• My Latest Interview with Security at State Department

    April 12, 2012 // 20 Comments »

    So we’ll just throw it into the ever-growing stinky coincidence pile that the same day another of my articles appears on TomDispatch (and Salon, Huffington Post, The Nation, etc.), I get called into another interrogation session with the State Department’s Stasi, Diplomatic Security. I say Stasi just to invoke an image; these guys succeed at “security” only in the Alice in Wonderland written by George Orwell land they live in.

    Today’s session lasted two and a half hours and involved two contractor investigators, my lawyer and me. Figure a couple of hundred bucks in Government salaries alone, plus the time for the goons to type it all up. Your tax dollars at work.

    Two key issues emerged right up front, serious accusations that a) I divulged US government “policies and procedures” and b) I failed to report contacts with foreigners. Both accusations where made apparently by some fellows in my telework office, so-called colleagues in Consular Affairs (State Department friends who wrote in last week all over collegiality take note).

    Naked Policy

    The first accusation, divulging US government policy and procedure, was apparently based on this blog post from December 2011, some 13 weeks ago. Take a quick look.

    Not sure where the divulging is in there? Neither was I until it was divined that it must have been this smoking gun paragraph:

    While I don’t know the specifics behind that announcement, the usual play inside any Embassy is a) A threat is identified; b) The Political or Economic section wants to downplay it to keep good relations with the host government; c) The Consular section frets that Americans need to be warned; d) Much dithering is snapped when the security office announces the threat already circulating informally inside the Embassy community in an internal memo which e) Triggers the “no double standard rule” and forces/allows the Consular section to go public. It is not a process that takes place casually, so probably bad stuff is a’ brewin’ in the old Green Zone for it to get to this point. 

    Huh? So is the State Department now admitting that disagreements between the Political Section and the Consular Section at an Embassy are “policy and procedure”? Now back in my day such push and pull was part of the informal process, but I must have missed the memo where it was codified into an actual policy or procedure. I really need to check my work email more often.

    Foreign Affairs

    The second big issue today was those foreign contacts. People with security clearances are supposed to report certain foreign contacts, say if a beautiful Soviet spy named Natasha slides up to you at a bar somewhere and offers to trade ‘licks for some secrets. Fair enough. In my case the evidence was hidden in this blog post. Again, take a peek, and then come back here.

    Find it? Apparently the evidence against me was this statement from that blog post:

    One question from the audience stood out.

    A student asked who in the State Department had spoken to me about the contents of my book, the errors and mismanagement I wrote about. The answer of course was no one. Not a single person in the entire State Department has asked me about what I saw and chronicled. Kind of a poor showing for an organization that purports to represent free speech abroad and dissent within in its own ranks.

    On the other hand, since the publication of this book, my commentary has appeared in the New York Times, Le Monde, The Guardian, Huffington Post, Mother Jones, Foreign Policy, Rolling Stone, TomDispatch.com and elsewhere. I have been interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air and All Things Considered, as well as Democracy Now. I have spoken with with journalists from the UK, Russia, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Japan, and at several major universities, the National Press Center twice and with Army units deploying for Afghanistan. I have appeared on camera in two documentaries and am now working with Academy Award nominated documentary filmmaker James Spione (Incident in New Baghdad). My book is also assigned reading in a course taught at George Washington University.

    Now leaving aside the freedom of the press and the freedom of association that does allow Americans to speak with journalists, exactly who said the journalists representing those foreign news sources were foreigners? Does everyone who works for a Dutch newspaper have to be Dutch? How about at CNN, or CBS, are all those employees automatically American? They did not ask me about the “American” news sources but I’ll spill the beans and tell you (shh…) that one of the reporters I talked to from an “American” newspaper was a… Canadian! She talked all American, but broke down under my own questioning and admitted being a foreigner. I knew it right away when she refused a warm Budweiser.

    I am really hoping that Diplomatic Security was not asking me to name all the reporters I’ve talked to under this flimsy excuse.

    The point here is that I have no idea what nationality everyone is that I speak with, swap emails with or interact with on Twitter and Facebook, or in conversation on the bus for that matter. And neither do the colleagues who thought this was the smoking gun and told Security. I do know that I spoke with lots of people about a book available to anyone, approved by the State Department in autumn 2010 and I neither had any classified info to disclose nor did I/could I have disclosed anything. To accuse me of unreported foreign contacts because of that blog post is comical, if it wasn’t seriously what your government did today.

    Now It Is Personal

    Then it got personal. I’ve worked for State for 24 years, been married to the same lovely woman for 25 years. Yet today the fact that that woman was born abroad (in Japan, still a US buddy that we have not bombed in some 70 years) became “Did I ever have a relationship with a foreign national?” Yes, yes I did, for 25 delightful years and counting, including all my overseas assignments where my dear wife joined me on State Department orders.

    Luckily they did not know that my dog is also a foreigner. She was a rescue we saved in Hong Kong. Bitch is 100% Chicom canine.

    So What’s the Big Deal?

    So there went a couple of hours of my life. I’ve wasted more time in line for Space Mountain, so what’s the big deal?

    The deal is this comrades: When an organization such as the State Department wants to deep six an employee for no allowable reason (i.e., rude blogging), they turn the case over to Security. Knowing that their own human resources regulations won’t work, never mind the sticky Constitution, the State Department in the specific and the Government in general are hiding behind security, where even accusations can become fatal, where facts can be hidden from Freedom of Information Act requests and even court-ordered discovery, and thus manipulated to a desired end. What is called an investigation morphs into an indictment, where the goal is to keep fishing until something, anything, comes up.

    Worse than that (the Stasi, and Diplomatic Security, can at least hide behind the old “just doing my job, I don’t make the rules” sissy excuse) is how once the institution labels you a target, people inside turn on you with crazy accusations (see above). Diplomatic Security fanned out into every office I worked in since returning to the US in 2006 and asked for dirt. They did the same with my neighbors. The investigator today had my credit report in front of him. He asked me questions about what medical provider I see and was very interested in the names and dosages of any prescription medications I take.

    Am I a threat to anyone’s security? I guess that’s up to the “experts,” but I don’t think so. I have not had need for and have not accessed the State Department classified network since 2005. My work has been all in the unclassified realm. In Iraq, embedded with the US military, I was entrusted with operational info that, had it been disclosed, could have quite literally killed soldiers, never mind some dumb ass memo from 2006 already on Wikileaks. The Army had no apparent concern with me having that info, so we are left wondering what State is afraid of here.

    Just to remind, the charges against me by the State Department are all related to this blog, nothing more. 100% of the evidence is right here for your viewing pleasure, my crimes conducted in full view.

    I get it, they are afraid. They want me destroyed, and they apparently have no limit to how much money and time can be devoted to just that. Since I lead a boring life, with no international intrigue to speak of, they have their work cut out for them. However, by playing the McCarthy card and turning any accusation into a hammering point, then serving as judge of their own dirty handiwork, State assures itself of the win. It is just a matter of time.

    Nothing New at the State Department

    John Paton Davies in a new autobiography called China Hand tells of his own termination from the State Department. Davies was an acknowledged expert on China, one of a generation of brilliant scholars and diplomats known collectively as the “China Hands” during WWII. Davies predicted that Mao would win the Chinese Civil War and advocated better relations with Communist China to counter Soviet influence. Davies, of course, was prescient in his advice, though being right did not save him. Instead, for his views counter to popular policy that saw all Communist countries as a caliphate, Davies faced nine Diplomatic Security investigations between 1948 and 1954, all of which failed to produce any evidence of wrongdoing. Nevertheless, in 1954, under political pressure from Senator Joe McCarthy, the gutless Secretary of State John Foster Dulles asked Davies to resign. Davies refused, and Dulles terminated him, claiming he had “demonstrated a lack of judgment, discretion and reliability.”

    Out with the Garbage

    I certainly do not place myself anywhere near where men like Davies reside in history so save your emailed rage, and the whistleblowers I have come to know also occupy various niches. What we do share is being thrown away by the government we served because that government was scared of us.

    A government seeking to hide from its own people acts that way, suppressing dissent first to preserve order and good discipline, and then soon down the slope to simply preserve its own power.

    We’re all out of a job and out of government, that is a fact. It is up to you to judge what that means and whether your interests as the people are best served by our terminations.



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    Democracy Now! McCarthy-like Tactics Disgrace State Department

    March 19, 2012 // 1 Comment »

    Of all the institutions in government that should be wary of smear tactics, use of personal attacks to silence critics and falsehoods morphed into fact, it should be the State Department. The Department was decimated in the 1950’s by Senator McCarthy and should not stoop to such actions itself.

    It thus saddens me to see a once-great institution I served with pride for some 24 years, our first cabinet agency, the Department of State, reduced to crude retaliation against one of its own employees for writing a book and a blog– me. Despite all the huff-puff from State about “regulations,” this is all about free, critical speech that the organization does not like and seeks to squash. When they couldn’t stop my writing, they seek to punish me. Instead of rebutting what I say, they seek to attack me as a person. I always planned on retiring in September, so all this effort is about cutting my career short by only a few months. If that does not show the retaliatory intent of State, I don’t know what does.

    Actually, maybe this does. I filed my complaint for retaliation as a whistleblower with the Office of the Special Counsel early in January 2012, about which the State Department was officially put on notice at that time. After sitting on their own report of investigation for three months, it was only days after the Office of the Special Counsel referred my complaint to its investigatory and prosecutorial section, and days before the Counsel’s discovery request, that the Department issued the termination notice. Very curious timing.

    Have a look at my interview with Democracy Now! to hear more about this and other issues in chilly Washington, DC:




    (If the video is not showing above, please follow this link to watch it)




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    Book Review: State Versus Defense

    January 15, 2012 // 8 Comments »




    Stephen Glain’s new book, State vs. Defense: The Battle to Define America’s Empire, is a brilliant, sober, sad and important biography of the Department of State since World War II. The choice of word here–biography–is significant, in that instead of a simple history of State, Glain traces its decline in old age as America’s foreign policy is increasingly made and carried out by the Pentagon. This does not bode well for America. Mini review: Be afraid.

    McCarthy: Beginning of the End

    Though not casual reading, State vs. Defense: The Battle to Define America’s Empire‘s detailed text will gift the reader with a thorough history of America’s overseas activities since the end of the Second World War. Told largely through tales of bureaucratic infighting between State and Defense, with Congress often coming on stage at critical moments to drive a dagger into State’s corps(e), it is not a pretty story. Author Glain, for example, chronicles the rise of the national security state post-war, but leaves it to McCarthy to devastate the State Department at a time when its prescience might have altered relations in East Asia forever, possibly preventing the Korean War:

    The damage done to the State Department by McCarthy’s attacks [and the destruction of State’s China hands like Service, Davis and Vincent] was irreparable. Those who did pursue diplomatic careers would find a culture of caution that impaired lateral thinking. (McCarthy’s) real legacy is the diminution of the Department of State into the intellectually inert and politically impotent agency that it is today. p.76

    Limping into Vietnam, Glain shows how State never reached Presidents Johnson and Nixon, and instead allowed itself to be a forgotten extension of the military because it could never break free from its own bureaucratic in-the-box conception of international relations:

    A 1972 RAND study scolded US diplomats for not doing enough to prevent the militarization of Washington’s pacification efforts in Vietnam. “The State Department,” the study said, “did not often deviate from its concept of normal diplomatic dealings with Saigon, not even when the government was falling apart. Similarly, State… made little effort to assert control over our military on political grounds… State’s concept of institution building in Vietnam turned largely on encouragement of American democratic forms, a kind of mirror-imagining which proved hard to apply to the conditions of Vietnam. p. 233


    Jesse Helms and George W. Finish the Job

    Despite the sparring between State and Defense over what to do in the Balkans in the 1990’s, which showed some hope for diplomacy, it was the one-two punch of Jesse Helms’ decimating State’s budget from his perch on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, followed by the almost complete militarization of everything after 9/11, that effectively ended State as a significant Washington player.

    No one outside of official Washington can appreciate how much 9/11 altered the way the US Government thinks about itself. The shock of an attack on the US changed the posture of the government from one of at times satisfied with passivity in its more distant foreign affairs to one demanding constant action.

    The shock was because 9/11 was not supposed to happen, again. Everything about the US government was as of 9/10 still configured around the mistakes made concerning Pearl Harbor. My favorite CIA Station Chief kept, framed, in his guest toilet, a copy of a cable sent by the US Embassy in Tokyo on December 7, 1941 (the attack took place December 8 Japan time) claiming war was far off. He maintained that from that December morning forward the purpose of the U.S. government was to make sure Pearl Harbor never happened again. Then it did.

    On 9/12, every part of the U.S. government, with a special emphasis on those who worked abroad (State, CIA, DOD, et al), was to shift was a passive mode of listening and reporting to an action mode. The President would probably have preferred that each Federal worker go out and strangle a terrorist personally, but if that was not possible everyone was to find a way to go to war. The intelligence agencies, whose 1960s and 70s comical attempts at assassinations and dirty tricks were so well documented in the Church Hearings, suddenly saw the sharp, sudden end of the debate on whether they were to conduct clandestine or sort of clandestine ops or not. State froze like a deer in the headlights, and almost lost the one action-oriented bureau in the agency, the visa office, to the new Department of Homeland Security.

    George W. Bush administration is particularly singled out by Glain as having forced the air out of State. Reminding readers how the early days of Iraq occupation were run not by skilled Arabists from the State Department, but by recent college grads from the Bush campaigns, Glain writes:

    American militarism came about the same way that free societies succumb to authoritarian rule: with a leadership that rewards sycophants and the like-minded, co-opts the ambitious and punishes those in dissent. p. 381

    In 1950 State had 7710 diplomats abroad. In 2001, they had only 7158. The world had changed around the Department (personnel figures from Career Diplomacy, by Harry Kopp and Charles Gillespie, Second Edition).

    Rise of the Combatant Commands

    Roughly the last quarter of Glain’s book covers the post-9/11 period. His key contention is that the vacuum in foreign relations has been largely filled by the military combatant commanders, the men who head CENTCOM, SOCOM and the rest:

    The combatant commands are already the putative epicenters for security, diplomatic, humanitarian and commercial affairs in their regions. Local leaders receive them as powerful heads of state, with motorcades, honor guards and ceremonial feats. Their radiance obscures everything in its midst, including the authority of US ambassadors. p. 350


    Glain’s point is worth quoting at length:

    This yawning asymmetry is fueled by more than budgets and resources [though the Pentagon-State spending ration is 12:1, p. 405], however. Unlike ambassadors, whose responsibility is confined to a single country or city-state, the writ of a combatant commander is hemispheric in scope. His authority covers some of the world’s most strategic resources and waterways and he has some of the most talented people in the federal government working for him.

    While his civilian counterpart is mired in such parochial concerns as bilateral trade disputes and visa matters, a combatant commander’s horizon is unlimited. “When we spoke, we had more clout,” according to Anthony Zinni. “There’s a mismatch in our stature. Ambassadors don’t have regional perspectives. You see the interdependence and interaction in the region when you have regional responsibility. If you’re in a given country, you don’t see beyond its borders because that is not your mission.” p. 351


    With stature as defacto leaders abroad, the combatant commanders also stripped State of its already meager resources. In particular, Glain focuses on the non-battle to move foreign military assistance money out of State’s hands, and dump it into the Pentagon’s coffers:

    Section 1206 funding: for the first time since president Kennedy signed the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, the US military would fund such activity directly from its own accounts, bypassing the State Department. Conspicuously absent from the debate over Section 1206 was Condoleezza Rice, America’s secretary of state. To no avail, Senator Patrick Leahy, implored Rice not to relinquish such vital funding authority as requested by the Pentagon… Legislative aides involved in the debate were staggered by Rice’s passivity. p. 399

    Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s mantric utterance of the “3Ds”–defense, diplomacy and development–suggests at least passive acceptance of such a lopsided collusion. p. 404


    The End

    In 1940, the U.S. place in the world was simple. Diplomacy was Euro-centric, and the State Department was a collection of gentlemen committed to proper discourse. As World War II broke out, State had just 840 diplomats stationed abroad. The world that emerged from that war still played the old game, albeit with some different players. State participated in the overall mad growth of the U.S. government, and by 1950 had 7710 diplomats assigned outside the U.S. New countries emerged, power shifted, colonies disappeared, and State blithely sat back and reported on it all. Millions of pages of reports on everything under the sun were written, likely billions of pages. You can see contemporary reports on WikiLeaks, or delve into the historical pile, where State is currently declassifying and publishing things from the Carter administration.

    Glain offers no prescription for a Department of State resurgence, ending his biography with the institution at near death. State vs. Defense: The Battle to Define America’s Empire concludes with a depressing coda, warning America what the almost complete militarization of its foreign affairs really means:

    US relations with the world, and increasingly America’s security policy at home, have become thoroughly and all but irreparably militarized. The culprits are not the nation’s military leaders… but civilian elites who have seen to it that the nation is engaged in a self-perpetuating cycle of low grade conflict… They have convinced a plurality of citizens that their best guarantee of security is not peace but war. p. 407

    Despite the fanatic growth in size of government under the Bush administration, State remained a sidelined player. With 7158 employees stationed abroad in 2001, by 2010 the number had only grown to 8199, diplomats supplemented by civil servants and others on “excursion” tours abroad.

    History can be quite naughty, and State may yet be handed another chance at transformation before slipping away to become not much more than America’s concierge abroad, arranging hotel rooms for Congressional delegations and aiding tourists with lost passports. But that is unlikely, leaving the military as America’s representative abroad. Be afraid.

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    Conscience Do Cost

    October 18, 2011 // Comments Off on Conscience Do Cost

    A comment on my steaming pile posting below sums things up well enough to stand on its own:


    John Stewart Service fought back to clear his good name and was reinstated after being fired by Dean Acheson, and investigated by Joe McCarthy, in the 1950s. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court. Fight back, if you still have any stomach for this.

    As the blind bartender said in the TV show The Wire; “conscience do cost.”

    The wikileaks reference os a red herring, in my opinion, and your book is actually similar to many SIGIR and OIG reports from Iraq. Heck, I favorited one of the latter reporting the complete disappearance of 186 vehicles from the Embassy inventory (don’t you hate it when that happens?) and 7000 units of drugs like oxycontin gone, obviously sold, from the Embassy medical unit. (Maybe that explains their irrational optimism?)

    No, what really ticked them off was not your effort to tell the American people the truth, but that you mocked them, and very hilariously and successfully. That’s what makes your book such a classic, and what the State Department Tigers will never, ever forgive you for. The great mirth at their august expense is, sadly, the coup de grace for your hitherto blameless career.





    On another related thread, Diplopundit weighs in…



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    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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