According to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Convening Authorities can reduce or eliminate a convicted soldier’s sentence. They use this power when they feel the court martial failed to deliver justice. As Commanding General of the Military District of Washington, Major General Jeffrey S. Buchanan is the only other individual besides President Obama (and there ain’t no joy there unless Manning qualifies as a Syrian kid) with the power to lessen Pvt. Manning’s sentence.
This process is not new, nor unique. Though a slightly different judicial procedure, the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals only in June of this year reduced the sentence of a former Ramstein Air Base staff sergeant who advertised babysitting services to gain access to three young girls he repeatedly sexually assaulted. Staff Sgt. Joshua A. Smith’s sentence was reduced such that Smith, 30, would be eligible for parole after a decade or more. The appellate judges, in their written opinion, said that despite the heinousness of Smith’s crimes against the girls — ages 3, 4 and 7 — the sentence handed down in November 2010 by military judge Col. Dawn R. Eflein and approved by the Third Air Force commander was “unduly severe.”
If you wish to add your voice to the many now asking for Manning’s sentence to be reduced, the instructions on how to do so are straightforward.
Here is what I wrote:
Major General Jeffrey S. Buchanan
Commanding General, U.S. Army Military District of Washington, DC
I write to request that as the Convening Authority in the case of U.S. v. Bradley E. Manning you move to reduce Pvt. Manning’s sentence to time served. Pvt. Manning has, in the course of several difficult years of confinement, taken responsibility for his actions and has been punished.
As the leader of a State Department Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Iraq, I was embedded with the 10th Mountain Division, 2nd Brigade at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Hammer at the same time Manning was deployed there (though we never met.) I worked closely with Colonel Miller and his team to implement U.S. goals, and came away with great respect for him and his officers, and the enlisted men and women of the Commandos.
At the same time, I experienced first-hand the austere conditions at FOB Hammer, and the difficult lives the soldiers led. As you are aware, one young soldier tragically took his own life early in the deployment at Hammer. Many veteran soldiers, some who served in the Balkans, also talked about the rough conditions at our FOB. I saw that at times computer security was imperfect. While none of this excuses Pvt. Manning (nor should it; he himself has plead guilty to multiple counts), it does in part help explain it. I ask that you consider these factors in your decision.
As a State Department employee, I had access to the same databases Pvt. Manning in part disclosed, and back in Washington played a small roll in State’s “damage review.” I thus know better than most outsiders what Pvt. Manning did and, significantly, did not disclose, and am in a position to assess dispassionately the impact. As the State Department and the DoD reluctantly concluded at Manning’s trial, little if any verifiable damage was indeed done to the United States. There is no denying that the disclosures were embarrassing and awkward, but that is not worth most of a man’s life.
Justice elevates us all, and reflects well on our beloved nation. The revenge inherent in a 35 year sentence against Pvt. Manning does not.
Peter Van Buren
Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
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.)
Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
While the entire rest of the world chews over Edward Snowden’s disclosures, sleep safe America, because your State Department (as well as somehow the Department of Agriculture) has its collective head in the sand.
A previously-unpublished cable sent recently to all employees worldwide “allows” them to look at Snowden’s disclosures on the internet (congrats; that’s a step up from when Hillary Clinton banned everyone from looking at Wikileaks at work) but they better darn well not “save, copy, or print” anything. See, if you just look at a document on that thar computin’ machine, it’s A-OK. But if yens’ print it out, then it becomes magically super-classified again and you gotta poke out yer own eyes. And you kids better not be doin’ any more speculating or you’ll feel my belt on yer backside! Makes sense, right?
Read it yourself (it’s all unclassified) and pretend you’re a real diplomat. Just be sure not to print this out or there’ll be a knock on your door late tonight!
FM SECSTATE WASHDC
TO ALL DIPLOMATIC AND CONSULAR POSTS COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI IMMEDIATE
INFO DEPT OF AGRICULTURE USD FAS WASHINGTON DC
UNCLAS STATE 088244
E.O. 13526: N/A
SUBJECT: PROPER HANDLING OF PURPORTED CLASSIFIED MATERIALS IN THE MEDIA
1. The Department reminds all personnel that the unauthorized
disclosure of purported classified documents in the media (whether
in print or on blogs and websites) does not mean the documents have
been declassified. All employees must continue to abide by the
classification markings on such documents and handle them with the
appropriate protections, even if they have been posted on internet
websites or otherwise been made public by the media.
2. While Department employees may access news articles or outlets
using the Department’s unclassified computer network (OpenNet), you
are reminded not to save, copy, or print any purported classified
documents that may be posted on or available for download from media
websites. If you must print such purported classified material, it
must be handled in accordance with 12 FAM 530, which requires
locking classified materials in proper containers, as well as all
other applicable FAM and FAH regulations governing protection of
3. Personnel should neither speculate about the authenticity of any
such document nor discuss whether any publicly released document is
classified or unclassified. Any media inquiries should be referred
to your post’s Public Affairs office.
4. Further questions regarding how to handle purported classified
material found in the media should be directed to your Regional
5. Minimize considered.
BONUS: The Army is scared too.
Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
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.
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.
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.
Hello? FBI? CIA? Diplomatic Security? You have a leak. A source inside the State Department leaked a SECRET cable to reporter Josh Rogin of Foreign Policy.com, and Rogin published details of the cable on the web site. This is exactly what Bradley Manning and Julian Assange did on Wikileaks, so hurry!!!!!!!!!
It is true. You can read the details of what Rogin claims is an actual Secret State Department cable right now online. Except for the Internet, you would otherwise need to work for the State Department or in the intelligence community to see this kind of information. Or maybe be Julian Assange.
Actually, there is no rush. The cable purports to be “evidence” that the Syrian Government used chemical weapons against its insurgents and was clearly and obviously leaked by the Obama team as a trial balloon. You see, Obama needs to test public opinion and/or prep public opinion on some sort of more bloody and “robust” intervention into Syria. Leaking the cable is one way to do that– find a sympathetic writer who will publish the information as an exclusive without committing too much actual journalism by asking questions like “Mr. or Ms. Leaker Person at the State Department, exactly why did you risk your career and indeed confinement in Federal prison to pass a secret level document to a popular web site? Aren’t you aware that Bradley Manning is facing execution for just such a thing?”
(And the cable is crap. Interviews in Turkey with Syrian defectors [facilitated by BASMA, an NGO the State Department hired as one of its 'implementing partners' inside Syria. BASMA connected State with willing witnesses] who are trying desperately to get the U.S. drawn deeper into the Syrian conflict for their own benefit. And yes this is exactly what happened with self-serving Iraqi defectors in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq invasion).
So anyway Josh Rogin fans, I doubt he is in danger of arrest. In America, sharing secret documents is a crime only when it isn’t the president doing it.
Comedian Greg Proops (“Who’s Line is it Anyway?”), who calls himself “The Smartest Man in the World,” gave a shout out of support to We Meant Well, Julian Assange and all those who stand up for free speech.
Listen to the podcast; the whole thing is funny and entertaining but for Mom, the part about me starts at around 50:40 in.
BONUS: The point of free speech, by the way, is the literal freedom to speak. You the listener can change the channel, ignore someone you disagree with, be distracted by your iPad, or listen intently. Your choice. Choice is the operative word, Assange haters and email writers to this blog who continue to propose I conduct impossible sexual acts on myself. Guys, if I actually could f*ck myself I probably would be doing it.
From CCTV, a “heated” discussion between Justin Danhof, General Council of the NCPPR, and Peter Van Buren, a former U.S. Foreign Service Officer, on the impact Julian Assange and Wikileaks will have in the world of international relations and national security.
(If the video is not embedded above, follow this link)
P.S. I think I won the debate.
(This article was originally published on the Huffington Post, June 1, 2012)
As other parts of the Federal government begin to examine their own practices toward social media and publication review, the State Department stands alone in clinging to a 19th century model emphasizing lack of transparency and message control. That State seeks this modus in a largely unclassified world and while other agencies move toward change makes even more ripe State’s policies for a judicial challenge.
Introspection at the CIA
The CIA, for example, has begun a voluntary internal investigation into whether a process designed to screen books by former employees for classified information is wrongly and unconstitutionally being used to censor agency critics. The investigation is aimed at determining whether some redactions have been politically motivated. The target of the probe is the agency’s Publications Review Board, which is supposed to focus on whether publication of material would threaten national security interests. CIA critics said the disparities in the review process are particularly apparent in books that deal with controversial subjects, including waterboarding and other forms of “authorized” torture. (The Washington Post story on the CIA’s internal reform was of course not included in the State Department’s own internal press summary of the same day’s “Federal News.”)
Embracing Social Media in the Army
The State Department’s regulations also trail behind other government agencies, particularly the military. Military regulations concerning blogging and social media are not onerous and do not involve pre-clearance requirements. The Army encourages blogging in both official and private capacities, and has published glossy brochure-ware highlighting best practices for each. Though the Army heavily regulated military blogging briefly in 2008, it quickly reversed course. Military Law statutes, regulations, and cases available do not contain any references to pre-clearance requirements.
In fact, the Army social media guidelines are all online, in a colorful, user-friendly slideshow. They begin with the stated premise that “It is important to be as transparent as possible. As communicators, we need to be the first with the truth, whether it’s good or bad.” The emphasis in the Army guidelines is on good judgement– don’t post things online that could endanger soldiers’ lives– with not a word mentioned about the need to pre-clear (indeed, the Army emphasizes the value of social media is in its immediacy) or the requirement to say only “nice things.” Indeed, the introduction to the social media guidelines emphasizes displaying the good with the bad, with “truth” as the goal. The Army guidelines provide lots of examples and include easy-to-understand (“soldier-proof”) checklists of Do’s and Don’t's.
State Stands Alone
And then, standing alone, is the State Department.
State has its own regulations (not “guidelines”) on social media. No slick slide shows at State. The social media regs start with 15 pages of text, and begin by citing 27 Executive Orders, OMB decisions and Federal laws the user is responsible for following, including 18 U.S.C. 713 and 1017, Use of Department and Government Seals (rather than prohibiting the use of Seals and logos, as State does, the Army includes links to web-ready artwork so social media users get the images right) and whatever the Anti-Lobbying Act of 1913, is.
The secret sauce hidden in State’s hefty social media regulations is 3 FAM 4170, Official Clearance of Speaking, Writing, and Teaching. That reg is State’s requirement that all social media, even when posted as a private citizen, be pre-cleared, and that the State Department is allowed up to 30 working days to act.
That means the State Department demands of all of its thousands of employees that they seek pre-clearance for every blog post, update and Tweet, every day, 24/7. An exaggeration on my part? Sorry, no– have a look at the compliance letter I was forced to sign as a condition of employment, which specifically mentions these things even when done by an employee in his or her private capacity.
Obviously State cannot pre-clear what must add up to millions of social media utterances each week, and so it does not. In many instances when I have sought pre-clearance for a blog post on some timely matter, State simply sat on a response until, weeks later, the blog post was so irrelevant that it was not usable anymore. The law anticipated this type of government-foot-dragging-as-shadow-censorship, and in a seminal case on the free speech rights of Federal workers, stated:
But even then insistence on advance approval would raise a further question, as before-the-fact condemnation of speech raises special concerns such as undue delay-the review itself plus time needed for a speaker to secure judicial relief-and stifling of expression that in hindsight would have been viewed as harmless or not worth the enforcement effort.
Droppin’ Some Law On ‘Ya
It was actions such as this that lead the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to assert that the State Department violated my First Amendment free speech rights and acted unconstitutionally. My attempts to clear items for publication were met with lengthy delays and periods of no contact. It was indeed such actions by the Department that often lead me to publish without preclearance so that the material was relevant to breaking news.
Want some law? Specifically on the issue of foot dragging on pre-clearance as a clever technique to kill a story, in Weaver the Court noted “if the prior review were extensive, of course, it might delay constitutionally protected speech to a time when its only relevance was to historians.” In Crue v. Aiken, the 7th Circuit found a pre-clearance directive without a schedule for the review of proposed communications problematic because nothing prevented the reviewing official from delaying approval of communications until they were no longer relevant. (Crue v. Aiken, 370 F.3d 668, 679 (7th Cir. 2004)).
In Davis v. New Jersey Dept. of Law & Pub. Safety, the NJ Superior Court recognized that “before-the-fact review and approval requirements restrict employee speech—and raise special concerns such as undue delay and stifling of expression that in hindsight may be viewed as harmless or not worth the enforcement effort.” (Davis v. New Jersey Dept. of Law & Pub. Safety, Div. of State Police, 742 A.2d 619, 628-29 (Ch. Div. 1999)). Davis citing the Supreme Court in Freedman v. State of Maryland, notes that the danger present when a regulation “is made unduly onerous, by reason of delay or otherwise, to seek judicial review, the censor’s determination may in practice be final.” (Freedman v. State of Md., 380 U.S. 51, 58, 85 S. Ct. 734, 738, 13 L. Ed. 2d 649 (1965)).
I know, I know, too heavy Doc. It took the ACLU five dense pages to spell out in legal detail all the ways the State Department social media regulations were unconstitutional and violated my First Amendment free speech rights.
So it is not as simple as some claim, broadly announcing that Federal employees give up their First Amendment rights, or that social media and the responsibilities of a classified job are incompatible. Federal employees do not give up their First Amendment rights, and there is plenty of law to substantiate that.
The bottom line is this: If the hyper-classified CIA recognizes the need for an internal review of its pre-clearance process, why doesn’t the State Department? If the military, with its obvious day-to-day operational need for secrecy and its immediate impact on soldiers’ lives, can co-exist without pre-clearance restraints on blogs, why can’t State?
Given the chance to make sane, voluntary changes to an obviously out-dated social media policy that stands outside the boundaries of other Federal agencies with a whole lot more secrets to protect, State appears ready to instead insist on having those changes dictated to it by a court. That is an expensive, and in this case, unnecessary way to change out-dated regulations.
Sweden is now a year+ into trying to extradite Wikileaks guy Julian Assange from the UK. Sweden claims that the lengthy, complex and very expensive international legal process is necessary so it can question Assange (no charges have been filed) regarding what constitutes rape in Sweden, consensual sex without a condom.
Of course no one who doesn’t sleep in a cardboard box under an overpass believes that is what Sweden really wants with Assange. Most sentient beings are certain that Sweden seeks Assange for “questioning” only as a pretext to turning him over to US authorities. The UK, where Assange has been under house arrest for over a year, won’t flip him to the US. Sweden will.
So, in an effort to promote general worldwide hilarity, here’s a Tweet today from the US Embassy in Sweden, celebrating the coincidental first SecState visit to that nation in 36 years:
Seriously, where do they find such public diplomacists, men and women totally lacking lacking in either a) intellect, b) morals or c) all of the above, who are so committed to sucking up that they can publicaly churn out crap like that Tweet? Really, you kiss your mother with that mouth? Talk about needing a condom for protection from something gross. Eeeeew.
The following is a letter I sent to the Director General of the Department of State, the head Human Resources person and the individual who will likely be firing me sometime soon. It refers to a State Department message (“cable”) she sent out reminding staff of the protections they have available to them as whistleblowers. That cable is reproduced in full, below.
There has been no response to my letter from the State Department, ‘natch.
Dear Director General Thomas-Greenfield:
Thank you very much for sending today’s cable, below, reminding all employees of the role of the Office of the Special Counsel (OSC) in protecting Federal whistleblowers. I hope that seeing it go out under your name as Director General signifies your personal commitment to upholding the protections required by law.
As such, I wish to remind you that I filed my written response to your Proposal to Terminate me for actions that in large part fall under the terms laid out in your cable.
That my work does indeed qualify me as a whistleblower is without question; in fact, the Project for Government Oversight (POGO) called me an “important national whistleblower”. My book and blog have and continue to call attention to gross waste and mismanagement in the Iraq Reconstruction process, as well as other programs.
As for retaliatory personnel practices, as you are aware the Department terminated me, defacto, in October 2011. By that time I had had my security clearance “temporarily” suspended (despite three DS interrogations, a computer forensic analysis and a second, full field investigation, my clearance status is still “temporary” and no decision has been issued some eight months later), was thrown out of my assigned job after a year of successful work, never given an EER for that work and then involuntarily curtailed without my knowledge or participation, and was physically banned from the building for several months with HR unlawfully retaining physical possession of my ID card (no reason given). A Fax from a Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in Public Diplomacy to my publisher falsely accused me of a Federal crime of publishing classified information. Along the way I was placed on US Secret Service and Diplomatic Security watch lists as a potential danger to the Secretary of State. Later, I was made to sign an unprecedented and likely illegal Compliance Letter as a requirement just to continue work and forcibly assigned to a meaningless telework slot that in no way meets the acceptable standard for a Foreign Service Officer with 24 years of experience.
After completing its investigation in December the Department took no action against me for some three months. Instead the Department waited until my retaliation complaint, filed with the Office of the Special Counsel (OSC), moved to the discovery phase to propose termination. The Department has offered no explanation for why it waited months to propose termination. The timing suggests that this is an attempt to derail the OSC investigation and deny me that third-party review of the Department’s action over the last year. Even as this separation proceeds, the Department is dragging its feet to impede the OSC investigation.
Most ironic of all, given your cable, my representative attempted to negotiate a settlement with the Department. The negotiations failed because I would not yield to the Department’s key demand– to drop my complaint filed with the Office of the Special Counsel (OSC). That the Department made dropping the OSC complaint the cornerstone of its negotiating strategy makes clear that this proposal is all about derailing this third-party examination of the Department’s personnel practices.
I look forward to meeting with you in the near future to discuss these issues further.
Peter Van Buren
US Department of State
UNCLASSIFIED STATE 00047512
DE RUEHC #7512 1311656
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 101652Z MAY 12
FM SECSTATE WASHINGTON DC
TO RHMCSUU/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY WASHINGTON DC
R 101652Z MAY 12
FM SECSTATE WASHDC
TO ALL DIPLOMATIC AND CONSULAR POSTS COLLECTIVE
AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI 0000
UNCLAS STATE 047512
E.O. 13526: N/A
TAGS: APER, AMGT
SUBJECT: WHISTLEBLOWER PROTECTIONS AND PROHIBITED
PERSONNEL PRACTICES IN THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT
FOR ALL DEPARTMENT OF STATE EMPLOYEES FROM THE DIRECTOR GENERAL
1. ACTION FOR MANAGEMENT SECTION CHIEFS-SEE PARA. 6.
2. I STAND COMMITTED TO ENSURING THAT ALL DEPARTMENT OF
STATE EMPLOYEES ARE AWARE OF, AND UNDERSTAND, THE
PROHIBITED PERSONNEL PRACTICES AND WHISTLEBLOWER
PROTECTIONS. PROHIBITED PERSONNEL PRACTICES (PPPS) ARE,
BY STATUTE, FORBIDDEN IN THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. ONE OF
THE MOST FREQUENTLY DISCUSSED PPPS IS THE PROHIBITION OF
RETALIATING AGAINST WHISTLEBLOWERS. WHISTLEBLOWING
INVOLVES THE ACT OF DISCLOSING INFORMATION THAT AN
EMPLOYEE REASONABLY BELIEVES IS EVIDENCE OF A VIOLATION
OF ANY LAW, RULE OR REGULATION; GROSS MISMANAGEMENT; A
GROSS WASTE OF FUNDS; AN ABUSE OF AUTHORITY; OR A
SUBSTANTIAL AND SPECIFIC DANGER TO PUBLIC HEALTH OR
SAFETY. I FIRMLY BELIEVE THAT
EMPLOYEES WHO ARE AWARE
OF THESE PROTECTIONS WILL BE MORE CONFIDENT IN COMING
FORWARD TO REPORT POSSIBLE VIOLATIONS.
3. THE OFFICE OF SPECIAL COUNSEL (OSC) IS AN
INDEPENDENT AGENCY THAT INVESTIGATES AND PROSECUTES
ALLEGATIONS OF PPPS. BY LAW, FEDERAL EMPLOYEES MAY NOT,
FOR EXAMPLE: DISCRIMINATE; COERCE THE POLITICAL ACTIVITY
OF ANY PERSON; INFLUENCE ANY PERSON TO WITHDRAW FROM JOB
COMPETITION; ENGAGE IN NEPOTISM; TAKE, OR THREATEN TO
TAKE, A PERSONNEL ACTION BECAUSE OF THE EXERCISE OF A
LAWFUL APPEAL, COMPLAINT, OR GRIEVANCE RIGHT; OR TAKE,
OR THREATEN TO TAKE, A PERSONNEL ACTION BECAUSE OF
WHISTLEBLOWING. FOR A COMPLETE LIST OF PPPS, YOU ARE
ENCOURAGED TO VISIT OSC’S WEBSITE, HTTP://WWW.OSC.GOV,
WHICH PROVIDES IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR RIGHTS
AS A FEDERAL EMPLOYEE, PPPS, WHISTLEBLOWING, AND
DISCLOSURE PROCEDURES. COMPLAINTS ALLEGING PROHIBITED
PERSONNEL PRACTICES SHOULD BE DIRECTED TO THE OSC AT
202-254-3640, OR FILED ON-LINE AT HTTP://WWW.OSC.GOV.
4. THE WHISTLEBLOWER PROTECTION ACT OF 1989 WAS ENACTED
TO STRENGTHEN PROTECTIONS FOR FEDERAL EMPLOYEES WHO
BELIEVE THEY HAVE BEEN SUBJECTED TO UNJUSTIFIED
PERSONNEL ACTIONS IN REPRISAL FOR THEIR WHISTLEBLOWING
ACTIVITIES. THE OSC PROVIDES THE SECURE CHANNEL THROUGH
WHICH CURRENT AND FORMER FEDERAL EMPLOYEES MAKE
CONFIDENTIAL DISCLOSURES, INCLUDING VIOLATIONS OF LAW,
OR REGULATION, MISMANAGEMENT, FRAUD, ABUSE OF
AUTHORITY, OR A SUBSTANTIAL DANGER TO PUBLIC HEALTH OR
SAFETY. ANY DEPARTMENT OF STATE EMPLOYEE WHO HAS REASON
TO BELIEVE THAT THERE HAS BEEN MISCONDUCT, FRAUD, WASTE,
OR ABUSE IS ENCOURAGED TO REPORT THESE MATTERS.
DISCLOSURES SHOULD BE DIRECTED TO OSC PER PARA. 3 ABOVE,
OR TO THE DEPARTMENT’S OFFICE OF THE INSPECTOR GENERAL
5. FEDERAL EMPLOYEES HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE FREE FROM
PROHIBITED PERSONNEL PRACTICES, INCLUDING RETALIATION
FOR WHISTLEBLOWING. I AM COMMITTED TO MAKING SURE THAT
ALL EMPLOYEES ARE AWARE OF THEIR RIGHTS AS WELL AS THE
SAFEGUARDS THAT ARE IN PLACE TO PROTECT THEM. BY
VISITING THESE WEBSITE LINKS, YOU CAN FIND DETAILED
INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR RIGHTS AS A FEDERAL EMPLOYEE.
OUTLINES YOUR “YOUR RIGHTS AS A FEDERAL EMPLOYEE.”
HTTP://WWW.OSC.GOV/DOCUMENTS/PUBS/OSCROLE.PDF IS A
PAMPHLET ENTITLED “THE ROLE OF THE U.S. OFFICE OF
SPECIAL COUNSEL” AND CONTAINS VALUABLE INFORMATION FOR
REPORTING PURPOSES. I ENCOURAGE EACH EMPLOYEE TO
CAREFULLY READ THIS PAMPHLET.
THIS INFORMATION IS ALSO ACCESSIBLE THROUGH THE STATE
DEPARTMENT INTRANET AT:
OFFICERS AT OVERSEAS POSTS ARE REQUESTED
TO PRINT THE DOWNLOADABLE POSTERS ABOUT PPP’S AND WPA
PROTECTIONS FROM THE WEBSITE LINKS BELOW, AND TO POST
THEM IN HIGHLY VISIBLE LOCATIONS IN ALL BUILDINGS
THROUGHOUT THE MISSION WHERE DEPARTMENT OF STATE
HTTP://WWW.OSC.GOV/PPPPOSTER.HTM PROVIDES A PRINTABLE
POSTER ON PROHIBITED PERSONNEL PRACTICES.
HTTP://WWW.OSC.GOV/WBDISCPOSTER.HTM PROVIDES A PRINTABLE
POSTER ON WHISTLEBLOWING.
A PRINTABLE POSTER ON WHISTLEBLOWER
7. IF YOU HAVE ANY COMMENTS OR QUESTIONS, PLEASE
CONTACT HR/ER OR ME AT ANY TIME.
8. MINIMIZED CONSIDERED.
UNCLASSIFIED STATE 00047512
James Risen of The New York Times, James Bamford, author of The Puzzle Palace: Inside the National Security Agency, America’s Most Secret Intelligence Organizationand Matthew Miller, former spokesman for the Justice Department, discussed the Obama administration’s crusade against leaks of government secrets – and against some of the journalists who report them – at the National Press Club in Washington on May 1, 2012.
I had a chance to ask Bamford and Miller a question about the State Department’s assertion that despite being available online to the entire world, the Wikileaks documents remain “classified,” and indeed government employees can be prosecuted for referring to them. Here is his reply:
(If the video is not embedded above, please follow this link to see it)
My thanks to Ryan, who I don’t know and have never met, for putting together this inspiring video making clear the difference between being a government drone and pretending your oath of allegiance is to some political boss, and standing up for the fact that the oath is to the Constitution.
There is a difference between obedience to authority, which is required in an autocracy above all else, and loyalty to one’s Oath, which is required of patriots.
Watch it now:
(If the video is not embedded above, see it on YouTube)
A story of our times as RT.com tries to pull back the curtain on the hypocrisy of US government statements about web freedom. They were kind enough to quote me:
The State Department since 2008 has spent $76 million overseas on Internet freedom, giving tools and support to bloggers and journalists and online people around the world, particularly in countries that we have difficulties with,” he said. “At the same time, the State Department… has found Internet freedom to be inconvenient in the form of WikiLeaks, and has worked just as hard and probably spent even more money trying to shut down free speech that it opposes, while supporting free speech that it feels furthers America’s own political goals overseas. We call that hypocrisy.
While trying to stifle inconvenient leaks at home, the US perceives the Internet and social networking platforms as major tools for spreading democracy, and spends millions of dollars to help people in the Middle East and China get around Internet-blocking firewalls. At the same time, ironically enough, American companies provide Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait with the technology to effectively block websites.
A lot of the tools of control that are used by the so-called repressive governments are provided by American companies, Peter van Buren explains. The difference is that corporations, for better or worse, talk about profit as their motivation. However, the American government talks about freedom and democracy as its motivation, when in fact in many ways it seems to act in the opposite direction.
Read the entire piece online, and don’t miss the video of SecState Clinton pounding the pulpit for web freedom, at least if you’re Chinese or Iranian.
The people at Cryptome have a few words for Madame Secretary:
Clinton’s comments contradict how the WikiLeaks-Bradley Manning Cablegate affair is being handled by the USG. And her accusations of government and commercial abuse and spying on the Internet apply to the US and its allies. The conference session should face these contradictions and if not resolve them establish principles and an agenda to do so. A demonstration of genuine Internet freedom would be the release of Bradley Manning and termination of the USG prosecutorial Cablegate investigation.
And never mind this.
But wait, there’s more. Glenn Greenwald at Salon also noticed the hypocrisy of our fave Secretary of State:
Hypocrisy from the U.S. Government — having U.S. officials self-righteously impose standards on other countries which they routinely violate — is so common and continuous that the vast majority of examples do not even merit notice. But sometimes, it is so egregious and shameless — and sufficiently consequential — that it should not go unobserved. Such is the case with the speech delivered by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday at a Conference on Internet Freedom held at the Hague, a conference devoted to making “a stand for freedom of expression on the internet, especially on behalf of cyber dissidents and bloggers.” Clinton has been flamboyantly parading around for awhile now as the planet’s leading protector of Internet freedom; yesterday she condemned multiple countries for assaulting this freedom and along the way actually managed to keep a straight face.
For me, the Secretary’s best line was this:
The United States wants the internet to remain a space where economic, political, and social exchanges flourish. To do that, we need to protect people who exercise their rights online.
That exercise of rights, Madame Secretary, includes the First Amendment, exercised here, by one of your employees. Thank you for believing so strongly in this and supporting my right to continue to speak.
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.
Iran has blocked ”Virtual Embassy Tehran”, within 24 hours of its launch by the US, accusing the State Department of “meddling” in the internal affairs of the country.
The State Department launched the virtual online embassy Tuesday to provide (fairly bland) information to Iranians, despite the lack of diplomatic ties, and to “work as a bridge between the American and Iranian people.”
Accusing the US of “meddling” in the internal affairs of the country, Iran barred the website. US officials responded they were expecting this move by the Iranian government. A State spokesperson said “Many Iranians do have software and virtual private networks that allow them to work around these kinds of blocks. I think, for example, there are millions of Iranians who have access to Facebook and they”ll also be able to use these so-called VPNs to access this site.”
It is indeed a sad State of affairs when governments block information they find politically objectionable.
Oh yes, and this:
The Department of State continues to block access on its own networks to any Wikileaks-related website, including select news and comment sites that have commented about Wikileaks. The cables released by WikiLeaks are of course available to anyone sober enough to operate an internet connection. But, according to the ACLU, the government has spent the last year insisting, over and over, that the WikiLeaks cables are still classified, going so far as interrogating a State Department employee (me) who linked to one of the cables from his personal blog. Now, the State Department has reversed course and acknowledged without comment that at least some of the cables can be released to the public without harming national security.
The use of specialized software and VPNs that State recommends to Iranians to circumvent the firewall block is prohibited by the State Department to its own employees to get around State’s own firewall blocks.
Also, a regular reader, whom we’ll call, what the hell, “Popeye,” reports that my blog is now blocked on the Navy’s unclassified network.
Of course, sailors, State Department officials and Iranians worldwide can still watch this:
In his first court appearance, Bradley Manning’s lawyer says that three separate reviews of the “damage” done by Wikileaks show that, well, not much damage was done.
The attorney is seeking public release of damage assessments prepared by the White House, the Defense Department and the State Department.
One of the reports requested is a comprehensive White House review that he said details “the rather benign nature of the leaks and the lack of any real damage to national security.” He also asked for a report on a State Department review that he said reached similar conclusions.
Reuters reports that State Department officials have privately told Congress they expect overall damage to U.S. foreign policy to be containable, said the official, one of two congressional aides familiar with the briefings who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity. “We were told (the impact of WikiLeaks revelations) was embarrassing but not damaging,” said the official, who attended a briefing given in late 2010 by State Department officials.
Yes, State, what did ever happen to that big-time intra-Departmental Wikileaks Task Force you put together? Did it just… fade… away?
Also sought was a report on a Defense Intelligence Agency review of the WikiLeaks documents from July 29, 2010. “Specifically, the damage assessment concluded that all of the information allegedly leaked was either dated, represented low-level opinions, or was already commonly understood and known due to previous public disclosures,” Manning’s lawyer wrote.
The Pentagon said in October 2010 that a special task force led by the Defense Intelligence Agency had combed the posted reports to determine what might have been compromised. A Pentagon spokesman said then that the review supported the military’s initial assessment that the materials didn’t include the most sensitive kinds of information but still posed a risk to national security.
So just checking, and please write if you noticed that the United States had collapsed, or anyone got killed, because of a Wikileaks document. Please be specific. The damn things have been out and around for close to two years, so by now there should be some blood on the floor the Government can point to.
Hey! That’s going to really shut him up.
Yesterday, AFP reports that Mr. Van Buren was escorted out of the State Department on Monday and barred from returning while officials there decide what to do next with him. Our own source said that Mr. Van Buren has been placed on administrative leave for the next couple of weeks. Admin leave is like “we’ll pay you so we don’t have to see you.” I supposed that’s until they can find the citation in the FAM that would fit this “problem.” Mr. Van Buren’s current assignment reportedly had also been curtailed. If true, that means they just took away his desk and chair, too. So even if he is allowed to return after his admin leave, he won’t actually have a job to return to.
As an aside, Mr. Van Buren’s book is the main selection in our house’s book of the month club. Our 5th grader is currently reading it at home and at school. I don’t think it’s going to damage the kid in any way.
Mr. Van Buren’s book is highly critical of the State Department’s work in Iraq, the accompanying blog, just as critical. Not sure if the punishment is for the book, the blog, or for both. No one would speak on the record. The suspension letter did not cite the book, but did cite as one of the author’s faults, “an unwillingness to comply with Department rules and regulations regarding writing and speaking on matters of official concern.”
This is the first time, as far as memory goes, that the State Department had actually yanked somebody’s clearance over “publishing articles and blog posts on such matters without submitting them to the Department for review.” Whereas, in the past, I was aware of the shock factor in threatening bloggers with this in-house version of the “nuclear” option, this is the first time where somebody actually pushed the red button. And in a very public way. I can’t help but think that this would send a big chill to the FS blogosphere. Don’t be shocked if folks go back to the 50′s and start hiding their journals under their pillows.
Of course, now that State had unleashed the “nuclear” option and suspended Mr. Van Buren’s security clearance, what other threats can you cite to help with behavior modification inside the Big House? He’s really going to stop talking/writing/giving interviews now that he had his clearance suspended, or now that he is barred from Foggy Bottom.
You suspend his clearance hoping that will scare him enough he’d stop blogging; he did not. You take away his badge, hoping that will scare him enough he’d stop blogging; he did not. You bar him from entering any door of the State Department hoping that will scare him enough he’d stop blogging; he did not. You take away his desk and his chair hoping that will scare him out of his wits he’d stop blogging. Instead, on October 27, he was the guest of the National Press Club, his appearance covered by WaPo’s Joe Davidson. The hometown paper has finally caught up with the news.
And look just now — the book even meets the approval of NYmag, which ranked the book significantly higher than the Mexican cyclops shark. See the unintended consequences here?
So how do you solve a “problem” like Peter Van Buren? Well, certainly not the way the State Department is “solving” it right now.
First, I think it must be said that the State Department handled the book clearance badly. Somebody should have owned up to the snafu instead of gunning after the author. The 30-day timeline for clearing the book lapsed. It was not the author’s fault regardless of whether or not the person responsible for clearance had a meltdown, a baby, was sick or was on vacation. But State like any old and cumbersome bureaucracy is loath to admit to its own mistakes. They cleared Condi’s book within the 30-day timeline, yet Mr. Van Buren’s book was not afforded the same courtesy. The State Department, in short, broke its own clearance procedure. And when Mr. Van Buren published the book as allowed under its own regulations in the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM), a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State accused him of “unauthorized disclosures of classified information,” and asked his publisher for redactions six days before the book hit the stores. Can you imagine them doing that to Secretary Rice’s book? Nope. Big fry, small fry; are there different rules?
But hey – like Joe Davidson says, “The best way for the federal government to publicize a book? Attempt to muzzle the author.”And it’s free!
Second, given the potential fallout from a book about reconstruction in what has always been an unpopular, contentious war, and given how much money we’re spending on reconstruction projects over in Iraq, somebody higher than a Deputy Assistant Secretary should have read the book, cleared his/her calendar and spoke privately with the author. Instead of sending the tigers with sharp teeth. I have not meet Mr. Van Buren in person, and he may be far from cutesy and cuddly, but he has written a vivid, engaging account of our reconstruction debacle in Iraq seasoned with absurdities, great and small. To dismiss him as nothing but a disgruntled employee is just plain brainless. Public opinion is already against the Iraq war. Add to that the rest of the domestic headaches that the American taxpayers have been suffering in the last several years. And what do you get? A public relation disaster, with the State Department as the big, bad growling tiger in a starring role. It does not help that State appears to be acting like a big, bad growling tiger trying to eat an angry mouse. Grrrr….No diplomatic skills exercised whatsoever.
Remember when Matthew Hoh resigned over Afghanistan? He had two tours of duty in Iraq and five months under his belt in Afghanistan when he quit. Hoh received offers of new gigs from both Ambassadors Eikenberry and Holbrooke. I understand, he even got some face time with the VPOTUS. I think both ambassadors understood that in our top foreign policy engagement, they cannot be perceived as tone-deaf to the concerns of their man on the ground.
I’m not saying State should have offered Mr. Van Buren a fancy gig in Paris. But at the very least, somebody from the Seventh Floor should have attempted to speak with him. He, after all, spent 23 years with the State Department and cared enough to write the Iraq Experience down in a book. But no one bothered to speak with him. A DAS alleging his disclosure of classified info did eventually write to him, albeit belatedly, and not really to listen to what he had to say.
It’s as if the State Department is proud of all its smart people except for those with the guts to speak up, or write a critical book. Or are they only proud of our smart diplomats when they dissent in private, in a channel that the American public never ever gets to hear, and that which the organization is free to ignore? The guy who talks too much not only gets a good hearing in my book, he or she should be afforded an opportunity to contribute in fixing the problems that he cites. No, we do not shoot the messengers in our book. Most especially if they are bearing bad news. But that’s us. Unfortunately, that is often the case in the bureaucracy, the State Department perhaps more so than most. A dead messenger is a good messenger, no news is good news. Ta-daa! And all is great in Iraq.
Three, Mr. Van Buren is not without faults. He posted articles in his blog without obtaining clearance as required in the FAM. Mr. Van Buren, like his employer, also broke the clearance procedure in the FAM. He even admits to that. But I don’t know of any FSO who blog who had requested clearance for his/her every blog post. The regs make no distinction whether what you write is critical or not, a clearance is required on matters of official concern. And since State’s purview is the entire world, that covers just about everything. So to go after Mr. Van Buren in a singular fashion invites the suspicion that he is targeted for his critical views, not just for the blog but also for his book.
Four, that convoluted business of the use of a disclaimer. You put up a disclaimer to ensure that what you write is not attributed to the State Department or the US Government.
Here is Mr. Van Buren’s disclaimer in his blog:
Copyright © 2011. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity 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 this blog or book.
A spokesman went so far as confirmed Mr. Van Buren’s disclaimer, telling NPR that “the author’s views are his own, and not necessarily those of the State Department.” And really now, if you read his blog, it is hard to imagine anything similar coming out from Mr. Toner or Ms. Nuland from State’s Public Affairs shop.
And then you have the following disclaimer from the personal blog of the Deputy Director of the State Department’s Office of Innovative Engagement:
…… is an employee of the United States Department of State. She has been with the Department of State for fourteen years in both traditional Information Technology roles and also as the Deputy Director for the Department’s first social media office – The Office of Innovative Engagement. The viewpoints, opinions and ideas expressed here do not represent the official opinion or policy of the United States Government or the Department of State.
She went on to blog about her Twitter cliff notes writing about her agency’s social media policy:
Public engagement should only be conducted by trained professionals. You should not tweet about something you are not an expert in. An example would be if you are not a consular officer do not talk about the visa or passport process. Direct those people to the appropriate subject matter expert.
Twitter is a live community of humans and reacts the same way as people do when engaging with them in real life. You should focus on developing a “human voice” or persona for your community. This means no generic tweets or “ever green” tweets! Mass messages across all Department accounts are also considered to be an inappropriate use of Twitter.
Before using any new social media tools for official State Department purposes, it is important that you are familiar with State Department Policy on Social Media: 5 FAM 790. You should also review the Managing Your Social Media field guide. This guide is very important to helping you plan, create, and execute a successful social media campaign.
Personal vs. Professional Self:
You must have permission to tweet in your professional capacity. Permission is granted by the head American officer in the section or the Office Director for domestic offices.
If you are tweeting in your professional capacity, you must disclose the account as being an official Department of State account.
If you are tweeting on someone’s behalf, you must state who is on duty. Transparency is critical to building trust with your community.
When tweeting in your personal capacity you should not talk specifically about your job. See 3 FAM 4170 for additional information.
Whether or not this deputy director had clearance to post this policy item in her blog as a personal item is between her and Public Affairs. However, I do have to point out that both blogs used disclaimers claiming to be writing in their personal capacities. Mr. Van Buren blogs about Iraq and affairs of the state, all on matters of official concern. Ms. Deputy Director blogs about the Department’s social media policy, also a matter of official concern. One is under investigation, the other as far as I know is not.
According to the regs, some of the factors to be considered in overcoming the presumption of private capacity with the use of a disclaimer include, but not necessarily limited to: 1) The current or former position, rank, and/or duties of the employee; 2) The relationship between the employee’s position, rank, and/or duties and the subject matter of the speaking/teaching/writing.
It is perhaps worth noting that Mr. Van Buren, a midlevel FSO was a PRT guy in Iraq from 2009-2010, and if my source is correct, is now an employee without a job. The Deputy Director presumably is in the GS scale; could be GS-14/15 and the incumbent in her office.
By the way, if you find 5 FAM 790, the State Department Policy on Social Media imperfect and hard to wrap your head around, you have the deputy director to thank for that. She reportedly is the co-author of this first social media use policy for the Department of State.
Finally, there is that notion that they drummed into your head from A-100 on that as a Foreign Service Officer, you are on duty 24/7. They like saying that. And for the most part, folks in the Foreign Service understand that to be true. You like to think you have a personal life until you have to report to the Regional Security Officer who you slept with the previous night. Or until they tell you — hey, you are actually blogging on official time, since you are considered on duty 24/7.
In any case, you are on duty 24/7 until the government decides that you are not. Remember the case of Douglas Kent, the U.S. consul general in Vladivostok who was involved in a car accident in October 1998 while driving home from his office? State concurred with DOJ that he was not on duty 24/7 when the accident occurred. Here is a trip down memory lane via U.S. Diplomacy:
After Kent left the post on reassignment, a Russian citizen injured in the accident sued Kent in his individual capacity in a district court in California. According to an August 31, 2006, “AFSANET” message from the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), “The Department of Justice with State Department concurrence refused to certify that Kent was acting within the scope of his employment when the accident occurred,” thus undermining his claim of immunity. Ultimately, with AFSA supporting FSO Kent’s legal defense, the case went to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which ruled in his favor by determining that he was acting within the scope of his employment when the accident took place. The Kent case clearly demonstrates that while Foreign Service personnel, especially those in senior positions, may consider themselves on duty 24 hours a day while stationed overseas and thus fully protected, particular circumstances may put those immunities at risk.
In theory, the rules are there to protect you. In practice, the rules can mean many different things to many different people — human interpretation, unless it’s done by droids, see? The folks who write the rules can break it with no consequences. The folks who are covered by the rules are also allowed to break it but somebody’s gotta pay the price. If you come to think of it — the big fry, small fry rules only really sucks if you’re the small fry. But if offends our sense of fairness.
In the end, organizations particularly one as traditional and hierarchical as the State Department cannot tolerate people falling out of a straight line; it’s contrary to its sense of order and proper functioning of the organization. And really — “open door,” “innovative engagement,” “smart power,” and whatnot can only go so far. An organization like State must do what it must do to protect its brand, like any commercial company, only with less money.
I doubt if the State Department will fire Mr. Van Buren for “disclosure” of alleged classified information in his book, or for linking to a WikiLeaks cable, or for writing/speaking without clearance. That would make it look petty and seem vindictive and would drag this case long and possibly into court. But organizations are not without power; it always has an ace up its sleeve, so to speak. In this case, a catch-all slam dunk section in 3 FAM 4130 otherwise known as “Standards for Appointment and Continued Employment,” could be the ace up its sleeve. A much used up phrase of “poor judgement” is like a flyswatter that can be used for employees writing outside the chalk line, as well as employees who patronize prostitutes.
(This article originally appeared in the Washington Post’s “Federal Diary” column, and was written by Joe Davidson)
(NOTE: There is no classified material in my book, We Meant Well. The book for sale today is an unredacted version. –Peter)
The best way for the federal government to publicize a book? Attempt to muzzle the author.
You probably wouldn’t be reading about Peter Van Buren right now had the State Department not stripped him of his security clearance and suspended him after publication of his book, “We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.”
Van Buren’s case provides lessons that go beyond the number of books the censors at State will help him sell. The lessons concern what the government chooses to classify, the way it handles situations involving books with classified information and how the government can use its power to suspend employees.
Ironically, Van Buren now has free time to promote his book, complete with the classified information, because he was suspended until Nov. 10, with pay, earlier this week. He can’t appeal the suspension, the purpose of which, according to a letter from the department, “is to continue review your situation.”
The situation is the publication of his book without State’s stamp of approval. State Department officials would not comment on Van Buren’s case.
In a Sept. 20 letter faxed to publisher Macmillan, State said the book’s “circulation and publicizing have been done without authorization from the Department. The Department has recently concluded that two pages of the book manuscript we have seen contain unauthorized disclosures of classified information.”
To its credit, the publisher did not fold. “Their specific requests concerned passages in the book that on their face clearly did not contain classified information,” Macmillan said a statement. “In any event, these belated requests were received after the initial shipments of the book had already been sent to booksellers.”
What State’s letter does not say is that it had plenty of time to review the book. Van Buren said that he submitted his book in September of last year but that State had no comment on it until the September fax of this year.
According to State’s Foreign Affairs Manual: “All public speaking, writing, or teaching materials on matters of official concern prepared in an employee’s private capacity must be submitted for a reasonable period of review, not to exceed thirty days.”
Since the 30-day period had long expired with no word from State, Van Buren understandably concluded that the department had no problem with his book.
“I followed the rules,” Van Buren said at a National Press Club briefing Thursday. “I submitted my book for clearance.”
But the book wasn’t the only problem. In an Oct. 12 memo to Van Buren, State said his top-secret security clearance was suspended, pending an ongoing investigation, because the Big Brother- sounding “Office of Personnel Security and Suitability . . . has determined that your continued access to classified information is not clearly consistent with the national security interests of the United States.”
The memo said that by publishing articles and blog posts “on matters of official concern . . . without submitting them to the Department for review . . . your judgement in the handling of protected information is questionable.”
State’s memo did not identify the objectionable blog item, but Van Buren said it was “a link, not a leak, a link from my blog to a WikiLeaks document that was already on the Internet.”
The fact that the document was available to everyone in the world did not matter.
“I did write blog postings and online articles without permission,” Van Buren admits. But he understandably questions whether his punishment is in line with the little or no harm done by linking to a document that was readily available anyway.
Foreign Service Officer Peter Van Buren claimed Thursday that he was suspended indefinitely from his position at the State Department earlier this week after writing a book that was critical of U.S policy in Iraq and linking to Wikileaks on his blog.
Van Buren’s book “We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People” details his experiences in Iraq as a diplomat and the lack of purpose and success in US policy in Iraq.
“I got off the helicopter at my first operating base and I said the equivalent of ‘so what are we working on?’ and the guy said ‘I thought you were telling us,’” Van Buren told an audience at the National Press Club on Thursday. “It only went downhill from there.”
“No one was particularly concerned about what we were doing, how much money we were spending, and the results of our endeavors,” Van Buren added.
And this is exactly what he writes about in his book. Whether detailing a chicken factory built in Iraq from $2 million of U.S taxpayer money that laid dormant or how an Ambassador paid between $2 to $5 million to have seeds and sod imported to grow grass on the Embassy Grounds, Van Buren details what he describes as irresponsible use of billions of dollars in Iraq that brought them no closer to a reconstructed society.
Upon completing the book, Van Buren submitted the manuscript to the State Department for clearance. Because he received no response, he proceeded with the book publishing and blogged to promote it.
At the end of August, however, Van Buren’s security clearance was revoked for disclosing classified information by linking to the whistleblowing site wikileaks in one of his blog posts.
While wikileaks did expose classified information illegal for Van Buren to reveal, Van Buren defends sharing the link by saying the information was already out there and he was merely linking to it.
On September 20, the State Department requested he remove a chapter in his book disclosing classified material. The chapter, entitled “A Spooky Dinner,” depicts intelligence officials dining in Saddam Hussein’s palace.
Van Buren refused to remove it from his book.
On October 21, Van Buren angered the State Department once again when he critically blogged about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laughing about Gadaffi’s death in an interview with Diane Sawyer. As a result, Van Buren was suspended indefinitely from his position at the State Department and was escorted from the building on Monday, October 24. His ID badge was confiscated and he is prohibited from entering any state department facility.
Yet while Van Buren will not be working, he is still receiving full pay.
When asked by TRNS if all of this was worth writing the book, Van Buren responded that it was.
“I thought it was a story worth telling but to be honest I never thought I would have to sacrifice my career to tell it, but that’s what happened,” Van Buren remarked. “Was it worth it? I have to say yes. Time will tell.”
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.
Ben Dooley, NPC Newsmakers Committee, event host
Phone: (757) 709-4159, firstname.lastname@example.org
If you need directions, have a look at the NPC site.
Bradley Manning supporters especially welcome!
So, thirteen months ago I submitted my book manuscript to the State Department for clearance. Nobody at the State Department said anything about the contents until thirteen months later when Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State (PDAS) Dana Shell Smith sent a fax to my publisher asking for the redaction of what she said was classified material.
The publisher refused to redact anything. You can read Dana’s original fax with the demanded redactions.
So I wrote to Dana asking about this, and she replied. Better read our emails before proceeding.
But, now I am confused.
The unclassified email by PDAS Dana Shell Smith refers to an unclassified fax sent by PDAS Smith already on the Internet that acknowledges that the Department as represented by PDAS Smith considers material in a book openly for sale worldwide classified, meaning that this unclassified email by PDAS Smith confirms that the material in my book is classified, at least according to PDAS Smith.
And somehow I am the one accused of disclosing classified with the suspended clearance because of a link to Wikileaks?
I may issue an appeal to everyone who bought my book to please not read the sections PDAS Smith now admits in an unclassified setting are classified. If they have read them already, I will suggest they do Jaegermeister shots until they forget what they have read.
Also, the claimed classified material deals with another USG agency. No one from that Agency has contacted me or my publisher. Indeed, no one from Diplomatic Security has asked about this claimed classified material.
Just PDAS Smith. Digging the hole a little deeper.
Before there was Wikileaks, there was Cryptome, online since 1996 publishing government documents from around the world. Stubbornly clinging to a web design that looked old-fashioned in 1996, Cryptome especially features documents about the CIA. It also posts declassified historical documents, and is a great resource for researchers and historians.
Cryptome proudly asserts:
Cryptome welcomes documents for publication that are prohibited by governments worldwide, in particular material on freedom of expression, privacy, cryptology, dual-use technologies, national security, intelligence, and secret governance — open, secret and classified documents — but not limited to those. Documents are removed from this site only by order served directly by a US court having jurisdiction. No court order has ever been served; any order served will be published here — or elsewhere if gagged by order. Bluffs will be published if comical but otherwise ignored.
The site has also published a copy of my denouement from the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security. I do not know where they obtained this, as it has unredacted portions different from the redacted version I have posted on this blog.
Now that State has suspended my security clearance, I’ll have to rely on sites like Cryptome and Wikileaks to keep up with my reading. It may be a secret– don’t tell anyone– put their search engines are also way better than anything inside the firewall at State when you need to locate something quickly.
When you offend the State Department by exercising free speech, albeit speech that is unkind to the Department, here’s what they do:
1) State will take a blog link, to something already on the web, and pretend it is a “disclosure.” They will ignore the reality that several media sources already wrote about the link. They will ignore the fact that al Qaeda can read the document online. They alone determine what is a disclosure within their closed world. They won’t care of their accusations actually drive thousands more people to look at the link. It is not about the link, it is about YOU.
2) State will then accuse you publicly, without giving you a means to defend yourself, of publishing more classified material. Unless some third party shows you the fax, you won’t even know State made the accusations behind your back. You’ll be held responsible for not complying with an order you never received.
3) State will then take their own self-created accusation(s) and use them as “evidence” to suspend your security clearance, effectively torpedoing your career. They’ll suspend, rather than revoke the clearance, because a suspension can’t be challenged, questioned or appealed. They simply label you a security risk… and you are one.
4) State then uses the lack of a security clearance to take away your job.
5) Circle is complete. Sleep well America. You are safe now.
For those too busy to click on the link in item Number 3, above, here is the money paragraph State is using as justification:
DS/SI/PSS has been notified that you have shown an unwillingness to comply with Department rules and regulations regarding writing and speaking on matters of official concern, including by publishing articles and blog posts on such matters without submitting them to the Department for review, and that your judgement in the handling of protected information is questionable. This raises serious security concerns…
Note the word “and” hilighted in the passage. An “and” statement is used traditionally to link two logical operations, A and B make C true. How does blogging and writing about unclassified information logically link to “your judgement in the handling of protected information is questionable.” Trick question– it does not.
People in the government with access to classified information, like me for the past two decades, routinely process class and unclass info differently. As in “I’m in a secure space with another cleared person, I can talk about XYZ.” Or, “I am at a dinner party with strangers, I will not bring up classified info.” You get used to it in our line of work.
The usual thing Diplomatic Security does with someone who has had a clearance for two decades is look to their handling of classified material; there is a track record to assess. Any close calls? Any questionable incidents? (Nope, clean record since 1988.) Next, they look to life circumstances that may have changed– a recent divorce (no, happily married for 24 years), huge debts (nope, just a mortgage), sudden interest in hanging around the Chinese Embassy (nah, prefer a good sports bar).
What is not done is look at someone’s simple expression of free speech, all clearly unclassified, and extrapolate from that to say suddenly that person cannot be trusted. I wrote the book 14 months ago, have been blogging since April, was first interrogated on September 1 and only today those actions added up to insecurity.
That is what makes this unfair, twisting things around, hiding behind security procedures, to piss on someone you don’t like. Ain’t right, just ain’t right.
When was the last time those two news sources agreed on a story?
Another attempt at grandstanding and drama over the “harm” done by the release of Wikileaks material, this time in a piece timed shamelessly for the end of the Jewish New Year holy period. From McClatchy News:
An Anglican priest in Iraq says he’s working with the U.S. Embassy to persuade the handful of Jews who still live in Baghdad to leave because their names have appeared in cables published last month by WikiLeaks. The Rev. Canon Andrew White said he first approached members of the Jewish community about what he felt was the danger they faced after a news story was published last month that made reference to the cables. “The U.S. Embassy is desperately trying to get them out,” White said.
By the time U.S. forces invaded Iraq in March 2003, Baghdad’s Jewish community, which had numbered about 130,000 in the 1950s before most fled to Israel, was down to about 35 members.
A crisis for certain, a tiny minority threatened because of the shamelessness of Wikileaks. Execute Bradley Manning and Julian Assange NOW! Assist the World’s Largest Embassy (c) in Baghdad to save these last, endangered innocent people!
We now pause for some reality.
– Any Jew now in Iraq is welcome in Israel, under the Law of Return. There is no need for the World’s Largest Embassy (c) in Baghdad to desperately save anyone. There is certainly no need for a Christian priest to get involved. Wikileaks or not, Israel has shown it can easily take care of its own. The cable in question blathers pointlessly about refugee processing.
– If the Embassy cable is correct, there are only NINE Jews left in Iraq. Whether a Wikileaks document does or does not mention any of their names, it is not really tough to figure out who might have been quoted. Bad guys in Iraq would have no trouble whacking nine people, given the utter lack of security there, courtesy of… yes, ironically, the World’s Largest Embassy (c) in Baghdad via the US invasion.
– I’ve read the Wikileaks document in question (go look it up yourself, I’m sick of assholes writing in to whine and security interrogations commencing every time I link; Google “WHY THE NINE JEWS OF BAGHDAD STAY IN BAGHDAD”). That the World’s Largest Embassy (c) in Baghdad felt the need to report on the state of the handful of Jews left in Iraq merely illustrates the descent into uselessness the Statement Department is embarked on. This kind of reporting has no US policy implications and serves merely to satisfy the frustrated writing ambitions of State’s “political reporters.” Indeed, the cable author is moved at one point to write “these nine individuals may author the last chapter to the story of an ancient people in an ancient land.” Wow, that’s the kind of stuff that gets raced up onto Hillary’s desk so she can make fine foreign policy decisions, for sure. Jeez, go write a book or something.
– …And if you are going to write about some minor issue like this as an affair of State, why would you need to quote people by name? What is gained by writing “One of Baghdad’s last remaining Jews, XXXXXXXXXX (strictly protect), told us…” as opposed to “One of Baghdad’s last remaining Jews told us…” The cable then goes on to have its single source list the other eight Jews by name and supply mini-bio sketches. For what purpose? Some element of responsibility lies with the cable writer and his/her bosses.
– The cable was written in 2009, and has been available online for over a year. Talking about it now does little but revive an issue that had had no following and sensationalize another non-crisis. None of the references Google uncovered are any older than a week or so ago. Yeah media!
– The cable says there were 20 Jews in Iraq in 2003, now down to nine. Under the control of the US, conditions were so bad in Iraq that the population of Jews decreased more significantly than anything that could follow the Wikileaks disclosure.
– The single largest massacre of Jews in Iraq took 600 lives. In 1941. Before Saddam, before Wikileaks. Relativity.
Thank you for your attention. We now return you to the regular world of panic and over-reaction.
I’ve been fortunate enough to do some interviews, so if any of these radio stations are in your area, please check their listings:
NPR’s “Weekend Edition,” nationwide, taped, to air October 1.
KPOJ-AM, Portland, Live at 10am EST on “Mornings with Carl Wolfson”
KPFK-FM, Los Angeles, Live at 7:40pm EST on “4 o’clock on Wednesdays”
KPFA-FM, Berkeley, taped interview for “Letters and Politics” with Mitch Jeserich
PRI’s The Takeaway, syndicated, taped interview
The Net is abuzz today with the irony, that Peter Van Buren, a 23-year foreign service officer with the U.S Department of State, may be the only department personnel to be fired over the WikiLeaks’ scandal. Van Buren, who just published the book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of Iraqi People this week, relayed in a powerful column at TomDispatch this morning how he was called in, interrogated and accused of disclosing classified material. His crime? Embedding links to WikiLeaked cables in a post on his personal blog.
The State Department is going after the messenger, but we need to keep a laser focus on the message: that our post-invasion efforts to “reconstruct” Iraq in the name of “counterinsurgency” has been a gigantic failure, the proportions of which we will still be measuring for years to come.
The story of my interrogation by the State Department, over a link dating from August on my blog to a Wikileaks document already on the web (I was accused of disclosing classified information because of the link!) is all over the web.
If you have not read it at TomDispatch, or are a State Department employee blocked by a firewall from reading TomDispatch, you can still see the article on a growing number of mirrors:
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