• The State Dept. Says I Shouldn’t Write This

    October 17, 2014 // 7 Comments »




    (Friday) The State Department says I shouldn’t write this article. They have regulations that tell former employees like me what we should and should not say, and that’s wrong in America.

    As some readers may know, I am former employee of the Department of State, and after publishing a book critical of State’s efforts in the previous Iraq War We Meant Well, I was subjected to a year of legal battles, including threat of prosecution.

    But standing up for your rights is a part of having those rights. A free society is based on a marketplace of ideas, that free speech thing we all learned about in civics class. We all need to hear from all sides to become the “informed citizenry” that Thomas Jefferson said was so essential to a democracy. And who better to enlighten the public about how their government really works than former federal employees, the people who were on the inside, now private citizens?


    It would be wrong then for a former employer, as codified into its agency regulations, to expect its retirees to “refrain from engaging in activities of any kind, including writing manuscripts or giving speeches, which would be prejudicial to the foreign policy interests of the United States.” But that is exactly what the U.S. Department of State does.

    They even wrote it down, stating (emphasis added):

    Former employees are expected to refrain from engaging in activities of any kind, including writing manuscripts or giving speeches, which would be prejudicial to the foreign policy interests of the United States.

    Former employees are encouraged to make public appearances and write manuscripts for unofficial publication which constructively contribute to the interests and objectives of the Department of State and the Government.

    So let’s get this straight. Private citizens, who happened to once work for the State Department in some capacity, perhaps not even one directly connected to policy issues, are expected to not say anything in a public forum against the interests of the United States? And they are encouraged to say things that contribute to the objectives of the Department of State? Just ’cause?


    Though this all smacks of some sort of Orwellian attempt to coerce, er, expect, a class of private citizens to propagandize, um, engage in activities, that use their authority and reputation as former State Department employee to promote only the side of a discussion that supports the government’s position, I’ll play along. I have to right, as a Good Citizen?

    But I think the problem will be in how the State Department and I might differ on just what the “interests and objectives of the Department of State and the Government” are that I am told because I once worked there I must support.

    But let’s start with something we can agree on. The State Department’s Mission Statement says in part that the agency should seek to “Shape and sustain a… democratic world.” I agree.

    But I disagree that admonishments to spew the government line as a private citizen, as State wants, contribute to that goal. Instead, I believe that exercising my First Amendment rights as a private citizen contribute much to democracy. Any exercise of rights strengthens a democracy, the same as any attacks on those rights diminish it. Bleating out the party line is for countries ruled by parties. Did you know that North Korea’s interests and objectives include claiming Kim Il Sung invented the television? I guess their former employees are encouraged and expected to write nice things in comments on YouTube and stuff about that.

    Welcome to another episode of Post-Constitutional America, where the old rules do not apply. See something, say something, unless you used to work for the State Department and what you say does not agree with the government’s version of things.

    But oh! Some feel that is too much, too dramatic. Fair enough. The whole problem is not that State can ever enforce these rules– they can’t– it is that they exist as a testament to how they think. It’s that whole idea of “loyalty” above all else, and of course the hypocrisy of saying how important dissent is while trying very hard to stifle it. At the end of the day such things erode employees. So many just kind of give up and stop caring too much about what they do and just glide through the motions.



    BONUS: The same section of regulation quoted above also says “The State Department will be glad to furnish, upon request, advice, assistance, and copies of printed publications to former employees who wish to obtain information on particular subjects.” Or not. I have asked State for comment and “advice” on these regulations and have not received any response.

    FYI: State has not contacted me personally about anything I have written. This article is based on State’s regulations. Whether currently enforced in some way or not, their existence is reason enough to call out.





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    Copyright © 2017. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Iraq, Post-Constitution America

    Enemy of (the) State

    January 17, 2012 // Comments Off on Enemy of (the) State




    (This article originally appeared on the Daily Kos, written by Jesselyn Radack, an attorney at the Government Accountability Project who protects my First Amendment right to publish this blog)

    The Washington Post has an article this morning on DHS Monitoring of Social Media Concerns Civil Liberties Advocates, which discusses the Department of Homeland Security’s 3-year-old practice of monitoring social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

    Predictably, [a] senior DHS official said the department does not monitor dissent or gather reports tracking citizens’ views.

    Maybe DHS doesn’t, but the State Department does.

    I represent a State Department 23-year-veteran of the Foreign Service, Peter Van Buren, where the State Department admits that it does precisely that: monitor his personal Internet activity on his home computer during his private time.

    Peter Van Buren wrote a book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (Metropolitan Books 2011), which is highly critical of our gross reconstruction fraud in Iraq. It went through pre-publication review and the State Department approved it by default by letting its own 30-day review period expire.

    A month before the publication of his book, Mr. Van Buren began to experience a series of adverse personnel actions, which are ongoing today.

    The State Department tried a variety of different tactics to censor Mr. Van Buren’s book and prevent him from promoting it. After vague references to ethics rules failed, it tried threats of criminal action. After those failed, it started coming down on his blogs (which had been posted since April 2011 without criticism) and live media appearances, [saying the contents of which] needed to be pre-cleared.

    There are many incarnations of the State Department’s increasingly-restrictive policies regarding linking–not leaking–to WikiLeaks documents, with which they tried to jack up Van Buren. But now he is getting his own personal “compliance letters” that say things like:

    You must comply fully with applicable policies and regulations regarding official clearance of public speeches, writings and teaching materials, including blogs, tweets and other communications via social media, on matters of official concern, whether prepared in an official or private capacity (Emphasis added).

    Although hundreds of State Department employees write blogs (the State Department even links to the ones it likes), and thousands have Facebook accounts, Mr. Van Buren has been told (the government usually doesn’t admit this) that all his Internet activity on his personal computer in his private capacity is being monitored.

    This is outrageous. I recommend that the democracy-loving, Internet-freedom-promoting State Department read the First Amendment.



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Iraq, Post-Constitution America

    Dear State Department:

    September 27, 2011 // 2 Comments »



    The immaturity of the land of the free defies imagination.


    Thanks for your interest in my book. I’m sorry that some of it is not to your liking and that you have formally requested in a letter to the publisher redactions of embarrassing information freely available online (including info from a scene in Black Hawk Down, great movie), but I want to find a way to make it right. Here’s an idea– don’t say no yet, think it over.

    Let’s look at how the Department of Defense used some taxpayer moolah. The Defense Intelligence Agency tried to stop Americans from reading former Army Intelligence Officer Anthony Shaffer’s book, Operation Dark Heart: Spycraft and Special Ops on the Frontlines of Afghanistan — and the Path to Victory. The Defense Department spent nearly $50,000 of your taxpayer money (ka-ching!) to buy up and destroy the first printing of the book. A subsequent printing redacted all sorts of information, including the fact that the author’s pseudonym, Chris Stryker, was John Wayne’s character in the 1949 film, Sands of Iwo Jima (also a great flick).

    So here’s the offer. I know that State’s budget is not nearly as big as DOD’s. So, you agree to buy the first printing of my book, and I’ll do my best to negotiate with the publisher to get you a wholesale rate. You list up your redactions, and then we’ll reprint without the Black Hawk Down thingie. I personally promise to not put my unredacted copies on eBay. I already mailed one to my Mom (Hi Mom!), so that one is off the table, yeah? Deal????? I didn’t use a macho pseudonym like “Stryker,” so you have some savings right there.

    You’re welcome.

    Love,

    Peter



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Iraq, Post-Constitution America

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