• Not my America. How about you? An Open Letter to the State Department

    October 28, 2011

    Posted in: Iraq

    Book Clearance

    On the book clearance process at the State Department (emphasis added):

    3 FAM 4172.1-5 Materials of Official Concern Prepared in an Employee’s Private Capacity: Duration of Review
    (CT:PER-584; 11-03-2005) (Uniform State/USAID) (Applies to all Employees in the United States and Abroad) – 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, to the office specified in 3 FAM 4172.1-3(C). In the case of time-sensitive materials of reasonably brief length, the period of review should be abbreviated in an effort to accommodate the interests of employees.

    3 FAM 4172.1-7 Use or Publication of Materials Prepared in an Employee’s Private Capacity That Have Been Submitted for Review
    (CT:PER-584; 11-03-2005) (Uniform State/USAID) (Applies to all Employees in the United States and Abroad) An employee may use, issue, or publish materials on matters of official concern that have been submitted for review, and for which the presumption of private capacity has not been overcome, upon expiration of the designated period of comment and review regardless of the final content of such materials so long as they do not contain information that is classified or otherwise exempt from disclosure as described in 3 FAM 4172.1-6(A).

    I submitted my book manuscript to the State Department on 09/07/2010. Other than a routine acknowledgement of submission, the only substantive response I received was this (names redacted):

    From: PA Clearances Mailbox
    To: Peter Van Buren
    Cc: ????? ; PA Clearances Mailbox
    Sent: Tue, October 19, 2010 5:27:03 PM
    Subject: RE: PA Clearance

    Mr. Van Buren: I understand that by “I replied to your message” you mean to Lisa ????? in the “PA Clearances” mailbox. Lisa was taken ill two weeks ago and I and other colleagues in PA are covering the “PA Clearances” mailbox in her absence.

    We will have to begin from the beginning with this request of yours, or forego PA review/clearance due to our delay in responding to you. I recommend doing the former, not the latter.

    Please advise.

    Abigail ????? for PA Clearances mailbox

    Classified Material
    As to the inclusion of classified material, the Department of State sent this fax to my publisher on 09/20/2011, asking for three redactions from the chapter “A Spooky Dinner.” You can match up the fax with the book text if you wish, but here are the Google searches where the actual material in the book came from:

    Redaction One: cia in mogadishu black hawk down

    Redaction Two: cia iraqi intelligence service budget chalabi

    Redaction Three: cia saddam contacts 1980’s iran

    In order to “disclose” information, one must first have it. Otherwise, it is just speculation. I do not and did not have access to any operational data on the CIA, its budget or its work in Iraq or anywhere else. Why would I? How could I? They aren’t that dumb, folks.

    Blogging without Clearance

    I did submit several articles/blog posts for clearance and was rejected without clear reason. I did go on to post those blog posts here and elsewhere. Guilty!

    Here’s a sample of the discourse, from actual emails:

    STATE (07/21/11): PA and NEA do not clear the article for publication due to the fact that the piece contains information that, if released, could be used to identify and exploit the vulnerabilities and capabilities of security at U.S. bases in Iraq. In addition, it is quite possible that the views you express in the article as official policy goals will be attributed to the U.S. Government, notwithstanding the use of a disclaimer as required by 3 FAM 4172.1-4, and that this will impair the foreign affairs mission of the State Department.

    ME (07/21/11): But all information about US bases and facilities comes from open sources, most hyperlinked. Lists of US bases with far more detailed information are available easily (http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&source=hp&biw=1003&bih=592&q=us+bases+in+iraq+map&oq=us+bases+in+iraq&aq=2&aqi=g3g-v7&aql=&gs_sm=c&gs_upl=4000l6641l0l9047l16l14l0l5l5l0l297l1828l0.5.4l9)

    Please tell me specifically which words could be used to identify and exploit security.

    STATE (07/29/2011): Due to a miscommunication within the Department, the first response you received mistakenly emphasized the security concerns raised by this article. Please disregard that initial response.

    Not all of it was that weird, but the sample is not unrepresentative I am afraid,

    It is right to punish me for those blog postings, in line with the actual harm done (very little, a lot of smoke, little real affect). It is important to note that there are hundreds of FS blogs and Facebook pages out there but the Department is pursuing mine. Here, have a look at some of the blogs, actually linked to by State. I have been in touch with many of their authors, and none tell me they clear their postings. State turns a blind eye to its rules in these instances, even linking to the blogs ensuring they attract a broader audience.

    It is difficult to conclude anything other than that my blog is singled out because it presents a view of State that State does not like. Selective enforcement is not a nice thing.

    Everything Else

    The line between writing publicly about Iraq and not having the judgement to continue do the work I have been doing otherwise more or less successfully for 23 years is murky. The line between writing publicly and not being able to hold a security clearance is even murkier.

    While State has accused me of poor judgement in part because of the documents and information I have posted, it knows exactly what materials and information I have withheld and will continue to withhold. No. no, don’t ask. My point is that I am indeed exercising judgement here and State does know that. People who asked to speak with me confidentially have found those promises kept. Not everything State has given/written me has or will go online. Judgement at work, even if we disagree about the decisions.

    I wrote a book, I write a blog. My judgement at work today would be the same as it was five years ago or last month or since April when I started the blog. I have never disclosed classified information in the over two decades I have had a Top Secret clearance and I will not.

    I am deeply concerned that the State Department is jumping from “A” (blogged without clearance, in which I am not alone) to “C” (cannot be trusted and has bad judgement) without justification.

    The use of what we’ll call here “extra judicial” punishments, i.e., detrimental actions by the Government that cannot be challenged, appears on the rise in and outside of the State Department. These actions exist on a continuum, with my unchallengable suspensions on the “lite” end, people like Bradley Manning detained for over 500 days with charge in the middle, and the use of drones to kill American Citizen terrorists abroad all the way on one end. The results are obviously very, very different, but the thought behind the actions is very much the same: despite the Constitution and our democratic traditions, now when you do something the Government does not like, the Government feels unfettered in striking you as they see fit.

    Not my America. How about you?

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