• A New Low: State Department Censors Internal Dialogue to Block ACLU Discussion

    May 16, 2012 // 2 Comments »

    A comment on the story below of the ACLU’s support of free speech for federal employees humorously remarked

    The State Department has classified the ACLU letter and issued a warning to its busy workers in the hive not to read the letter: “federal employees and contractors who believe they may have inadvertently accessed or downloaded this letter without prior authorization, should contact their information security offices for assistance.”

    Well, fiction became reality as the State Department has stooped to a new low, censoring comments on the ACLU from a purely internal discussion Intranet forum.

    Sounding Board

    Hillary Clinton initiated something at State called the “Sounding Board,” a forum available to State Department employees only on the internal Intranet. It is not available to the public. Clinton described the initiative as

    I ask you to apply the same robust diplomacy and engagement inside this building and at other posts across the world, a willingness to discuss and debate, to be open-minded, forward-thinking, to share better ideas, better methods, better ways of executing the very difficult tasks confronting us.

    And inaugurated the forum with the vision statement that it

    Afford employees the opportunity to provide feedback on management ideas, programs, and initiatives, Promote open debate and discussion on innovation and reform, Foster discourse between employees and the Department’s senior leadership.

    My Contribution to the Sounding Board

    So it seemed to me that the world’s premier free speech advocate, the ACLU, declaiming that the State Department’s regulations blocking blogging and the first amendment rights of its employees were unconstitutional, might be of interest to other employees, and that the need to discuss changing those regulations is real. I posted this comment on the internal forum with links:

    The ACLU, in reviewing State’s preclearance policies in relation to my case, has found them to be unconstitutional and to exercise unjustified restraint. Now, the question is, will the Department change, or again have to be forced to change?

    Ok, right? No naughty words, nothing inflammatory. And so State censored it, deleted it, disappeared it so that no employee could see it, based on an anonymous accusation. Accusations at State are always made anonymously. Here’s what the moderator said

    The Sounding Board wasn’t designed to handle individually-specific cases, or cases that are under formal review of any sort. Our publishing guidelines state this, but more honestly, there are issues that are much bigger than our two moderators can handle. And yours is one of them. We have to let the procedures set in place, that you’re exercising, run their course.

    What it Means

    The State Department now has fallen to the level of censoring its own discussion forum specifically designed to “promote open debate and discussion on innovation and reform.” They want to disappear ideas that they don’t agree with. I’ve resubmitted the comment in hopes that the Stasi at State are down at Starbucks and it’ll slip through. Jeez, grow a pair, will ya’?


    State, to their credit, has now allowed a modified version of my comment online, with a note that discussion of my specific case will not be allowed.

    OK, cool. I don’t really care that employees talk about me (though they are welcome). My case itself is getting plenty of media and attention beyond the internal Sounding Board. My point is to discuss the use of social media by employees, and the ACLU statement is significant. I don’t recall in my own 24 years too many other instances where some of State regulations have been labeled unconstitutional. Social media will continue to grow, and the Department needs realistic, clear rules that are applied uniformly. Without them, you have the chaos that I have participated in for the past year or so. That does no one any good.

    State dragged its feet on the treatment of women and African Americans, and suffered for it. State took the lead on rights for LGBT employees and has profited from it. State should step up on the issue of social media and let itself be seen as a model of the free speech it advocates worldwide.

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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State

    Dead Men Working

    April 22, 2012 // Comments Off on Dead Men Working

    Dead Men Working, the blog of a group called “Concerned Foreign Service Officers” does not always agree with what I write here; in fact, they tend to almost always disagree with me, so it is important to note when our two blogs come to the same conclusion.

    That conclusion is over the role Diplomatic Security is increasingly playing within the Department of State: internal bully boy to be used by HR to weed out troublesome employees. Dead Men stated:

    That freedom from oversight (the quo) is the “plausible deniability factor” that allows the Department, when it wants to, to use every dirty trick imaginable to terminate – with extreme prejudice – anyone, for any reason, deserved or not (the quid). DS leadership gets the kind of absolute power that the corrupt enjoy absolutely, in exchange for using that power, when desired, to eliminate the problem employee of the day. It is, as they say, a win-win situation.

    That is sadly not the kind of statement you’d like to hear about a part of the American government, never mind a part of the American government charged with carrying America’s message of democracy abroad.

    Read the whole article at Dead Men Working.

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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State

    Wikileaks: So What’s the Fuss?

    November 29, 2011 // Comments Off on Wikileaks: So What’s the Fuss?

    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.

    Or maybe most of the secrets compromised were just the embarrassing kind, like the one that got my security clearance suspended by State’s Stasi-in-waiting, Diplomatic Security?

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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State