right to live a life in privacy
    ● You don’t really want a system of institutionalized strategic surveillance that would make the dreaded Stasi green with envy – do you?

    Still, why bother? What can one person do? Well, Edward Snowden just showed you what one person can do. He stands out as a whistleblower both because of the severity of the crimes and misconduct that he is divulging to the public – and the sheer amount of evidence he has presented us with so far – more is coming. But Snowden shouldn’t have to stand alone, and his revelations shouldn’t be the only ones.

    You can be part of the solution; provide trustworthy journalists – either from old media (like this newspaper) or from new media (such as WikiLeaks) with documents that prove what illegal, immoral, wasteful activities are going on where you work.

    There IS strength in numbers. You won’t be the first – nor the last – to follow your conscience and let us know what’s being done in our names. Truth is coming – it can’t be stopped. Crooked politicians will be held accountable. It’s in your hands to be on the right side of history and accelerate the process.

    Courage is contagious.

    Signed by:

    Peter Kofod, ex-Human Shield in Iraq (Denmark)
    Thomas Drake, whistleblower, former senior executive of the NSA (US)
    Daniel Ellsberg, whistleblower, former US military analyst (US)
    Katharine Gun, whistleblower, former GCHQ (UK)
    Jesselyn Radack, whistleblower, former Department of Justice (US)
    Ray McGovern, former senior CIA analyst (US)
    Coleen Rowley, whistleblower, former FBI agent (US)



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State

    My Letter in Support of a Reduced Sentence for Pvt. Manning

    October 22, 2013 // 13 Comments »

    According to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Convening Authorities can reduce or eliminate a convicted soldier’s sentence. They use this power when they feel the court martial failed to deliver justice. As Commanding General of the Military District of Washington, Major General Jeffrey S. Buchanan is the only other individual besides President Obama (and there ain’t no joy there unless Manning qualifies as a Syrian kid) with the power to lessen Pvt. Manning’s sentence.

    This process is not new, nor unique. Though a slightly different judicial procedure, the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals only in June of this year reduced the sentence of a former Ramstein Air Base staff sergeant who advertised babysitting services to gain access to three young girls he repeatedly sexually assaulted. Staff Sgt. Joshua A. Smith’s sentence was reduced such that Smith, 30, would be eligible for parole after a decade or more. The appellate judges, in their written opinion, said that despite the heinousness of Smith’s crimes against the girls — ages 3, 4 and 7 — the sentence handed down in November 2010 by military judge Col. Dawn R. Eflein and approved by the Third Air Force commander was “unduly severe.”


    If you wish to add your voice to the many now asking for Manning’s sentence to be reduced, the instructions on how to do so are straightforward.

    Here is what I wrote:

    Major General Jeffrey S. Buchanan
    Commanding General, U.S. Army Military District of Washington, DC

    General Buchanan:

    I write to request that as the Convening Authority in the case of U.S. v. Bradley E. Manning you move to reduce Pvt. Manning’s sentence to time served. Pvt. Manning has, in the course of several difficult years of confinement, taken responsibility for his actions and has been punished.

    As the leader of a State Department Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Iraq, I was embedded with the 10th Mountain Division, 2nd Brigade at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Hammer at the same time Manning was deployed there (though we never met.) I worked closely with Colonel Miller and his team to implement U.S. goals, and came away with great respect for him and his officers, and the enlisted men and women of the Commandos.

    At the same time, I experienced first-hand the austere conditions at FOB Hammer, and the difficult lives the soldiers led. As you are aware, one young soldier tragically took his own life early in the deployment at Hammer. Many veteran soldiers, some who served in the Balkans, also talked about the rough conditions at our FOB. I saw that at times computer security was imperfect. While none of this excuses Pvt. Manning (nor should it; he himself has plead guilty to multiple counts), it does in part help explain it. I ask that you consider these factors in your decision.

    As a State Department employee, I had access to the same databases Pvt. Manning in part disclosed, and back in Washington played a small roll in State’s “damage review.” I thus know better than most outsiders what Pvt. Manning did and, significantly, did not disclose, and am in a position to assess dispassionately the impact. As the State Department and the DoD reluctantly concluded at Manning’s trial, little if any verifiable damage was indeed done to the United States. There is no denying that the disclosures were embarrassing and awkward, but that is not worth most of a man’s life.

    Justice elevates us all, and reflects well on our beloved nation. The revenge inherent in a 35 year sentence against Pvt. Manning does not.

    Very Respectfully,

    (signed)

    Peter Van Buren



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State

    Failed Faith: Why Security Clearances Fail (And a Way to Fix Them)

    October 7, 2013 // 9 Comments »

    (This article originally appeared on Fire Dog Lake)

    Whistleblower Edward Snowden had one of the highest levels of security clearance, and exposed the most secret of NSA work. Chelsea Manning held a Top Secret clearance, and disclosed hundreds of thousands of classified records to Wikileaks. Aaron Alexis held a security clearance and used a shotgun to murder twelve people at the Washington Navy Yard. Over four million other Americans today hold some form of security clearance from the Federal government. Can we trust them? How did they obtain those clearances? Are Snowden, Manning and Alexis exceptions, or was the process one that could never have been expected to work in the first place? What can be done to make the clearance process work the way it was intended?

     

    What is a Security Clearance?

    A security clearance is issued by a part of the U.S. Government (Department of Defense, CIA, the State Department) and says that as a result of some sort of background investigation, and perhaps a polygraph examination, the holder can be trusted to handle sensitive documents and duties and to do so in secret. At the low end, this may mean a contractor like Alexis can enter the Navy Yard without a body search, or at the extremes mean that a person will assume a completely new identity, live abroad, and conduct sensitive, clandestine actions on behalf of the U.S.

    Government-wide there are three basic levels of classification and access: Confidential, Secret and Top Secret. There are formal definitions, but the basic idea is that the higher you go up the ladder, the more harm and damage disclosure would create. Added to this three-tiered system are many subcategories, including Sensitive But Unclassified, for well, unclassified things that are still sensitive, such as an applicant’s social security number, Law Enforcement Sensitive and the self-explanatory like. Once more or less the top of hill, Top Secret, TS, is now supplemented by Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI), often used to denote information obtained from intelligence sources. There also many, many flavors of Special Access Programs (SAP) that require both a very high level clearance and permission to access just that single project. A clandestine operation against Iran, or the identities of spies in Syria, might be in this category. The military also creates its own lexicon of classifications.

    While the range of what “cleared” people do for the United States covers much territory, the clearance process is largely a variation on a single note: let’s look into what this person has said and done in his/her life prior to seeking a clearance, and then try to extrapolate that into what they will do once cleared. But because, like with your mutual funds, past performance is no guarantee of future success, the process is inherently flawed.

     

    How To Get Cleared

    Despite the wide variety of clearances available, the process of obtaining one is similar. What changes is less the process of looking into someone’s life than the depth and granularity of the look.

    Most everyone seeking a clearance begins at the same place, filling out Standard Form 86, Questionnaire for National Security Positions, form SF-86. The form itself is no secret, and available on line, though many agencies have supplemental forms and requirements not public.

    The SF-86 is mainly a very detailed autobiography, the raw material that fuels the rest of the process. Young people filling out their first SF-86 invariably end up on the phone to mom, gathering old addresses they lived at as kids, birthdays of disconnected relatives, foreign countries visited on family trips and more, a lot more: the SF-86 runs some 129 pages. Some interesting stuff is near the end; almost silly questions such as “Have you ever engaged in an act of terrorism?” and a follow-up requiring you to describe, in one line, “The nature and reason for the terror activity.”

    However, after a hundred pages of names and dates and silly questions, the SF-86 dips into the deal breakers, the questions that weed out quickly those who are unlikely to get very far in the clearance process. Applicants are asked to self-describe financial problems, debts, drug use, gambling, drinking, mental health issues, legal troubles, job firings and more. Whether out of duty and honor, or more likely a thought process that the agency will find out anyway and lying is an automatic disqualification (it usually is; if one lies on a security check, what else is fair game to lie about?), most applicants do tell the truth and easily disqualify themselves.

     

    First Level of Background Checks

    Though the details vary from agency to agency, everyone gets some standard checks run on them. Since U.S. Citizenship is the most basic and unwaivering requirement for a clearance, every applicant’s claim is verified. In my own case (I held a Top Secret clearance for 22 years), investigators obtained a certified paper copy of my actual birth certificate from a distant city, and were nice enough to give it to me when the process was over in case I needed it for something. I’m not sure they’re as nice these days.

    Every applicant then gets a run through whatever databases and electronic records can be found. This step is increasingly detailed as more and more of our lives move on line. The goal is to verify quickly as much of the self-provided data on the SF-86 and to skim off the low-hanging fruit. A serious arrest record, neck-deep financial problems and the like will be easily found. Checks are also run through the various intelligence files (a “National Agency Check”) to make sure while you’re applying for a job at the State Department you are not on some secret list of bad guys over at CIA. Before everything went on line that used to happen once in awhile, though now the biggest problem is both too much irrelevant information and the need to wonder about the accuracy of what was found; that record entry from the Pigeon Hollow local police department from 1983– accurate enough to deny someone a career over?

    Absent any whoppers uncovered, most applicants are given a chance to explain abnormalities. Some say this is to be fair, some say it makes the agency’s job much easier if the applicant will either self-incriminate with even more details, or just voluntarily withdraw knowing she was caught.

    For some low-level or short-term clearances, the process can stop here and a decision is made. The time period varies, but usually is in the area of a couple of months for a background-only clearance. Much of this work, due to the volume and perceived simplicity of the process, is farmed out now to private contractors. Alexis, the Navy Yard killer, had such a background-only clearance, done by a contracting firm in Northern Virginia that specializes in such work for the government. The same firm worked on a part of Edward Snowden’s clearance.

     

    Full Background Investigation

    For higher level clearances, including Top Secret, a full spectrum background investigation is required. Someone, typically a combination of someones including agency investigators and contractors, will comb through the SF-86 and whatever the electronic searches uncover and conduct field interviews. The investigator really will visit an applicant’s home town school teachers, her second-to-last-boss, her neighbors, her parents and almost certainly the local police force and ask questions in person. As part of the clearance process, an applicant will sign the Mother of All Waivers, basically giving the government permission to do all this as intrusively as the government cares to do. This is old fashioned shoe leather police work, knocking on doors, eye balling people who say they knew the applicant, turning the skepticism meter up to 11. The investigator will ask each interviewee to keep quiet about the interview, but typically the applicant will get a hushed phone call or email from some old acquaintance saying the Feds just knocked. Many of the contract investigators at this level are retired FBI or Secret Service people and often will present their old ID to add some gravitas to the procedure. If an applicant lived abroad, the process is tasked out to various liaisons and the nearest U.S. Embassy.

    The process is proactive; the investigator must find people to talk to who know the applicant. If he can’t (say wrong addresses, or no one from the USG can track down an old college roommate now in Tehran) the investigation often “pauses,” sometimes indefinitely. Not being able to find adequate information on an applicant is a big negative.

    As you can imagine, this process is not quick. Most full background investigations take at least a year and complex lives, especially if the applicant has lived abroad and has many foreign contacts, can drag… on… for… years… All this on-the-street work does not come cheap. It is hard to put a number on it, as obviously the complexity of the applicant’s life will dictate costs, but a full background investigation can run $15-20,000.

     

    The Box

    For many agencies, including the CIA and NSA, another step in the clearance process is the polygraph, the lie detector. The federal government polygraphs about 70,000 people a year in connection with security clearances.

    What portion of the polygraph process that isn’t shrouded in movie drama is classified, but the basics are simple; even TV’s Mythbusters show looked into it. The process is based on the belief that when one fibs one’s body involuntarily expresses stress in the form of higher blood pressure, changes in pulse, breathing and perspiration rate. Those things can be precisely monitored. Did you ever steal anything? No? That’s a lie– see here, your heart rate went up 15 percent when you answered.

    The reality is much more complex. Though I have never been polygraphed, I have spoken with many government employees who have been. Here’s what they had to say.

    The whole polygraph experience is set up as a mind game. Subjects can be kept waiting a long time, or left in a too-cold or too-hot room, and interviews can be scheduled and then canceled to create stress. A planted staffer in the waiting room can tell the applicant they are being watched, even make a comment such as “You shouldn’t read that kind of magazine while waiting, they judge that too.” There may be mirrors, real or imagined two-way viewing panels. This is referred to as the pre-test. It sets the stage.

    Some say that the presence of the polygraph machine itself may be mostly for show, and the real nuts and bolts of the process are actually just clever manipulation and interrogation techniques as old as dirt. An awful lot of information obtained via a polygraph has nothing to do with the needles and dials per se, but the applicant’s fear of them and belief that they “work.” Polygraphers are allowed considerable freedom in style, and some get more into role-playing than others.

    That said, most polygraphers will first establish baseline readings with irrelevant questions– “Is your name John?” Yes. “Is your name Micheal?” No. He will try and put the subject at ease, asking softball questions such as “Do you plan to tell the truth today?” Nobody can answer no honestly (it is believed) and this helps create a trusting atmosphere where the polygrapher assures the subject that everyone has told little lies and his job is to sort those out from the “big” ones. The polygrapher will also likely point out things on the charts or “explain” the details of his work; the goal is to plant the idea in the subject’s head that the machine is an accurate way to detect lies. This sets up the next phase.

    The polygrapher will have reviewed the background investigation results and slowly move into the meat of the interview, asking both broad questions– “Do you have a drinking problem?” and specific ones– “Then why did you have this DUI in March 2003?” Many times the got ya’ question, including a why or when or who, is really a way to play off the applicant’s fear and get her to talk. Look at the sequence above. It is unlikely that someone will admit to a drinking problem, yet the next query is about an actual DUI. The applicant’s natural inclination will be to explain, to talk about the DUI, all the time knowing her answer is being run through a “lie detector.” Often the applicant will self-incriminate.

    Lastly, there is the post-interview test, often the time when the most information is disclosed. The subject feels at ease, having “finished” the polygraph. One tactic is, after a lengthy review of the charts and after much hemming and hawing, maybe a sigh or two and a consultation with “another expert” outside the interviewing room, the polygrapher comes in and says “I think you’re a nice kid, and I like you. I know you want this job and I want to help you get it. The problem is, here (gestures to some squiggly line marked in red), where you said you never used drugs, the machine indicates you might not have told the truth. Now, look, I’ll turn off the machine and you just tell me what really happened and I’ll try to go to bat for you.” Self-incrimination follows, game over, thanks for playing today!

    In some instances, only a limited polygraph will be conducted, as opposed to a full-lifestyle test. In a “coordination of expectations” test, used in many military and update-only situations, very specific and limited questions will be asked. Sometimes the subject will even know the questions in advance, such as “Since your last polygraph, have you transferred classified information without authorization?”

    There exists a point of view that the polygraph is indeed more useful than simply as a prop, and that you can “fool the box” physically and pass the test. There are people who purport to teach tricks and techniques designed to do so. The basic idea is to register false anxiety during true relevant questions, thus making your real anxiety on lies less clear. People are taught to clench their sphincter to induce a measurable but false stress reaction, to bite their tongue or to place a tack inside their shoe to poke themselves and send pain-induced stress indicators. Others teach a kind of meditation. As counter-countermeasures, there are rumors of polygraphers placing real or fake “stress” pads on the seats of chairs, and inspecting applicants’ shoes. For the most part, however, the Feds just poo-pooed these ideas, claiming over the years that they were a waste of money because they just did not work.

    Interestingly, however, the government has very recently changed its position, and is now actively seeking to prosecute those who teach “how to beat the box.” Prosecutors have raised the specters of terrorists infiltrating the CIA, or pedophiles securing sensitive positions. The possibility that the prosecutions are only security theater is also real, an expansion of the mind game, given that despite the prosecutions strategies for passing a polygraph are still just a Google away, including on the ever-so-pedestrian WikiHow.

     

    Adjudication

    Up to this point the clearance process has been mostly the aggregation of information. Along the way some applicants might be picked off, people whose U.S. Citizenship wasn’t verifiable, people who made whopping self-incriminations, applicants scared off or afraid what the process might reveal. But overall, most applicants for a clearance end up in Adjudication. And in Adjudication lies the core problem in the clearance process: it relies on human judgment.

    The basics of an adjudication look at vulnerabilities, and especially at past examples of trust kept or violated.

    Vulnerabilities are more concrete, and thus easier, to determine. Historically, people betray their country’s trust for (in rough order) money, sex, ego or ideology. People with loads of debt or a gambling problem are more susceptible to bribes. People with records of infidelity or a pattern of poor judgment with partners might be lured into sexual encounters that could be used to blackmail them. In the bad old days when most gay and lesbian applicants were deeply closeted, this was used as a one-size-fits-all pseudo-reason to deny them employment. Ego is a tougher one to pin down, but persons who lack self-esteem or who want to play at being a “real spy” might be tempted to become “heroes” for the other side. Ideology is a growing issue as more and more hyphenated Americans seek government work and, needing qualified language employees, more and more are recruited by the government. Will a Chinese-American’s loyalty fall to her new home or to the old country? What about a born-and-bred whitebread American, but with a spouse from Egypt? Would his allegiances be blurred? Even if he bleeds red, white and blue, could the Egyptians cajole, blackmail or threaten his spouse’s parents back home to make him cooperate?

    Back in the good old days, when qualification for high level positions required one to be male, pale and Yale, these things were less of concern. Fathers recruited sons, professors noted promising students and no one thought much about the messy range of people now eligible– or sought– for government work. Need fluent Pashtu speakers? You’re going to have to recruit farther afield than the country club. Agencies who used to toss back into the pond pretty much anyone without a pristine background now face unfilled critical positions. So, standards change, always have changed and will continue to change. Security clearances just work that way.

    If vulnerabilities seem sometimes ambiguous to adjudicate, the next category, trust, is actually much harder. Persons who have kept trusts extended to them, not been fired, not broken laws, paid their bills, saw to their responsibilities, are in the Nice category. Those who didn’t end up over in Naughty. The adjudication part becomes important because very few people are perfect, and very few are really bad. Most everyone falls in the middle, and so agencies must make judgment calls.

    For example, in modern America some casual drug and alcohol abuse is not outside the boundaries of normal, especially when it is self-admitted, and done when a person was young and maybe in an experimental phase of life such as college. So, while twenty years ago copping to smoking some weed was an automatic no for a clearance, now, hypothetically, a 26 year old grad student who says she might have smoked a joint four years ago at a party but didn’t like it so did not do it again, and who passes her current urine test, might be approved. Same for debt; it is not unusual for an American today to carry heavy credit card debt or a six figure student loan, but if he’s paying it off, maybe not so bad. Mental health issues are tricky; again, nowadays seeing a mental health professional and taking common meds like anti-depressants is a very commonplace thing with little stigma attached. The key issue under question is whether or not an applicant’s judgment is impaired by a mental health condition, and often real medical professionals get involved to sort this out.

    There are rules and standards for these adjudications, some of which are even on line. The problem is not having or knowing the rules, the problem is figuring out how to apply them. In one of my own assignments at the State Department, I was part of a group that reviewed background investigative reports. I saw a lot of them, mostly new applicants, and was part of a process that was used to help determine “suitability” for employment. The easiest way to win a fight is not to get into a fight, and so instead of formally denying a security clearance and opening a potential can of worms, some agencies conduct a suitability review to basically weed out people unlikely to get a clearance, on a more amorphous, less-challengeable, vaguer not-so-legalistic basis. Different hallway to the same exit door, it is the clearance process at work nonetheless.

    The adjudication process as I saw it was taken seriously. We were taught to look for patterns of life and not at isolated incidents. The goal was to try and come up with a picture of the person, and then project that picture forward into what they might be like on the job. Like any human-powered process that attempts to predict the future, it was flawed. After pushing the Eagle Scouts to one side and the convicted arsonists to the other, there was always a big pile left in the middle. And we knew that at least statistically we probably made some errors approving the Eagle Scouts and some mistakes turning down at least a couple of the arsonists. The race is not always to the swift and sure, but that’s the way you have to bet.

     

    So How Did Snowden, Manning and Alexis Get Cleared?

    Snowden is the easy case. Based on what is publicly available, Snowden was a slam dunk approval. He had held high level clearances with the government for many years without issue. He did not have any drinking, drug, debt, mental health or personal problems. He seemed like a relatively dull guy actually. Nothing in the security clearance process could have ever peeked into his head and found that he was a person of conscience who decided to blow the whistle and radically alter his life to bring the NSA’s sleazy, illegal activities into daylight. While the NSA certainly should be blamed for unbelievably lax internal controls on who could access and copy its data, the clearance process worked exactly as it was designed to work. Claims that short cuts in the process were at fault are wrong.

    Chelsea Manning is at best a gray area, and likely should never have been given a clearance. She made little attempt to hide her gender confusion inside a hyper-macho world, struggled against the Army system at every turn, fought physically with her supervisors and was alienated and ostracized by her peers. Despite all that, she was deployed into an environment where counseling was unavailable, where security and supervision were lax to the point of criminality and where the stresses of combat conditions pressed heavy on everyone. It is unclear why she was cleared, though the most likely reason was that the Army was desperately short of analysts and could not afford to lose one, even one stuck in a slow-motion train wreck.

    Alexis, the Navy Yard killer, should never have been granted any security clearance. His was a preventable tragedy. Because he held only a lower level clearance, it is very likely that no field investigation took place. All those friends and family members the media found who readily told of his problems with hearing voices, violence and drink were likely never interviewed by the government contractor assigned his case. One screaming red flag, Alexis’ lying about a gun-related arrest, was not considered significant. The system failed for various reasons to pick up on his string of other arrests, and no one seemed to care about his uneven service record in the Navy. Clear human error, likely as a result of turning such clearances over to the for-profit sector.

     

    What’s Next?

    Picking up on Alexis in particular, it is important to note that the clearance process is not a real-time endeavor. Someone applies, some sort of background check is done and a clearance decision is adjudicated. Next case, please. Most clearances are only reviewed every five years and then investigators lean heavily on anything new or changed, and especially on the subject’s performance those five years. There is no 24/7 continuous reevaluation process. A felony arrest properly documented might pop up, and many agencies yearly run standard credit checks and conduct random drug tests. But overall, absent something self-reported or too obvious to ignore, a clearance rides for five years, sometimes literally with no questions asked. How could it be otherwise with over four million active cleared Americans strung across the globe?

    Following Snowden, Manning and now Alexis, much noise will be generated about “doing something.” But what? Dramatically increasing the number and scope of on-the-street investigations will spiral wildly into crazy expenses and even longer waiting periods. It could bring the hiring process to its knees, and spawn more and more “temporary clearances,” a self-defeating act. This all with no assurance of better results due to both limitations on the whole concept (see Snowden) or human judgment errors (Alexis). If done properly, such changes might catch a few of the Alexis’ out there, but to be honest, there are few Alexis’ out there to begin with and most of them will be sending up obvious danger signals at work long if anyone would pay attention before a clearance review catches up.

    It is certain that many in the government will call for more aggressive “monitoring” of employees, having them sign away basically all of their civil rights in return for a job. The government will turn its vast intelligence gathering tools further inward and end up pointlessly compiling CIA officers’ credit card receipts from Applebee’s, the web browsing habits of diplomats’ children and so forth. In truth, a lot of that is probably already going on now anyway (the CIA and other intel agencies have had for years robust counterintelligence operations designed specifically to spy on their own spies.) Yet as noted, even ramped up, real-time monitoring would not have caught the current Snowden and is unlikely to catch the next Snowden (albeit to the nation’s broader benefit!) You just can’t see into a person’s head, or his heart.

    In addition to a huge waste of money and resources, these measures will inevitably lead to more mistrust and paranoia inside government. Lack of sharing (the CIA believes things it shares with State get leaked, the Army won’t give things away to the Navy, the FBI hoards info so as to not let another agency get credit for the bust, the NSA doesn’t trust anyone, and so forth) is already an issue among agencies, and even inside of agencies, and helped pave the way for 9/11. In addition, handing even more power to security teams will also not work well in the long run. Hyper-scrutiny will no doubt discourage more decent people from seeking government work, unwilling to throw their lives open for a job if they have prospects elsewhere. The Red Scare of the 1950s, and the less-known Lavender Scares, when labeling someone gay inside government would see him fired, show what happens when security holds too many cards. James Jesus Angleton’s paranoid mole hunting at CIA, which ruined many careers, is still a sore point at Langley. In my own case, my unblemished clearance of 22 years was suspended because of a link on my blog. The link was pedestrian but the blog offended the State Department politically, and security was the tool they tried to use to silence me. No, unleashing the bullies won’t help.

     

    Fixing It: Less is More

    As a wise man once said, cut through all the lies and there it is, right in front of you. The only answer to the clearance problem is to simply require fewer cleared people inside government.

    This will require the tsunami of document classification to be dammed. In FY2009 alone, 54 million U.S. Government documents were classified. Every one of those required cleared authors and editors, system administrators and database technicians, security personnel and electronic repair persons. Even the cafeteria personnel who fed them lunch needed some sort of vetting.

    With fewer people to clear, always-limited resources can be better focused. Better background checks can be done. Corners need not be cut, and unqualified people would not be issued clearances out of necessity. Processing time would be reduced. Human judgment, always the weak link, could be applied slower and more deliberately, with more checks and balances involved.

    More monitoring won’t help and will very likely hurt. In a challenge as inherently flawed as the clearance process, the only way forward is less, not more.

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

    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State

    War Comes Home: Welcome to Post-Constitution America

    August 21, 2013 // 7 Comments »

    This article originally appeared on TomDispatch.com. In light of the Bradley Manning verdict, this seemed worth re-reading.

    On July 30, 1778, the Continental Congress created the first whistleblower protection law, stating “that it is the duty of all persons in the service of the United States to give the earliest information to Congress or other proper authority of any misconduct, frauds, or misdemeanors committed by any officers or persons in the service of these states.”

    Two hundred thirty-five years later, on July 30, 2013, Bradley Manning was found guilty on 20 of the 22 charges for which he was prosecuted, specifically for “espionage” and for videos of war atrocities he released, but not for “aiding the enemy.”

    Days after the verdict, with sentencing hearings in which Manning could receive 136 years of prison time ongoing, the pundits have had their say. The problem is that they missed the most chilling aspect of the Manning case: the way it ushered us, almost unnoticed, into post-Constitutional America.


    The Weapons of War Come Home

    Even before the Manning trial began, the emerging look of that new America was coming into view.  In recent years, weapons, tactics, and techniques developed in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as in the war on terror have begun arriving in “the homeland.”

    Consider, for instance, the rise of the warrior cop, of increasingly up-armored police departments across the country often filled with former military personnel encouraged to use the sort of rough tactics they once wielded in combat zones. Supporting them are the kinds of weaponry that once would have been inconceivable in police departments, including armored vehicles, typically bought with Department of Homeland Security grants. Recently, the director of the FBI informed a Senate committee that the Bureau was deploying its first drones over the United States.  Meanwhile, Customs and Border Protection, part of the Department of Homeland Security and already flying an expanding fleet of Predator drones, the very ones used in America’s war zones, is eager to arm them with “non-lethal” weaponry to “immobilize targets of interest.”

    Above all, surveillance technology has been coming home from our distant war zones. The National Security Agency (NSA), for instance, pioneered the use of cell phones to track potential enemy movements in Iraq and Afghanistan. The NSA did this in one of several ways. With the aim of remotely turning on cell phones as audio monitoring or GPS devices, rogue signals could be sent out through an existing network, or NSA software could be implanted on phones disguised as downloads of porn or games.

    Using fake cell phone towers that actually intercept phone signals en route to real towers, the U.S. could harvest hardware information in Iraq and Afghanistan that would forever label a phone and allow the NSA to always uniquely identify it, even if the SIM card was changed. The fake cell towers also allowed the NSA to gather precise location data for the phone, vacuum up metadata, and monitor what was being said.

    At one point, more than 100 NSA teams had been scouring Iraq for snippets of electronic data that might be useful to military planners. The agency’s director, General Keith Alexander, changed that: he devised a strategy called Real Time Regional Gateway to grab every Iraqi text, phone call, email, and social media interaction. “Rather than look for a single needle in the haystack, his approach was, ‘Let’s collect the whole haystack,’ ” said one former senior U.S. intelligence official. “Collect it all, tag it, store it, and whatever it is you want, you go searching for it.”

    Sound familiar, Mr. Snowden?


    Welcome Home, Soldier (Part I)

    Thanks to Edward Snowden, we now know that the “collect it all” technique employed by the NSA in Iraq would soon enough be used to collect American metadata and other electronically available information, including credit card transactions, air ticket purchases, and financial records. At the vast new $2 billion data center it is building in Bluffdale, Utah, and at other locations, the NSA is following its Iraq script of saving everything, so that once an American became a target, his or her whole history can be combed through. Such searches do not require approval by a court, or even an NSA supervisor. As it happened, however, the job was easier to accomplish in the U.S. than in Iraq, as internet companies and telephone service providers are required by secret law to hand over the required data, neatly formatted, with no messy spying required.

    When the U.S. wanted something in Iraq or Afghanistan, they sent guys to kick down doors and take it. This, too, may be beginning to happen here at home. Recently, despite other valuable and easily portable objects lying nearby, computers, and only computers, were stolen from the law offices representing State Department whistleblower Aurelia Fedenisn. Similarly, a Washington law firm representing NSA whistleblower Tom Drake had computers, and only computers, stolen from its office.

    In these years, the FBI has brought two other NSA wartime tools home. The Bureau now uses a device called Stingray to recreate those battlefield fake cell phone towers and track people in the U.S. without their knowledge. Stingray offers some unique advantages: it bypasses the phone company entirely, which is, of course, handy in a war zone in which a phone company may be controlled by less than cooperative types, or if phone companies no longer cooperate with the government, or simply if you don’t want the phone company or anyone else to know you’re snooping. American phone companies seem to have been quite cooperative. Verizon, for instance, admits hacking its own cellular modems (“air cards”) to facilitate FBI intrusion.

    The FBI is also following NSA’s lead implanting spyware and other hacker software developed for our war zones secretly and remotely in American computers and cell phones. The Bureau can then remotely turn on phone and laptop microphones, even webcams, to monitor citizens, while files can be pulled from a computer or implanted onto a computer.

    Among the latest examples of war technology making the trip back to the homeland is the aerostat, a tethered medium-sized blimp. Anyone who served in Iraq or Afghanistan will recognize the thing, as one or more of them flew over nearly every military base of any size or importance. The Army recently announced plans to operate two such blimps over Washington, D.C., starting in 2014. Allegedly they are only to serve as anti-missile defenses, though in our war zones they were used as massive surveillance platforms. As a taste of the sorts of surveillance systems the aerostats were equipped with abroad but the Army says they won’t have here at home, consider Gorgon Stare, a system that can transmit live images of an entire town.  And unlike drones, an aerostat never needs to land. Ever.


    Welcome Home, Soldier (Part II)

    And so to Bradley Manning.

    As the weaponry and technology of war came home, so did a new, increasingly Guantanamo-ized definition of justice. This is one thing the Manning case has made clear.

    As a start, Manning was treated no differently than America’s war-on-terror prisoners at Guantanamo and the black sites that the Bush administration set up around the world. Picked up on the “battlefield,” Manning was first kept incommunicado in a cage in Kuwait for two months with no access to a lawyer. Then, despite being an active duty member of the Army, he was handed over to the Marines, who also guard Guantanamo, to be held in a military prison in Quantico, Virginia.

    What followed were three years of cruel detainment, where, as might well have happened at Gitmo, Manning, kept in isolation, was deprived of clothing, communications, legal advice, and sleep. The sleep deprivation regime imposed on him certainly met any standard, other than Washington’s and possibly Pyongyang’s, for torture. In return for such abuse, even after a judge had formally ruled that he was subjected to excessively harsh treatment, Manning will only get a 112-day reduction in his eventual sentence.

    Eventually the Obama administration decided Manning was to be tried as a soldier before a military court. In the courtroom, itself inside a military facility that also houses NSA headquarters, there was a strikingly gulag-like atmosphere.  His trial was built around secret witnesses and secret evidence; severe restrictions were put on the press — the Army denied press passes to 270 of the 350 media organizations that applied; and there was a clear appearance of injustice. Among other things, the judge ruled against nearly every defense motion.

    During the months of the trial, the U.S. military refused to release official transcripts of the proceedings. Even a private courtroom sketch artist was barred from the room. Independent journalist and activist Alexa O’Brien then took it upon herself to attend the trial daily, defy the Army, and make an unofficial record of the proceedings by hand. Later in the trial, armed military police were stationed behind reporters listening to testimony. Above all, the feeling that Manning’s fate was predetermined could hardly be avoided. After all, President Obama, the former Constitutional law professor, essentially proclaimed him guilty back in 2011 and the Department of Defense didn’t hesitate to state more generally that “leaking is tantamount to aiding the enemies of the United States.”

    As at Guantanamo, rules of evidence reaching back to early English common law were turned upside down. In Manning’s case, he was convicted of espionage, even though the prosecution did not have to prove either his intent to help another government or that harm was caused; a civilian court had already paved the way for such a ruling in another whistleblower case. In addition, the government was allowed to label Manning a “traitor” and an “anarchist” in open court, though he was on trial for neither treason nor anarchy. His Army supervisor in the U.S. and Iraq was allowed to testify against him despite having made biased and homophobic statements about him in a movie built around portraying Manning as a sad, sexually-confused, attention-seeking young man mesmerized by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Finally, the same judge who essentially harassed the press throughout Manning’s trial issued a 24-hour advance notice of her verdict to ensure maximum coverage only of the denouement, not the process.

    Given all this, it is small comfort to know that Manning, nailed on the Espionage Act after multiple failures in other cases by the Obama administration, was not convicted of the extreme charge of “aiding the enemy.”


    Not Manning Alone

    Someday, Manning’s case may be seen as a bitter landmark on the road to a post-Constitutional America, but it won’t be seen as the first case in the development of the post-Constitutional system. Immediately following 9/11, top officials in the Bush administration decided to “take the gloves off.” Soon after, a wounded John Walker Lindh, the so-called American Taliban, was captured on an Afghan battlefield, held in a windowless shipping container, refused access to a lawyer even after he demanded one as an American citizen, and interrogated against his will by the FBI. Access to medical care was used as a bribe to solicit information from him. “Evidence” obtained by such means was then used to convict him in court.

    Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen who clumsily plotted to detonate a nonexistent “dirty bomb,” was held incommunicado for more three years, over a year of which was in a South Carolina military jail. He was arrested only as a material witness and was not formally charged with a crime until years later. He was given no means to challenge his detention under habeas corpus, as President Bush designated him an “enemy combatant.” Pictures of Padilla being moved wearing sound-proof and light-proof gear strongly suggest he was subjected to the same psychosis-inducing sensory deprivation used as “white torture” against America’s foreign enemies in Guantanamo.

    Certainly, the most egregious case of pre-Manning post-Constitutional justice was the execution of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki by drone in Yemen, without due process or trial, for being an al-Qaeda propagandist. In this, President Obama and his top counterterrorism advisors quite literally took on the role of judge, jury, and executioner.  In a similar fashion, again in Yemen, the U.S. killed al-Awlaki’s American teenage son, a boy no one claimed was connected to terrorism. Obama administration lawyers went on to claim the legal right to execute U.S. citizens without trial or due process and have admitted to killing four Americans. Attorney General Eric Holder declared that “United States citizenship alone does not make such individuals immune from being targeted.”

    Then-FBI Director Robert Mueller, asked in a Congressional hearing if the FBI could assassinate an American citizen in the United States, replied that he simply did not know. “I have to go back. Uh, I’m not certain whether that was addressed or not.” He added, “I’m going to defer that to others in the Department of Justice.” As if competing for an Orwellian prize, an unnamed Obama administration official told the Washington Post, “What constitutes due process in this case is a due process in war.”


    Post-Constitutional America

    So welcome to post-Constitutional America. Its shape is, ominously enough, beginning to come into view.

    Orwell’s famed dystopian novel 1984 was not intended as an instruction manual, but just days before the Manning verdict, the Obama administration essentially buried its now-ironic-campaign promise to protect whistleblowers, sending it down Washington’s version of the memory hole. Post-9/11, torture famously stopped being torture if an American did it, and its users were not prosecutable by the Justice Department.

    Similarly, full-spectrum spying is not considered to violate the Fourth Amendment and does not even require probable cause. Low-level NSA analysts have desktop access to the private emails and phone calls of Americans. The Post Office photographs the envelopes of every one of the 160 billion pieces of mail it handles, collecting the metadata of “to:” and “from:” addresses. An Obama administration Insider Threat Program requires federal employees (including the Peace Corps) to report on the suspicious behavior of coworkers.

    Government officials concerned over possible wrongdoing in their departments or agencies who “go through proper channels” are fired or prosecuted. Government whistleblowers are commanded to return to face justice, while law-breakers in the service of the government are allowed to flee justice. CIA officers who destroy evidence of torture go free, while a CIA agent who blew the whistle on torture is locked up.

    Secret laws and secret courts can create secret law you can’t know about for “crimes” you don’t even know exist.  You can nonetheless be arrested for committing them. Thanks to the PATRIOT Act, citizens, even librarians, can be served by the FBI with a National Security Letter (not requiring a court order) demanding records and other information, and gagging them from revealing to anyone that such information has been demanded or such a letter delivered.  Citizens may be held without trial, and denied their Constitutional rights as soon as they are designated “terrorists.” Lawyers and habeas corpus are available only when the government allows.

    In the last decade, 10 times as many employers turned to FBI criminal databases to screen job applicants. The press is restricted when it comes to covering “open trials.” The war on whistleblowers is metastasizing into a war on the First Amendment. People may now be convicted based on secret testimony by unnamed persons. Military courts and jails can replace civilian ones. Justice can be twisted and tangled into an almost unrecognizable form and then used to send a young man to prison for decades. Claiming its actions lawful while shielding the “legal” opinions cited, often even from Congress, the government can send its drones to assassinate its own citizens.

    One by one, the tools and attitudes of the war on terror, of a world in which the “gloves” are eternally off, have come home. The comic strip character Pogo’s classic warning — “We have met the enemy and he is us” — seems ever less like a metaphor. According to the government, increasingly we are now indeed their enemy.




    This article also appeared on:

    The Nation http://www.thenation.com/article/175589/welcome-post-constitution-america

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

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

    Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-van-buren/bradley-manning-trial_b_3707109.html

    Michael Moore: http://www.michaelmoore.com/words/mike-friends-blog/welcome-post-constitution-america-what-if-your-country-begins-change-and-no-one-notices

    Digg.com

    Asia Times: http://www.atimes.com/atimes/World/WOR-01-060813.html

    Mother Jones: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/08/bradley-manning-constitutional-rights

    Le Monde Diplomatique (English): http://mondediplo.com/openpage/welcome-to-post-constitution-america

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

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

    Counterinformation: https://counterinformation.wordpress.com/2013/08/05/welcome-to-post-constitution-america/

    Information Clearing House: http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article35760.htm

    Nation of Change: http://www.nationofchange.org/welcome-post-constitution-america-1375712052

    Middle East online: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=60564

    al-Arab online: http://www.alarabonline.org/english/display.asp?fname=\2013\08\08-05\zopinionz\970.htm&dismode=x&ts=8/5/2013%2011:15:21%20AM

    Democratic Underground: http://www.democraticunderground.com/10023408050

    Outlook India: http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?287286

    Smirking Chimp: http://smirkingchimp.com/thread/tom-engelhardt/50975/tomgram-peter-van-buren-the-manning-trial-began-on-9-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State

    Manning’s Apology: Try Compassion and Understanding, Not Vindication

    August 16, 2013 // 7 Comments »

    With the Bradley Manning sentencing decision expected in about a week, much attention has turned to his statement in court on August 14 essentially begging for leniency, and thus his life. Many people who support Manning are confused and maybe saddened by his apology and contrition. Others seem gladdened, feeling that Manning humiliated himself and chose not to call himself a whistleblower.

    I see it differently.

    Manning watched over more than three years as the government denied him first his rights, then attempted to break him psychologically, then subjected him to a drumhead court martial based on denied defense motions, limits on witnesses he could call, exaggerated and stacked charges and a lack of transparency. He saw that he was convicted of espionage even after the government admitted that they could show no actual harm done by his disclosures and that no foreign power was helped. He spied for no one, and aided no one but the American people in better understanding how America makes war and conducts diplomacy.

    The totality of this left Manning with no choice but to exercise the last chance at justice he had left, a sentence actually in line with what he actually did, as opposed to the defacto death sentence the government seeks. I am saddened that the process pressed Manning into this final act of subjugation as his only hope for a whiff of fairness.

    Wikileaks said something similar:


    “The only currency this military court will take is Bradley Manning’s humiliation. In light of this, Mr. Manning’s forced decision to apologize to the U.S. government in the hope of shaving a decade or more off his sentence must be regarded with compassion and understanding… Bradley Manning’s apology was extracted by force, but in a just court the US government would be apologizing to Bradley Manning. As over 100,000 signatories of his Nobel Peace Prize nomination attest, Bradley Manning has changed the world for the better. He remains a symbol of courage and humanitarian resistance.”


    (A quick Google search for images with the term “Manning” turns up more pictures of NFL quarterbacks Peyton and Eli than Bradley. He’s already slipping down the Memory Hole.)




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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State

    Manning Begat Snowden

    August 12, 2013 // 18 Comments »




    Yes We Can! (spy on Americans).

    I know it is hard for us as a nation to think back past last night’s episode of Breaking Bad, but try and remember when Obama, a former constitutional law lecturer, campaigned on a pledge to ensure that national security policy remained consistent with American laws and values. He also made the now-ironic pledges about protecting whistleblowers. Good times, yes?

    Strawmen Tell No Tales

    Obama now continues to defend his unfettered spying on, well, pretty much the whole world. In his most recent press conference, Obama pulled out the old Bush-era strawman argument: whatever the government does is essential to protecting the United States. It is either chaotic liberty or apocalyptic daily terror attacks, pick one or the other, baby. The money shot statement from the press conference: “(Terrorists) have the capacity, potentially, to go after our businesses.” You can take our liberty, but don’t mess with our money. Americans, as we go to war, be sure to keep shopping!

    Manning Begat Snowden

    In addition, Obama found time in his press conference to mock Edward Snowden personally, saying he was not a patriot (Snowden, not Obama) and saying he (Snowden, not Obama) should come to the Das Homeland for a fair trial before being sent away for life.

    Obama, as he has not realized after killing al Qaeda’s No. 1 and No. 2′s repeatedly for years without effect, has not realized that despite his aggressively hunting down and smiting whistleblowers whenever the Empire can catch one, new whistleblowers keep emerging. Manning begat Snowden and so forth. Among a handful of The People at least, a fire still burns.

    Your Guide to Smiting Whistleblowers

    So, as a public service knowing more whistleblowers are sure to emerge, here is a handy guide on how to respond. The pattern following a whistleblower’s disclosure must come from some joint media-government handbook, because it is always the same:


    – Initially deny everything and hope the story fades away. Claim the info is from an unreliable web site, or a foreign news source, is just bad guy propaganda.

    – When that doesn’t work, denigrate the whistleblower on personal grounds (gay, lazy, narcissistic, unpatriotic) and work hard to focus people on the messenger, not the message.

    – When that doesn’t work, say, you know, come to think of it, the disclosures are not that big a deal. The whistleblower really did not say anything important, so best to just ignore him.

    – When that doesn’t work, claim the whistleblower is a criminal, violated his oath, his military commission, his Netflix terms of service, that little checkbox when you install software, whatever sticks.

    – When that doesn’t work, say the whistleblower should have gone through channels (as if in reality they exist). Do not explain what/where these channels are, for say, an Army private in the middle of the Iraqi desert.

    – When that doesn’t work, claim the whistleblower must “face justice” and “take responsibility,” though only in the form of jail time and on the government’s terms. Maybe three years of pretrial detainment to soften things up? Perhaps a little sleep deprivation? Hmm, you have relatives still in Germany, yes?

    – When that doesn’t work, switch gears and claim whatever was disclosed is a grave threat to the U.S. Cite the danger to American lives, and especially to “the troops.” Say blood is on the whistleblower’s hands. No evidence needed.

    – Repeat as needed.


    BONUS: Here’s an article that pretty much covers most of the points above, The Five Nastiest Things the White House Has Said About Snowden.



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State

    Military Court Ruling to Have Impact on Bradley Manning?

    July 5, 2013 // 9 Comments »




    A decision by the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, the military’s highest court, overturning a Marine’s murder conviction based on violations of the Fifth Amendment, may have positive implications for Bradley Manning. The Court held that the Marine’s being held in solitary confinement for seven days without access to a lawyer, after refusing to incriminate himself, made his subsequent statements invalid as his Fifth Amendment rights were violated. The technicalities differ, but the similarity between that Marine’s situation and Manning’s may prove significant.

    The facts in Marine Lawrence Hutchins’ case are clear. On patrol in Iraq in 2006, Hutchins ordered his squad to kidnap and execute in cold blood an Iraqi civilian, and then make it look like they had ambushed a high-value insurgent in a “good shoot.” The squad would be praised for its work in the war on terror. The truth came out, and Hutchins was arrested in Iraq. After he refused to talk to investigators and asked for a lawyer, Hutchins was instead locked into a shipping container for seven days and nights, denied the chance to contact a lawyer, and held under mind-numbing solitary conditions. After seven days of this, and still without a lawyer, Hutchins was asked to consent to a search of his belongings, and started to incriminate himself.


    The Court of Appeals ruled that Hutchin’s Fifth Amendment rights were stomped upon when the investigators, after a seven day solitary confinement softening up, spoke to him again with a lawyer.


    Former Navy officer David Glazier, now a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said “Here this guy’s conviction is overturned on the basis that he was mistreated by the government during his initial apprehension, and yet he’s already served five years in prison. If the conviction was unjust in the first place, it’s kind of appalling it’s taken the military justice system five years to resolve it.”

    That leaves us with the question of Private Manning. The military held him for three years, much of the time without a lawyer, much of the time under overtly inhumane conditions. While we don’t know what statements Manning did or did not make prior to seeing a lawyer, or at what point if any he invoked his Fifth Amendment rights, one would think his current attorney would be reading the Hutchins’ decision word-by-word today.

    And hey, Bradley Manning did not murder anyone.

    BONUS: Whistleblower Jesslyn Radack’s firing from the Department of Justice was based in large part on her assertions that the so-called American Taliban, John Walker Lindh, was held under inhuman conditions, interrogated without a lawyer even after he requested one, and thus denied his Fifth Amendment rights. DOJ fired her, and threw Lindh and most of the Constitution into prison.



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State

    Who Guards the Guards?

    June 12, 2013 // 39 Comments »



    America’s spies– our bad guys who sold secrets to other countries, Ames, the Walkers, Pollard– worked for money. Their motives were straightforward and they clearly, actively sought to trade secrets away for personal gain. They choose secrets such as code ciphers of specific interest and value to the enemy.

    But what about now? The people Obama is/has/will be prosecuting under the Espionage Act (Manning, Drake, Snowden) did not act for money (quite the contrary; all suffered personally for their actions) and instead of informing a foreign power, they sought to inform the American people. That is not spying.

    Our current whistleblowers were all vetted multiple times by the U.S. Government. If Snowden’s publically available bio is true, he was vetted by the Army, the CIA, the NSA and again as an NSA contractor. What happened?

    What happened was conscience, and God bless us all for it.

    History recognizes the need to act on conscience when faced with unconscionable situations. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writing about Kristallnacht, said “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” The Nuremberg prosecutors reminded the accused that “Individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience. Therefore individual citizens have the duty to violate domestic laws to prevent crimes against peace and humanity from occurring.” Dr. Martin Luther King, writing from a Birmingham jail cell, said “One may well ask: ‘How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?’ The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘an unjust law is no law at all.’”

    Bradley Manning provided no real aid and comfort to the enemy. Among other horrific events, he exposed what was a war crime to everyone but the U.S. Government as civilians and journalists were machine gunned from the air. He exposed U.S. murder of Iraqi civilians. He shared with the American people exactly what was being done in their name. None of that information was secret for any legitimate reason (it was kept quiet to protect the USG from embarrassment and/or prosecution), and it certainly was not secret to the “enemy;” they knew damn well what we were doing.

    The case is the same with Snowden. He simply told the American people, in much greater detail than the Government wished to reveal, what their own government was doing to them. The NSA spying focused on Americans, and even as the government seeks to justify it the case weakens around them. Indeed, all that surveillance failed to even catch Snowden gathering documents from the inside but we’re supposed to believe it has saved us from terrorism? Once again, the people most informed by the leaked material were the American people, not any imagined generic “enemy.” Indeed, most of the enemy comes from police-state countries where surveillance (and torture, another recent U.S. activity) is routine and overt. They knew damn well what we were doing. Bin Laden stopped using cell phones a decade ago.

    If I could shout into the White House, it would be something like this:

    Your own guards are turning against your surveillance and secrecy. People whom you vetted are being moved into glorious, selfless democratic acts of conscience by your lies and your actions. If the government continues to treat every citizen as a potential terrorist, more and more of them will be moved to act, to uphold their true oath of office– to uphold and protect the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic.

    Are you not aware Mr. Obama that one whistleblower, Assange, is living in a foreign embassy for his own protection from you, while another, Snowden, is said to be headed for asylum somewhere abroad for his own safety? During the Cold War and onward, it was American Embassies abroad that provided shelter and asylum to political victims. You can expect more leakers, and by focusing your response on arresting the messengers instead of changing your policies, you will in fact assure it as your legacy.



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State

    Dinner and a Speech with Daniel Ellsberg

    June 3, 2013 // 21 Comments »

    It was one of my great pleasures to have dinner with Daniel Ellsberg (and several others supporting justice for Bradley Manning) this week.

    Ellsberg is the prototypical whistleblower, a former Marine and serious government official supporting the government’s way until something– in Ellsberg’s case, learning the truth about U.S. conduct in the Vietnam War– so shocked his conscience that he was compelled to speak out. In Ellsberg’s case, that resulted in the “Pentagon Papers” and the landmark legal decisions defending the right of the New York Times to publish them. That those same legal rights are now under attack by the Obama Administration, and likely to figure significantly in the Manning case, just emphasized the importance of what Ellsberg risked his freedom to do.

    I wrote an open letter to Dan, tracing a small part of my own political awakening to his brave actions. Maybe worth a read.

    In person Dan proved to still be an amazing intellect at age 82. Though his hearing has faded, his mind is razor. Talking politics with him, from Lyndon Johnson to Bradley Manning, was like playing chess against Fischer, discussing writing with Steinbeck or shooting pool against Fats.

    Dan also possesses an amazing stock of jokes, some a bit naughty, which he tells with some skill. One involved a leprechaun (you had to be there) and Ellsberg slipped in and out of an Irish accent as effortlessly as he skewed Richard Nixon moments earlier.

    The next night I joined Ellsberg, Jesselyn Radack, Michael Ratner, Tom Drake, Ethan McCord and others at the Unitarian All Souls Church in Washington DC to speak out for justice for whistleblower Bradley Manning. Manning’s trial, after his three years of confinement, finally begins June 3. The speeches were followed by interviews with the BBC Radio World Service. The American media, who certainly profited from Manning’s whistleblowing, skipped the event.

    Sorry to brag a bit, but losing one’s job at the State Department isn’t all bad when you get opportunities like this.




    Video of the support Manning speeches.




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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State

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

    May 17, 2013 // 12 Comments »

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

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

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

    Who Speaks?

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

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

    (1) Brigadier General Retired Robert Carr, DIA

    (2) Colonel Julian Chestnut, DIA

    (3) Classified Witness Entirety

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

    (5) John Doe (Entire)

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

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

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

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

    (9) Mr. John Kirchhofer, DIA

    (10) Ambassador Michael Kozak, Department of State

    (11) Classified Witness Entirety

    (12) Mr. Daniel Lewis, DIA

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

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

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

    (16) Mr. James Moore, Department of State

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

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

    (19) Ambassador David Pearce, Department of State

    (20) Mr. Adam Pearson, JIEDDO

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

    (22) Classified Witness in Entirety

    (23) Ambassador Stephen Seche, Department of State

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

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

    (26) Ambassador Don Yamamoto, Department of State

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

    (28) Mr. Joseph Yun, Department of State


    So Who Are These People?

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

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

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

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

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



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



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State

    Bradley Manning Speaks

    March 16, 2013 // 12 Comments »




    The Freedom of the Press Foundation released an audio recording of Bradley Manning’s statement to the military court.


    By releasing this audio recording, we wish to make sure that the voice of this generation’s most prolific whistleblower can be heard—literally—by the world. Please spread his words as far as you can: on your blog, in your videos, on Twitter and on Facebook.




    (Alternate link here)



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State

    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, Embassy/State

    Smell That? Smells Like… Victory

    October 1, 2012 // 14 Comments »

    For those reading this blog from Foggy Bottom, can you smell it? Something different in the air? No, no it’s not napalm from the latest group of grateful Muslims freed from another tyrant’s grip by American truth drones, it’s me.

    I’m done stinking up the place. As of midnight yesterday I officially retired from the State Department. You’re all freed from the chaos and tyranny I was accused of inflicting. From the statement “officially retired” you may safely assume that I in fact retired, which is a different word (check the dictionary) from fired, or arrested, or jailed under the Espionage Act. State failed in all those options, in fact in every judicial and other action not totally within its own control. In other words, no one but State’s own incestuous minders was willing to believe I did anything wrong. State could only lash out, limply as it turns out, with its self-controlled bullies from Diplomatic Security, taking away my security clearance because it was the only punitive thing they could actually get away with that had no outside review, no judicial relief and no appeals process.

    Pride people, pride makes us what we are. People first.

    Along the way, the Department’s blind-leading-the-blind stumbles did help create publicity, which in turn sold books, lots of books that were full of stuff they did not like, a perfect example of how what matters most inside the State Department is what matters inside the State Department.

    The great news is that the tumor has been cut out, the boil lanced, the pus-laden throbbing glob that was me is gone. You should already be seeing the many improvements and new opportunities around the State Department.

    My lawyers and I have filed Freedom of Information Act requests and a request to the Office of Management and Budget, as well as with the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, asking what the cost of this year long, multi-Bureau effort to get rid of me might have been.

    While it may be several hundred years before we get a response, we can do some quick figuring: I was paid a full year’s salary and benefits to stay home, Diplomatic Security ran full field investigations and a phony security clearance “update” charade, an investigator from another office was sent all the way to Iraq to dig for dirt on fake charges even State had to drop for lack of a tether to reality, multiple sub-grievances and appeals were prosecuted by State, audits of everything I did fishing for mud to sling, and of course they probably had to buy at least one copy of my book to use to search for the classified info that wasn’t there (full retail was $25 on the book). Factor in the electronic surveillance costs, the numerous well-written denials of my previous Freedom of Information Act requests, plus the man hours of pain and commuting costs when I was summoned in to get yelled at by my paper tiger boss early on. We’ll wait on the full FOIA response, but until State challenges the number, I’m throwing out about a quarter of a million dollars of tax payer cash spent on… on… trying to take away an American Citizen’s right to free speech.

    Well, they failed.


    I believe more strongly now than I ever have in the importance of freedom of speech, including, no, especially including speech which appears dangerous, offensive and wrong to many people. As a nice way of reminding the State Department of its obligation to support free speech, I proudly wore my “Free Bradley Manning” T-shirt to work on my last day. Here’s a photo.




    Now, a lusty cry of “Hillary in 2016!” from everyone, and we’ll keep moving on.




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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State

    Battle Buddies

    March 24, 2012 // 1 Comment »

    (This article originally appeared on the blog, Ranger Against War)

    We have many friends and acquaintances her at RangerAgainstWar whom we have never met, save in the ether world. Among these is one each, Peter Van Buren, a true American patriot and razor sharp thinker.

    We first heard Mr. Van Buren in his NPR interview regarding his book, We Meant Well, and were impressed with his cogency and wit. It convinced us that at least one person in the State Department uses his head as something other than a hat rack. To their shame, he seems to be in the minority.

    Peter was fired by State this week in a confusing welter of accusations suggesting improper leaks, but it looks like a simple case of bullying an employee for exercising his right of free speech — Oh, yeah, that thing the U.S. was supposedly spreading with those Provisional Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) which Peter helped lead. He has laid the situation and players out well over the past several weeks @ WeMeantWell.com.

    Bottom line: The State Department (DoS) cannot brook free speech, and in that way is unlike the Department of Defense (DoD), or any federal agency. So the U.S. spends Trillions of dollars exporting fanciful democratic ideals, all the while stomping on those very same concepts here in The Homeland ™.

    The treatment of the Branch Davidians during the Clinton White House might reveal Secretary of State Clinton’s proclivities when dealing with a DoS whistleblower. She will attempt to roll over him like an Engineer Assault vehicle crushing the Branch Davidian compound. Peter needs our support if that still has relevance in our democratic scheme.

    His case is similar to Bradley Manning’s in many respects, except Manning (being in DoD) has less rights. At least Van Buren has not been charged with espionage (at least, not yet!)

    Ranger finds it curious that there at least three Constitutions: One for domestic consumption, one for export, and one for DoD and DoS. We just presume that the military does not have free speech because they cannot criticize the Commander in Chief and Chain of Command (even if what they say is correct and factual.) If Van Buren is fired (following appeal), then free speech will not be tolerated in any government office, obviating the need for federal whistleblower laws.

    Men who march in lock step to their next promotion talk the talk but don’t walk the walk, and sadly, they will be the ones judging men like Van Buren. Screw the War on Terror — let’s defend freedom over here.

    Our best wishes go out to Peter van Buren who is stuck out on point without a battle buddy.



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State

    Wanna Know a Secret? Ask the State Department

    December 9, 2011 // Comments Off

    A brief recap:

    Bradley Manning or someone released a bazillion classified State Department cables to the world via Wikileaks, State Department would not confirm any of the cables as genuine, blocks access inside Foggy Bottom where people do have security clearances and could thus legally read the cables, and takes away my security clearance for linking to one of those cables on this blog.

    Then those bad, bad boys and girls at the ACLU file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and lawsuit seeking twenty-three cables that had been previously disclosed by WikiLeaks and widely distributed online and in the press.

    And what does the State Department do?

    It released eleven of the ACLU-requested documents, with redactions. That means that all you or anyone on earth need to do is compare the State-released version with the Wikileaks-released version, and you’ll know exactly what information is, er, was considered secret.

    You could do a lot of Googling around to compare the two sets of documents, but if you don’t want to, someone has already made the pairing for you.

    In the words of the ACLU:


    The State Department has reversed course and acknowledged that at least some of the cables can be released to the public without harming national security. That’s what we’ve been saying all along (and, according to reports, what some government officials have been saying too).

    The State Department’s response is particularly astounding because it reveals a roadmap of the government’s classification decisions. The information released by the State Department is perhaps more sensitive than the cables themselves, revealing what the government thinks the public should and should not be able to see.



    Even the staid New York Times was mildly gobsmacked:


    Of course, by redacting passages the public is free to read, the State Department has called attention to what it considers the most diplomatically touchy parts of cables. At a glance, its reasoning is not obvious.



    ACLU’s conclusion after comparing the redactions with the full texts is not pretty:


    At its most harmless, [State's] selectivity reveals a penchant for superficially advancing national image at the cost of transparency. At its worst, it is yet another instance of the government making false claims of secrecy to avoid legal and political accountability.



    And special thanks to the ACLU for mentioning my own struggles with State; it is comforting to know they have my back.



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

    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State

    Speaking at the National Press Club 10/27 at 10am – Public Welcome!

    October 26, 2011 // Comments Off




    If you live in Washington DC, please come join us at the National Press Club October 27 at 10am. Here is the press release:

    Writer, Foreign Service Officer Peter Van Buren to Discuss
    State Department Actions Against His Expose on Waste and Fraud in Iraq

    Location: Zenger Room

    Foreign Service Officer Peter Van Buren will talk about and take questions on his new book about the State Department’s failed reconstruction efforts in Iraq, “We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.” For daring to write about the waste and corruption he experienced in Iraq, Van Buren has become the target of State Department actions to silence him, including the suspension of his security clearance, attempts to retroactively redact his book and a criminal investigation over a Wikileaks link on his blog at www.wemeantwell.com.

    As a Foreign Service Officer, Van Buren volunteered for Iraq service and was assigned to ePRT duty from 2009-10. His tour extended past the withdrawal of the last combat troops. His experiences while serving there became the basis for his book.

    Van Buren has served with the Foreign Service for over 23 years and received numerous awards and citations for his work. Previous assignments include Taiwan, Japan, Korea, the UK and Hong Kong. During his time at State, he has worked extensively with the military in Japan, Korea and Iraq.

    Van Buren’s appearance is as a private citizen and is on the record for attribution. The views expressed are solely his own and do not in any way represent the views of the Department of State, the Department of Defense or any other entity of the US Government. The Department of State does not approve, endorse or authorize his remarks.

    Contact:
    Ben Dooley, NPC Newsmakers Committee, event host
    Phone: (757) 709-4159, bdooley@kyododc.com


    If you need directions, have a look at the NPC site.

    Bradley Manning supporters especially welcome!




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

    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State

    “Incident in New Baghdad” Makes Oscar Shortlist!

    October 14, 2011 // Comments Off

    Bradley Manning is accused of leaking classified gun camera footage. Known as the “Collateral Murder” video, the deeply disturbing footage recounts a US helicopter attack on a group of mostly unarmed individuals in the streets of Baghdad in July 2007, resulting in the deaths of at least eight individuals including two Iraqi journalists, and two wounded children. Manning risked his life to make the atrocity public.

    To see that the video reached an even wider audience, as well as to provide context for what is shown, James Spione created a critically acclaimed short documentary, Incident in New Baghdad. James focuses on US Army Specialist Ethan McCord’s account of the attack as one of the first six American soldiers to reach the scene, and the struggle he now faces at home as he addresses his own PTSD and works to raise Americans’ awareness of the implications of war.

    Now, the good news: the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that the Documentary Branch had viewed all 35 eligible Documentary Short Subject entries, and narrowed the field down to an eight-film shortlist– Incident in New Baghdad is one of the films on that list.


    See a clip from the film and learn more.



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

    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State

    Photos: Where Bradley Manning Lived and Worked in Iraq

    May 9, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    The WaPo had an excellent bio piece on Manning, including many details previously not disclosed publicly.

    FOB HammerWhat WaPo and no one else has are photos of the place Manning lived and worked, FOB Hammer. I have them, on Flickr.

    I probably had dinner with Bradley Manning. Manning, the soldier who allegedly handed over massive amounts of classified material to Wikileaks, was stationed at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Hammer at the same time I was. The office where he worked was right down the hall from mine and though I never knowingly met him, it is hard to believe that we never walked past each other in the corridor, or ended up in the single cafeteria at the same time. The food wasn’t that good, and it could have been Manning one of those days when an anonymous soldier muttered that the salt was not enough to overpower the grease on pot roast Wednesdays.

    One of the most striking things Manning alledgedly leaked was gun camera video from an Apache attack. The aircraft gunned down two journalists and may have also killed civilians. A new film, Incident in New Baghdad, revisits the leaked video and includes interviews with one of the soldiers involved. Take a look at a clip from the film.

    You can see the original gun camera video as well, though YouTube requires you to sign in to prove you are mature enough to see what war is really about.



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

    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State

    Dinner with Bradley Manning

    April 6, 2011 // Comments Off

    The same photo of Bradley Manning you've seen before.I probably had dinner with Bradley Manning. Manning, the soldier who allegedly handed over massive amounts of classified material to Wikileaks, was stationed at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Hammer at the same time I was. The office where he worked was right down the hall from mine and though I never knowingly met him, it is hard to believe that we never walked past each other in the corridor, or ended up in the single cafeteria at the same time. The food wasn’t that good, and it could have been Manning one of those days when an anonymous soldier muttered that the salt was not enough to overpower the grease on pot roast Wednesdays.

    One of the most striking things Manning alledgedly leaked was gun camera video from an Apache attack. The aircraft gunned down two journalists and may have also killed civilians. A new film, Incident in New Baghdad, revisits the leaked video and includes interviews with one of the soldiers involved. Take a look at a clip from the film.

    You can see the original gun camera video as well, though YouTube requires you to sign in to prove you are mature enough to see what war is really about.

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

    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State

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