• The State Department Does Not Want You to Read This

    September 27, 2011 // 11 Comments »




    Time for a little peak behind the curtain…

    Are words really that scary? Did I set fire to the flag using a cute puppy soaked in gasoline? Did I step on a tiger’s tail?

    The State Department has done a number of things to try and prevent me from publishing my book, and threatened, promised or suggested they will do more. The book is on sale now, today, so they have turned to seeking to punish me as an example to others; easier to stop books that are never written.

    We’ll focus on only one action at this time (if you want more, have a look at TomDispatch). We’ll take the Department’s word for it that the sudden review of my old travel vouchers from early 2009 (guess what, not in my favor so I had to repay $$$ to the government) is just a coincidence, that after years this week they just decided to take a look.

    Sure.

    Almost two years ago, on nearly my first day as a PRT Team Leader in Iraq, I chose not to sign off on a $25,000 project to provide free sheep to five Iraqi widows. This story makes up part of a chapter in my book, “Sheep for Widows.” I felt the project was poorly conceived and would waste taxpayer/your $25,000 without furthering the US’ efforts to rebuild Iraq. Upset because I had pissed on their fire, the contractors involved in the project got together and complained to the Embassy that I raised my voice at them, even supposedly making one battle-hardened veteran contractor cry. I claim it didn’t happen that way, the contractors said it did.

    As for the Sheep for Widows project itself, curiously, my boss, and later his own boss, did not overrule me as they could have, and the project was never funded.

    Now, almost two years later, the State Department is still pursuing this supposed “raising of one’s voice” as a “discipline case” against me, claiming of course that it has nothing to do with this book.

    Nope, nothing at all.

    Just like the travel voucher review.

    Despite the ultimate penalty for my misconduct being nothing but a “Letter of Reprimand” more worthy of Ferris Bueller, the State Department sent an investigator all the way from Washington to Baghdad to gather evidence. The investigator, since one of the contractors to whom a voice was allegedly raised was female, thought that I might have thus committed sexual harassment, and pursued the charge with zeal. She interviewed only the people who had made accusations. Despite requests by me that she also interview other witnesses, perhaps some who were not complainants, she did not.

    Ironically, the investigator works for the Office of Civil Rights, S/OCR, which reports directly to the Secretary of State herself, Hillary Rodham Clinton. This is a lot of juice being applied to a a pretty minor thing, even if true (it’s not).

    With the exception of my Iraq boss (who said in writing that the ambiguous he said/she said matter had been settled with a stern talking-to saying “get along”), everyone the investigator talked to was a contractor whose one-year-at-a-time $250,000+ contracts depended on the State Department’s regular renewals. One of the contractors, scheduled at first to be let go, instead had a contract renewed after the investigation commenced. Despite the “incident” taking maybe five minutes of real time in 2009, the investigator came up with 77 questions for me to answer under oath, this part of the several hundred page Report of Investigation (ROI). The Department has assigned a team of lawyers you’re paying for to depose me yet again on these identical questions because, well, they can.

    When I objected to the ROI in a formal grievance, the State Department assigned the same lawyer prosecuting me for the alleged raising of a voice to review the grievance that sought to throw out the interviews that formed the basis of all charges. This essentially means that the prosecutor was allowed to rule on a motion to throw out the evidence that forms her own case. When I objected to this as a bit biased and unfair, I was told to shut up, it was OK, by a Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS), backed up by the Director General of the Foreign Service, the chief HR Officer for the whole Department of State.

    Sweet.

    To give you a sense of how much effort the State Department is spending on this case, have a look just at their filing just to try and prevent a short delay in the procedures (Dept Resp to Motion for Stay).

    But as we stand today, even the State Department couldn’t figure out a way to make an alleged raised voice in the midst of a shooting war grounds for sexual harassment, so I was found guilty of the catch-all of “misconduct.” When I tried to appeal that decision, I was told that I could not ask more than 30 questions of the entire world of people in my defense, and that the State Department would first have to approve those questions in advance. One of the key witnesses ignored by State, a soldier, has died in the interim and can no longer testify on my behalf. Yeah, we thought it too, Kafkaesque.

    The effect is chilling.

    The State Department only interviewed people who had accused me and who had a clear financial incentive to side with the Department. The State Department refused to interview anyone else. They then found me guilty, and will only allow me a scant few emasculated questions. This shuts out of the process most of the people who might help establish my side of the story.

    It essentially assures a guilty verdict every time by eliminating the defense.

    No court would allow that, but State treats the employees it does not like that way, just like back when Uncle Joe McCarthy turned his wrath on the Department itself with similar tactics. They learn slow in Foggy Bottom, but they do learn.

    The State Department does business this way, and everyone should know that.

    Also, please note that the State Department has expended over 1000 personnel hours and the cost of a round-trip to Iraq for the investigator in pursuing a case whose absolute worst possible outcome is a simple Letter of Reprimand. Oh yeah—that investigator, the one who refused to interview neutral witnesses, remember she works for the State Department’s Office of Civil Rights. Ironic.

    The book is out.

    Congress, as it makes its budget decisions, should be aware of how State chooses to use its limited resources. Really, bullying is kind of immature for a Cabinet agency.

    Is the juice worth the squeeze Hillary? They work for you. Is this the public image you want for your agency, because it is the image your staff is creating.




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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Iraq, Other Ideas