• What do you do with a “problem” like Peter Van Buren? Take away his badge, escort him out, bar the door, throw away the key and ….

    October 28, 2011 // 2 Comments »

    (This article originally appeared on Diplopundit on October 28, 2011)

    Hey! That’s going to really shut him up.

    Yesterday, AFP reports that Mr. Van Buren was escorted out of the State Department on Monday and barred from returning while officials there decide what to do next with him. Our own source said that Mr. Van Buren has been placed on administrative leave for the next couple of weeks. Admin leave is like “we’ll pay you so we don’t have to see you.” I supposed that’s until they can find the citation in the FAM that would fit this “problem.” Mr. Van Buren’s current assignment reportedly had also been curtailed. If true, that means they just took away his desk and chair, too. So even if he is allowed to return after his admin leave, he won’t actually have a job to return to.

    As an aside, Mr. Van Buren’s book is the main selection in our house’s book of the month club. Our 5th grader is currently reading it at home and at school. I don’t think it’s going to damage the kid in any way.

    Mr. Van Buren’s book is highly critical of the State Department’s work in Iraq, the accompanying blog, just as critical. Not sure if the punishment is for the book, the blog, or for both. No one would speak on the record. The suspension letter did not cite the book, but did cite as one of the author’s faults, “an unwillingness to comply with Department rules and regulations regarding writing and speaking on matters of official concern.”

    This is the first time, as far as memory goes, that the State Department had actually yanked somebody’s clearance over “publishing articles and blog posts on such matters without submitting them to the Department for review.” Whereas, in the past, I was aware of the shock factor in threatening bloggers with this in-house version of the “nuclear” option, this is the first time where somebody actually pushed the red button. And in a very public way. I can’t help but think that this would send a big chill to the FS blogosphere. Don’t be shocked if folks go back to the 50’s and start hiding their journals under their pillows.

    Of course, now that State had unleashed the “nuclear” option and suspended Mr. Van Buren’s security clearance, what other threats can you cite to help with behavior modification inside the Big House? He’s really going to stop talking/writing/giving interviews now that he had his clearance suspended, or now that he is barred from Foggy Bottom.

    You think?

    You suspend his clearance hoping that will scare him enough he’d stop blogging; he did not. You take away his badge, hoping that will scare him enough he’d stop blogging; he did not. You bar him from entering any door of the State Department hoping that will scare him enough he’d stop blogging; he did not. You take away his desk and his chair hoping that will scare him out of his wits he’d stop blogging. Instead, on October 27, he was the guest of the National Press Club, his appearance covered by WaPo’s Joe Davidson. The hometown paper has finally caught up with the news.

    And look just now — the book even meets the approval of NYmag, which ranked the book significantly higher than the Mexican cyclops shark. See the unintended consequences here?

    So how do you solve a “problem” like Peter Van Buren? Well, certainly not the way the State Department is “solving” it right now.

    First, I think it must be said that the State Department handled the book clearance badly. Somebody should have owned up to the snafu instead of gunning after the author. The 30-day timeline for clearing the book lapsed. It was not the author’s fault regardless of whether or not the person responsible for clearance had a meltdown, a baby, was sick or was on vacation. But State like any old and cumbersome bureaucracy is loath to admit to its own mistakes. They cleared Condi’s book within the 30-day timeline, yet Mr. Van Buren’s book was not afforded the same courtesy. The State Department, in short, broke its own clearance procedure. And when Mr. Van Buren published the book as allowed under its own regulations in the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM), a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State accused him of “unauthorized disclosures of classified information,” and asked his publisher for redactions six days before the book hit the stores. Can you imagine them doing that to Secretary Rice’s book? Nope. Big fry, small fry; are there different rules?

    But hey – like Joe Davidson says, “The best way for the federal government to publicize a book? Attempt to muzzle the author.”And it’s free!

    Second, given the potential fallout from a book about reconstruction in what has always been an unpopular, contentious war, and given how much money we’re spending on reconstruction projects over in Iraq, somebody higher than a Deputy Assistant Secretary should have read the book, cleared his/her calendar and spoke privately with the author. Instead of sending the tigers with sharp teeth. I have not meet Mr. Van Buren in person, and he may be far from cutesy and cuddly, but he has written a vivid, engaging account of our reconstruction debacle in Iraq seasoned with absurdities, great and small. To dismiss him as nothing but a disgruntled employee is just plain brainless. Public opinion is already against the Iraq war. Add to that the rest of the domestic headaches that the American taxpayers have been suffering in the last several years. And what do you get? A public relation disaster, with the State Department as the big, bad growling tiger in a starring role. It does not help that State appears to be acting like a big, bad growling tiger trying to eat an angry mouse. Grrrr….No diplomatic skills exercised whatsoever.

    Remember when Matthew Hoh resigned over Afghanistan? He had two tours of duty in Iraq and five months under his belt in Afghanistan when he quit. Hoh received offers of new gigs from both Ambassadors Eikenberry and Holbrooke. I understand, he even got some face time with the VPOTUS. I think both ambassadors understood that in our top foreign policy engagement, they cannot be perceived as tone-deaf to the concerns of their man on the ground.

    I’m not saying State should have offered Mr. Van Buren a fancy gig in Paris. But at the very least, somebody from the Seventh Floor should have attempted to speak with him. He, after all, spent 23 years with the State Department and cared enough to write the Iraq Experience down in a book. But no one bothered to speak with him. A DAS alleging his disclosure of classified info did eventually write to him, albeit belatedly, and not really to listen to what he had to say.

    It’s as if the State Department is proud of all its smart people except for those with the guts to speak up, or write a critical book. Or are they only proud of our smart diplomats when they dissent in private, in a channel that the American public never ever gets to hear, and that which the organization is free to ignore? The guy who talks too much not only gets a good hearing in my book, he or she should be afforded an opportunity to contribute in fixing the problems that he cites. No, we do not shoot the messengers in our book. Most especially if they are bearing bad news. But that’s us. Unfortunately, that is often the case in the bureaucracy, the State Department perhaps more so than most. A dead messenger is a good messenger, no news is good news. Ta-daa! And all is great in Iraq.

    Three, Mr. Van Buren is not without faults. He posted articles in his blog without obtaining clearance as required in the FAM. Mr. Van Buren, like his employer, also broke the clearance procedure in the FAM. He even admits to that. But I don’t know of any FSO who blog who had requested clearance for his/her every blog post. The regs make no distinction whether what you write is critical or not, a clearance is required on matters of official concern. And since State’s purview is the entire world, that covers just about everything. So to go after Mr. Van Buren in a singular fashion invites the suspicion that he is targeted for his critical views, not just for the blog but also for his book.

    Four, that convoluted business of the use of a disclaimer. You put up a disclaimer to ensure that what you write is not attributed to the State Department or the US Government.

    Here is Mr. Van Buren’s disclaimer in his blog:
    Copyright © 2011. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of the Department of State, the Department of Defense or any other entity of the US Government. The Department of State does not approve, endorse or authorize this blog or book.
    A spokesman went so far as confirmed Mr. Van Buren’s disclaimer, telling NPR that “the author’s views are his own, and not necessarily those of the State Department.” And really now, if you read his blog, it is hard to imagine anything similar coming out from Mr. Toner or Ms. Nuland from State’s Public Affairs shop.

    And then you have the following disclaimer from the personal blog of the Deputy Director of the State Department’s Office of Innovative Engagement:

    …… is an employee of the United States Department of State. She has been with the Department of State for fourteen years in both traditional Information Technology roles and also as the Deputy Director for the Department’s first social media office – The Office of Innovative Engagement. The viewpoints, opinions and ideas expressed here do not represent the official opinion or policy of the United States Government or the Department of State.

    She went on to blog about her Twitter cliff notes writing about her agency’s social media policy:
    Public engagement should only be conducted by trained professionals. You should not tweet about something you are not an expert in. An example would be if you are not a consular officer do not talk about the visa or passport process. Direct those people to the appropriate subject matter expert.

    Twitter is a live community of humans and reacts the same way as people do when engaging with them in real life. You should focus on developing a “human voice” or persona for your community. This means no generic tweets or “ever green” tweets! Mass messages across all Department accounts are also considered to be an inappropriate use of Twitter.
    […]

    Before using any new social media tools for official State Department purposes, it is important that you are familiar with State Department Policy on Social Media: 5 FAM 790. You should also review the Managing Your Social Media field guide. This guide is very important to helping you plan, create, and execute a successful social media campaign.

    Personal vs. Professional Self:

    You must have permission to tweet in your professional capacity. Permission is granted by the head American officer in the section or the Office Director for domestic offices.

    If you are tweeting in your professional capacity, you must disclose the account as being an official Department of State account.

    If you are tweeting on someone’s behalf, you must state who is on duty. Transparency is critical to building trust with your community.

    When tweeting in your personal capacity you should not talk specifically about your job. See 3 FAM 4170 for additional information.

    Whether or not this deputy director had clearance to post this policy item in her blog as a personal item is between her and Public Affairs. However, I do have to point out that both blogs used disclaimers claiming to be writing in their personal capacities. Mr. Van Buren blogs about Iraq and affairs of the state, all on matters of official concern. Ms. Deputy Director blogs about the Department’s social media policy, also a matter of official concern. One is under investigation, the other as far as I know is not.

    According to the regs, some of the factors to be considered in overcoming the presumption of private capacity with the use of a disclaimer include, but not necessarily limited to: 1) The current or former position, rank, and/or duties of the employee; 2) The relationship between the employee’s position, rank, and/or duties and the subject matter of the speaking/teaching/writing.

    It is perhaps worth noting that Mr. Van Buren, a midlevel FSO was a PRT guy in Iraq from 2009-2010, and if my source is correct, is now an employee without a job. The Deputy Director presumably is in the GS scale; could be GS-14/15 and the incumbent in her office.

    By the way, if you find 5 FAM 790, the State Department Policy on Social Media imperfect and hard to wrap your head around, you have the deputy director to thank for that. She reportedly is the co-author of this first social media use policy for the Department of State.

    Finally, there is that notion that they drummed into your head from A-100 on that as a Foreign Service Officer, you are on duty 24/7. They like saying that. And for the most part, folks in the Foreign Service understand that to be true. You like to think you have a personal life until you have to report to the Regional Security Officer who you slept with the previous night. Or until they tell you — hey, you are actually blogging on official time, since you are considered on duty 24/7.

    In any case, you are on duty 24/7 until the government decides that you are not. Remember the case of Douglas Kent, the U.S. consul general in Vladivostok who was involved in a car accident in October 1998 while driving home from his office? State concurred with DOJ that he was not on duty 24/7 when the accident occurred. Here is a trip down memory lane via U.S. Diplomacy:

    After Kent left the post on reassignment, a Russian citizen injured in the accident sued Kent in his individual capacity in a district court in California. According to an August 31, 2006, “AFSANET” message from the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), “The Department of Justice with State Department concurrence refused to certify that Kent was acting within the scope of his employment when the accident occurred,” thus undermining his claim of immunity. Ultimately, with AFSA supporting FSO Kent’s legal defense, the case went to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which ruled in his favor by determining that he was acting within the scope of his employment when the accident took place. The Kent case clearly demonstrates that while Foreign Service personnel, especially those in senior positions, may consider themselves on duty 24 hours a day while stationed overseas and thus fully protected, particular circumstances may put those immunities at risk.

    In theory, the rules are there to protect you. In practice, the rules can mean many different things to many different people — human interpretation, unless it’s done by droids, see? The folks who write the rules can break it with no consequences. The folks who are covered by the rules are also allowed to break it but somebody’s gotta pay the price. If you come to think of it — the big fry, small fry rules only really sucks if you’re the small fry. But if offends our sense of fairness.

    In the end, organizations particularly one as traditional and hierarchical as the State Department cannot tolerate people falling out of a straight line; it’s contrary to its sense of order and proper functioning of the organization. And really — “open door,” “innovative engagement,” “smart power,” and whatnot can only go so far. An organization like State must do what it must do to protect its brand, like any commercial company, only with less money.

    I doubt if the State Department will fire Mr. Van Buren for “disclosure” of alleged classified information in his book, or for linking to a WikiLeaks cable, or for writing/speaking without clearance. That would make it look petty and seem vindictive and would drag this case long and possibly into court. But organizations are not without power; it always has an ace up its sleeve, so to speak. In this case, a catch-all slam dunk section in 3 FAM 4130 otherwise known as “Standards for Appointment and Continued Employment,” could be the ace up its sleeve. A much used up phrase of “poor judgement” is like a flyswatter that can be used for employees writing outside the chalk line, as well as employees who patronize prostitutes.



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

    State’s actions against Peter Van Buren offer a few lessons on use of classified info, power

    // 1 Comment »



    (This article originally appeared in the Washington Post’s “Federal Diary” column, and was written by Joe Davidson)

    (NOTE: There is no classified material in my book, We Meant Well. The book for sale today is an unredacted version. –Peter)

    The best way for the federal government to publicize a book? Attempt to muzzle the author.

    You probably wouldn’t be reading about Peter Van Buren right now had the State Department not stripped him of his security clearance and suspended him after publication of his book, “We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.”

    Van Buren’s case provides lessons that go beyond the number of books the censors at State will help him sell. The lessons concern what the government chooses to classify, the way it handles situations involving books with classified information and how the government can use its power to suspend employees.

    Ironically, Van Buren now has free time to promote his book, complete with the classified information, because he was suspended until Nov. 10, with pay, earlier this week. He can’t appeal the suspension, the purpose of which, according to a letter from the department, “is to continue review your situation.”

    The situation is the publication of his book without State’s stamp of approval. State Department officials would not comment on Van Buren’s case.

    In a Sept. 20 letter faxed to publisher Macmillan, State said the book’s “circulation and publicizing have been done without authorization from the Department. The Department has recently concluded that two pages of the book manuscript we have seen contain unauthorized disclosures of classified information.”

    To its credit, the publisher did not fold. “Their specific requests concerned passages in the book that on their face clearly did not contain classified information,” Macmillan said a statement. “In any event, these belated requests were received after the initial shipments of the book had already been sent to booksellers.”

    What State’s letter does not say is that it had plenty of time to review the book. Van Buren said that he submitted his book in September of last year but that State had no comment on it until the September fax of this year.

    According to State’s Foreign Affairs Manual: “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.”

    Since the 30-day period had long expired with no word from State, Van Buren understandably concluded that the department had no problem with his book.

    “I followed the rules,” Van Buren said at a National Press Club briefing Thursday. “I submitted my book for clearance.”

    But the book wasn’t the only problem. In an Oct. 12 memo to Van Buren, State said his top-secret security clearance was suspended, pending an ongoing investigation, because the Big Brother- sounding “Office of Personnel Security and Suitability . . . has determined that your continued access to classified information is not clearly consistent with the national security interests of the United States.”

    The memo said that by publishing articles and blog posts “on matters of official concern . . . without submitting them to the Department for review . . . your judgement in the handling of protected information is questionable.”

    State’s memo did not identify the objectionable blog item, but Van Buren said it was “a link, not a leak, a link from my blog to a WikiLeaks document that was already on the Internet.”

    The fact that the document was available to everyone in the world did not matter.

    “I did write blog postings and online articles without permission,” Van Buren admits. But he understandably questions whether his punishment is in line with the little or no harm done by linking to a document that was readily available anyway.

    Stay tuned.



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

    US Diplomat Suspended For Writing Controversial Book, Linking To WikiLeaks

    // Comments Off on US Diplomat Suspended For Writing Controversial Book, Linking To WikiLeaks

    (This article originally appeared on The Talk Radio News Service, and was written by Elianna Mintz)

    Foreign Service Officer Peter Van Buren claimed Thursday that he was suspended indefinitely from his position at the State Department earlier this week after writing a book that was critical of U.S policy in Iraq and linking to Wikileaks on his blog.

    Van Buren’s book “We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People” details his experiences in Iraq as a diplomat and the lack of purpose and success in US policy in Iraq.

    “I got off the helicopter at my first operating base and I said the equivalent of ‘so what are we working on?’ and the guy said ‘I thought you were telling us,’” Van Buren told an audience at the National Press Club on Thursday. “It only went downhill from there.”

    “No one was particularly concerned about what we were doing, how much money we were spending, and the results of our endeavors,” Van Buren added.

    And this is exactly what he writes about in his book. Whether detailing a chicken factory built in Iraq from $2 million of U.S taxpayer money that laid dormant or how an Ambassador paid between $2 to $5 million to have seeds and sod imported to grow grass on the Embassy Grounds, Van Buren details what he describes as irresponsible use of billions of dollars in Iraq that brought them no closer to a reconstructed society.

    Upon completing the book, Van Buren submitted the manuscript to the State Department for clearance. Because he received no response, he proceeded with the book publishing and blogged to promote it.

    At the end of August, however, Van Buren’s security clearance was revoked for disclosing classified information by linking to the whistleblowing site wikileaks in one of his blog posts.

    While wikileaks did expose classified information illegal for Van Buren to reveal, Van Buren defends sharing the link by saying the information was already out there and he was merely linking to it.

    On September 20, the State Department requested he remove a chapter in his book disclosing classified material. The chapter, entitled “A Spooky Dinner,” depicts intelligence officials dining in Saddam Hussein’s palace.

    Van Buren refused to remove it from his book.

    On October 21, Van Buren angered the State Department once again when he critically blogged about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laughing about Gadaffi’s death in an interview with Diane Sawyer. As a result, Van Buren was suspended indefinitely from his position at the State Department and was escorted from the building on Monday, October 24. His ID badge was confiscated and he is prohibited from entering any state department facility.

    Yet while Van Buren will not be working, he is still receiving full pay.

    When asked by TRNS if all of this was worth writing the book, Van Buren responded that it was.

    “I thought it was a story worth telling but to be honest I never thought I would have to sacrifice my career to tell it, but that’s what happened,” Van Buren remarked. “Was it worth it? I have to say yes. Time will tell.”



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

    Speaking at the National Press Club 10/27 at 10am – Public Welcome!

    October 26, 2011 // Comments Off on Speaking at the National Press Club 10/27 at 10am – Public Welcome!




    If you live in Washington DC, please come join us at the National Press Club October 27 at 10am. Here is the press release:

    Writer, Foreign Service Officer Peter Van Buren to Discuss
    State Department Actions Against His Expose on Waste and Fraud in Iraq

    Location: Zenger Room

    Foreign Service Officer Peter Van Buren will talk about and take questions on his new book about the State Department’s failed reconstruction efforts in Iraq, “We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.” For daring to write about the waste and corruption he experienced in Iraq, Van Buren has become the target of State Department actions to silence him, including the suspension of his security clearance, attempts to retroactively redact his book and a criminal investigation over a Wikileaks link on his blog at www.wemeantwell.com.

    As a Foreign Service Officer, Van Buren volunteered for Iraq service and was assigned to ePRT duty from 2009-10. His tour extended past the withdrawal of the last combat troops. His experiences while serving there became the basis for his book.

    Van Buren has served with the Foreign Service for over 23 years and received numerous awards and citations for his work. Previous assignments include Taiwan, Japan, Korea, the UK and Hong Kong. During his time at State, he has worked extensively with the military in Japan, Korea and Iraq.

    Van Buren’s appearance is as a private citizen and is on the record for attribution. The views expressed are solely his own and do not in any way represent the views of the Department of State, the Department of Defense or any other entity of the US Government. The Department of State does not approve, endorse or authorize his remarks.

    Contact:
    Ben Dooley, NPC Newsmakers Committee, event host
    Phone: (757) 709-4159, bdooley@kyododc.com


    If you need directions, have a look at the NPC site.

    Bradley Manning supporters especially welcome!




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

    Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS) Reveals Classified Info?

    October 22, 2011 // Comments Off on Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS) Reveals Classified Info?

    So, thirteen months ago I submitted my book manuscript to the State Department for clearance. Nobody at the State Department said anything about the contents until thirteen months later when Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State (PDAS) Dana Shell Smith sent a fax to my publisher asking for the redaction of what she said was classified material.

    The publisher refused to redact anything. You can read Dana’s original fax with the demanded redactions.

    So I wrote to Dana asking about this, and she replied. Better read our emails before proceeding.

    But, now I am confused.

    The unclassified email by PDAS Dana Shell Smith refers to an unclassified fax sent by PDAS Smith already on the Internet that acknowledges that the Department as represented by PDAS Smith considers material in a book openly for sale worldwide classified, meaning that this unclassified email by PDAS Smith confirms that the material in my book is classified, at least according to PDAS Smith.

    And somehow I am the one accused of disclosing classified with the suspended clearance because of a link to Wikileaks?

    I may issue an appeal to everyone who bought my book to please not read the sections PDAS Smith now admits in an unclassified setting are classified. If they have read them already, I will suggest they do Jaegermeister shots until they forget what they have read.

    Also, the claimed classified material deals with another USG agency. No one from that Agency has contacted me or my publisher. Indeed, no one from Diplomatic Security has asked about this claimed classified material.

    Just PDAS Smith. Digging the hole a little deeper.



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

    US Punishes “We Meant Well”

    October 19, 2011 // Comments Off on US Punishes “We Meant Well”

    Before there was Wikileaks, there was Cryptome, online since 1996 publishing government documents from around the world. Stubbornly clinging to a web design that looked old-fashioned in 1996, Cryptome especially features documents about the CIA. It also posts declassified historical documents, and is a great resource for researchers and historians.

    Cryptome proudly asserts:

    Cryptome welcomes documents for publication that are prohibited by governments worldwide, in particular material on freedom of expression, privacy, cryptology, dual-use technologies, national security, intelligence, and secret governance — open, secret and classified documents — but not limited to those. Documents are removed from this site only by order served directly by a US court having jurisdiction. No court order has ever been served; any order served will be published here — or elsewhere if gagged by order. Bluffs will be published if comical but otherwise ignored.



    The site has also published a copy of my denouement from the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security. I do not know where they obtained this, as it has unredacted portions different from the redacted version I have posted on this blog.

    Now that State has suspended my security clearance, I’ll have to rely on sites like Cryptome and Wikileaks to keep up with my reading. It may be a secret– don’t tell anyone– put their search engines are also way better than anything inside the firewall at State when you need to locate something quickly.



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    Here’s How It Works: An Open Appeal for Reason and Free Speech

    // 5 Comments »

    When you offend the State Department by exercising free speech, albeit speech that is unkind to the Department, here’s what they do:

    1) State will take a blog link, to something already on the web, and pretend it is a “disclosure.” They will ignore the reality that several media sources already wrote about the link. They will ignore the fact that al Qaeda can read the document online. They alone determine what is a disclosure within their closed world. They won’t care of their accusations actually drive thousands more people to look at the link. It is not about the link, it is about YOU.

    2) State will then accuse you publicly, without giving you a means to defend yourself, of publishing more classified material. Unless some third party shows you the fax, you won’t even know State made the accusations behind your back. You’ll be held responsible for not complying with an order you never received.

    3) State will then take their own self-created accusation(s) and use them as “evidence” to suspend your security clearance, effectively torpedoing your career. They’ll suspend, rather than revoke the clearance, because a suspension can’t be challenged, questioned or appealed. They simply label you a security risk… and you are one.

    4) State then uses the lack of a security clearance to take away your job.

    5) Circle is complete. Sleep well America. You are safe now.


    For those too busy to click on the link in item Number 3, above, here is the money paragraph State is using as justification:

    DS/SI/PSS has been notified that you have shown an unwillingness to comply with Department rules and regulations regarding writing and speaking on matters of official concern, including by publishing articles and blog posts on such matters without submitting them to the Department for review, and that your judgement in the handling of protected information is questionable. This raises serious security concerns…



    Note the word “and” hilighted in the passage. An “and” statement is used traditionally to link two logical operations, A and B make C true. How does blogging and writing about unclassified information logically link to “your judgement in the handling of protected information is questionable.” Trick question– it does not.

    People in the government with access to classified information, like me for the past two decades, routinely process class and unclass info differently. As in “I’m in a secure space with another cleared person, I can talk about XYZ.” Or, “I am at a dinner party with strangers, I will not bring up classified info.” You get used to it in our line of work.

    The usual thing Diplomatic Security does with someone who has had a clearance for two decades is look to their handling of classified material; there is a track record to assess. Any close calls? Any questionable incidents? (Nope, clean record since 1988.) Next, they look to life circumstances that may have changed– a recent divorce (no, happily married for 24 years), huge debts (nope, just a mortgage), sudden interest in hanging around the Chinese Embassy (nah, prefer a good sports bar).

    What is not done is look at someone’s simple expression of free speech, all clearly unclassified, and extrapolate from that to say suddenly that person cannot be trusted. I wrote the book 14 months ago, have been blogging since April, was first interrogated on September 1 and only today those actions added up to insecurity.

    That is what makes this unfair, twisting things around, hiding behind security procedures, to piss on someone you don’t like. Ain’t right, just ain’t right.



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

    State Dept. Suspends Clearance over Wikileaks

    October 18, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    Stories on State suspending my security clearance because I wrote about Iraq, and because I linked to a Wikileaks documents now on both Antiwar.com and The American Conservative.

    When was the last time those two news sources agreed on a story?



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    Protecting Sources, another Crisis and Wikileaks

    October 10, 2011 // 2 Comments »

    Another attempt at grandstanding and drama over the “harm” done by the release of Wikileaks material, this time in a piece timed shamelessly for the end of the Jewish New Year holy period. From McClatchy News:

    An Anglican priest in Iraq says he’s working with the U.S. Embassy to persuade the handful of Jews who still live in Baghdad to leave because their names have appeared in cables published last month by WikiLeaks. The Rev. Canon Andrew White said he first approached members of the Jewish community about what he felt was the danger they faced after a news story was published last month that made reference to the cables. “The U.S. Embassy is desperately trying to get them out,” White said.

    By the time U.S. forces invaded Iraq in March 2003, Baghdad’s Jewish community, which had numbered about 130,000 in the 1950s before most fled to Israel, was down to about 35 members.



    A crisis for certain, a tiny minority threatened because of the shamelessness of Wikileaks. Execute Bradley Manning and Julian Assange NOW! Assist the World’s Largest Embassy (c) in Baghdad to save these last, endangered innocent people!

    We now pause for some reality.

    — Any Jew now in Iraq is welcome in Israel, under the Law of Return. There is no need for the World’s Largest Embassy (c) in Baghdad to desperately save anyone. There is certainly no need for a Christian priest to get involved. Wikileaks or not, Israel has shown it can easily take care of its own. The cable in question blathers pointlessly about refugee processing.

    — If the Embassy cable is correct, there are only NINE Jews left in Iraq. Whether a Wikileaks document does or does not mention any of their names, it is not really tough to figure out who might have been quoted. Bad guys in Iraq would have no trouble whacking nine people, given the utter lack of security there, courtesy of… yes, ironically, the World’s Largest Embassy (c) in Baghdad via the US invasion.

    — I’ve read the Wikileaks document in question (go look it up yourself, I’m sick of assholes writing in to whine and security interrogations commencing every time I link; Google “WHY THE NINE JEWS OF BAGHDAD STAY IN BAGHDAD”). That the World’s Largest Embassy (c) in Baghdad felt the need to report on the state of the handful of Jews left in Iraq merely illustrates the descent into uselessness the Statement Department is embarked on. This kind of reporting has no US policy implications and serves merely to satisfy the frustrated writing ambitions of State’s “political reporters.” Indeed, the cable author is moved at one point to write “these nine individuals may author the last chapter to the story of an ancient people in an ancient land.” Wow, that’s the kind of stuff that gets raced up onto Hillary’s desk so she can make fine foreign policy decisions, for sure. Jeez, go write a book or something.

    — …And if you are going to write about some minor issue like this as an affair of State, why would you need to quote people by name? What is gained by writing “One of Baghdad’s last remaining Jews, XXXXXXXXXX (strictly protect), told us…” as opposed to “One of Baghdad’s last remaining Jews told us…” The cable then goes on to have its single source list the other eight Jews by name and supply mini-bio sketches. For what purpose? Some element of responsibility lies with the cable writer and his/her bosses.

    — The cable was written in 2009, and has been available online for over a year. Talking about it now does little but revive an issue that had had no following and sensationalize another non-crisis. None of the references Google uncovered are any older than a week or so ago. Yeah media!

    — The cable says there were 20 Jews in Iraq in 2003, now down to nine. Under the control of the US, conditions were so bad in Iraq that the population of Jews decreased more significantly than anything that could follow the Wikileaks disclosure.

    — The single largest massacre of Jews in Iraq took 600 lives. In 1941. Before Saddam, before Wikileaks. Relativity.

    Thank you for your attention. We now return you to the regular world of panic and over-reaction.



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

    Radio and More

    September 28, 2011 // Comments Off on Radio and More

    I’ve been fortunate enough to do some interviews, so if any of these radio stations are in your area, please check their listings:

    NPR’s “Weekend Edition,” nationwide, taped, to air October 1.

    KPOJ-AM, Portland, Live at 10am EST on “Mornings with Carl Wolfson”

    KPFK-FM, Los Angeles, Live at 7:40pm EST on “4 o’clock on Wednesdays”

    KPFA-FM, Berkeley, taped interview for “Letters and Politics” with Mitch Jeserich

    PRI’s The Takeaway, syndicated, taped interview


    Also:

    Juan Cole Blog

    Asia Times

    AntiWar.com

    Wired.com Danger Room

    Naked Capitalism

    Gawker

    Diplopundit

    Lew Rockwell

    Alternet

    ReaderSupportedNews.org




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

    “How I Helped Lose Hearts and Minds” Author Under Fire

    September 27, 2011 // 4 Comments »

    From Antiwar.com:


    The Net is abuzz today with the irony, that Peter Van Buren, a 23-year foreign service officer with the U.S Department of State, may be the only department personnel to be fired over the WikiLeaks’ scandal. Van Buren, who just published the book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of Iraqi People this week, relayed in a powerful column at TomDispatch this morning how he was called in, interrogated and accused of disclosing classified material. His crime? Embedding links to WikiLeaked cables in a post on his personal blog.

    The State Department is going after the messenger, but we need to keep a laser focus on the message: that our post-invasion efforts to “reconstruct” Iraq in the name of “counterinsurgency” has been a gigantic failure, the proportions of which we will still be measuring for years to come.





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

    Freedom is Not Free

    // Comments Off on Freedom is Not Free

    The story of my interrogation by the State Department, over a link dating from August on my blog to a Wikileaks document already on the web (I was accused of disclosing classified information because of the link!) is all over the web.

    If you have not read it at TomDispatch, or are a State Department employee blocked by a firewall from reading TomDispatch, you can still see the article on a growing number of mirrors:

    CBS News

    Huffington Post

    Salon

    The Guardian (UK)

    Le Monde Diplomatique

    Politico

    Mother Jones

    Wikileaks Forum

    The Nation

    Jon Wiener at The Nation

    Michael Moore

    Guernica

    ZNET

    The Rebellion

    Atlantic Wire

    American Conservative Magazine

    Democratic Underground

    Lobelog

    al-Arab online

    War in Context

    Gary Null

    Open Market

    SpyTalk

    Pacific Free Press

    warandpeaceinthemiddleeast.com

    Buzzflash.net

    Nation of Change

    John Brown’s public diplomacy blog

    Truthout

    Antiwar.com

    Oped News

    Common Dreams

    Daily Kos

    Empty Wheel

    American Empire Project




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

    Wikileaks Prompts New Security Procedures at State Department

    September 2, 2011 // Comments Off on Wikileaks Prompts New Security Procedures at State Department




    An encrypted WikiLeaks file containing 251,000 unredacted US State Department cables is now widely available online, along with the passphrase to open it. The release of the documents in raw form, including the names of US informants around the globe, has raised concerns that dozens of people could now be in danger.

    The release has prompted new security procedures at State. The State Department has previously banned its staff from viewing the Wikileaks site, and has punished employees who view the leaked cables, or included links to them on blogs.

    The new security measures take things a step further.

    According to a Department Notice released today, all State Department employees are now required to take an oath of silence. Similar to monks, no one is allowed to actually speak within the building. To avoid further leaks, communication of an urgent nature will be done via gestures, mime and interpretive dance (PA only). The Department spokesperson, gesticulating wildly, fruitlessly engaged the media in an attempt to explain the new policy. She was saved from further frustration when one reporter produced a Pictionary game set.

    Written communication remains a vulnerable point. In response, all reports from the field will be written on white board using dry erase markers, couriered back to Foggy Bottom by eunuchs and licked clean by interns and Entry Level Officers currently being trained for the task.

    When a State Department employee now tries to access the Wikileaks site, s/he will find a “warning page” similar to those typically found on porno sites, with one button labeled ENTER and another labeled EXIT.

    The Bureau of Diplomatic Security, formerly engaged full-time in witch hunts against Foreign Service Officers who glanced at the Wikileaks site, planned a new role for itself as enforcer of silence. Security personnel wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “Shut the Barn Door After the Horse has Left” were deployed at strategic spots with roles of duct tape. “It’s for their own damn good,” mimed one uniformed officer.

    “We’ve been deaf and blind for a long time,” said a diplomat moments before the new rules took place, “so adding dumb to the list seems a small price to pay for security.”



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

    Guardian Story About Bradley Manning

    May 31, 2011 // Comments Off on Guardian Story About Bradley Manning

    I have a small part/quote in a good Guardian story about Bradley Manning. I don’t agree with the article’s statement “FOB Hammer’s overriding culture was one of boredom and casual bullying, where bored non-commissioned officers picked on juniors.” In my time at FOB Hammer, I never witnessed any bullying, though it was a boring place in many ways.

    No mention of Tupac, however. RIP.



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

    State Department Censors Web Sites China Allows

    May 15, 2011 // 30 Comments »

    chimps see no wikileaksIf you’ve come over from TomDispatch after reading my article there, I am fairly certain of at least one thing (besides your good taste in blogs): You don’t work for the State Department.

    The State Department continues to block web sites within our offices such as Tom’s because they may contain content from Wikileaks, which although available all over the web, is still considered classified by the State Department. If you try to access a forbidden site, you get a message like this (click on the graphic below and it will enlarge so that your computer at home will look like a real US Government computer. Pretend you’re a real diplomat!):

    State Dept Wallpaper

    The doesn’t-make-sense part is that the State firewall does not block mainstream web sites that have a lot more Wikileaks content than Tom’s. Examples include the Washington Post, The New York Times and the Guardian UK. All of these sites have and continue to include Wikileaks material that is otherwise still classified within Foggy Bottom.

    Just to make sure our quotient of irony stays at Defcon 99, the State Department plans to spend $19 million on breaking Internet censorship overseas. State says it will give $19 million dollars to efforts to evade Internet controls in China, Iran and other authoritarian states which block online access to “politically sensitive material.” Michael Posner, the Assistant Secretary of State in charge of human rights, said that the funding would support technology to identify what countries are trying to censor and “redirecting information back in that governments have initially blocked; this is a cat-and-mouse game. We’re trying to stay one step ahead of the cat through email or posting it on blogs or RSS feeds or websites that the government hasn’t figured out how to block.”

    I emailed a colleague in Beijing, and yes, Tom Dispatch is available there to him, at home. In his US Embassy office however, the site is still blocked.



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

    Photos: Where Bradley Manning Lived and Worked in Iraq

    May 9, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    The WaPo had an excellent bio piece on Manning, including many details previously not disclosed publicly.

    FOB HammerWhat WaPo and no one else has are photos of the place Manning lived and worked, FOB Hammer. I have them, on Flickr.

    I probably had dinner with Bradley Manning. Manning, the soldier who allegedly handed over massive amounts of classified material to Wikileaks, was stationed at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Hammer at the same time I was. The office where he worked was right down the hall from mine and though I never knowingly met him, it is hard to believe that we never walked past each other in the corridor, or ended up in the single cafeteria at the same time. The food wasn’t that good, and it could have been Manning one of those days when an anonymous soldier muttered that the salt was not enough to overpower the grease on pot roast Wednesdays.

    One of the most striking things Manning alledgedly leaked was gun camera video from an Apache attack. The aircraft gunned down two journalists and may have also killed civilians. A new film, Incident in New Baghdad, revisits the leaked video and includes interviews with one of the soldiers involved. Take a look at a clip from the film.

    You can see the original gun camera video as well, though YouTube requires you to sign in to prove you are mature enough to see what war is really about.



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

    Is it still a secret if everyone knows?

    April 27, 2011 // Comments Off on Is it still a secret if everyone knows?

    secretsIs it still a secret if everyone knows?

    Such is the dilemma Wikileaks poses for the government. Fearful to verify that anything on Wikileaks is authentic, and doubtless seeking to preserve the ironic freedom to prosecute anyone, someone, somewhere, someday for the leaks, the US Government insists on treating information available to anyone with Internet access as still highly classified.

    It works like this. The latest tranche of files from Wikileaks, published this week by the New York Times and others, includes extensive information from (ok, allegedly) Guantanamo. Sit down in an Internet café in Karachi or Kabul and read to your heart’s content interrogation notes and prisoner records. This is of course presuming you are not a defense attorney for one of those held in Guantanamo.

    If you are a defense attorney, then the US Department of Justice has already informed you that the documents remain legally classified even after they were made public. Because you the lawyer were granted a security clearance to enable you to even meet with your client, you are obligated to treat the readily available files “in accordance with all relevant security precautions and safeguards,” handling them, for example, only in secure government facilities. Somehow, if DOJ caught you working with the files in an Internet café, you could lose your security clearance.

    These kinds of fear-mongering rules have lead to some bizarre situations. A friend at ICE says that visa extension applications that include Wikileaked docs as proof of persecution, printed off the web, have to be treated as classified inside the office and stored accordingly to avoid a security violation by the ICE worker (not the potential beneficiary, who is somehow not covered by the security laws.) Another colleague who has legitimate access to classified material told me that he finds the search functions for Wikileaks available through the Guardian newspaper so superior to the government’s internal search tools that he now routinely looks for documents online, makes notes, and then later doubles back to cite official references in his in-house drafting.

    The State Department issued very clear guidance to its employees about viewing Wikileaked material on their work computers:

    Personnel are reminded that unauthorized disclosure of classified documents in the media (print, blog, website) does not mean that the documents have been declassified. You must continue to abide by the classification markings on any documents in your possession and handle them with the appropriate protections, even when they have been posted on Internet websites.

    If a State Department employee wants to save some of the documents for a clearly work-related reason, s/he “should put all saved documents in a computer directory folder that begins as ‘Wikileaks published material’. Any classification markings on the downloaded material should be retained. If any such material is printed out, however, it must be handled as a classified document and stored in a classified container.”

    So, if you download a still-classified document from the web, you can store it on your unclassified computer. However, if you print that same document out, it must be stored in a safe rated for classified material. Got it?

    The State Department has also used its firewall software to block some Wikileaks sites inside Foggy Bottom, including of course the main Wikileaks page, but also a number of blogs (a favorite, Toms Dispatch, is among the blocked sites months after a limited reference to the leaked data.) One is tempted to shout “Censorship!” but realistically it is just likely bureaucratic idleness about adjusting the software. Bigger media outlets, such as the New York Times and the Washington Post, which routinely publish Wikileaked material, are not blocked.

    Many State employees, spooked over fear of security violations, only access routine articles on Wikileaks from their home computers. The New York Times reported that in December, Columbia University warned international relations students that commenting on the documents disclosed by WikiLeaks online or linking to them might endanger their chances of getting a government job. The same month, the United States Agency for International Development told workers that viewing the documents on an unclassified computer at work or home could violate security rules that govern their employment. In February, an Air Force unit cautioned that employees and even their family members could be prosecuted under the Espionage Act for looking at the WikiLeaks documents at home.

    People end up going along with these makes-no-sense rules. Fear is perhaps the most powerful tool available in a police state, and as effective a means of control as any taser. My dog won’t leave the yard for fear of being whacked with a rolled up newspaper, even when no one is around to enforce the rules. We don’t have or need a fence. She has learned that getting along under an authoritarian regime means remembering to allow fear to control her, however absurd the rules and however unlikely the punishment.

    Woof! Good doggy gets a Scooby snack!



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

    Dinner with Bradley Manning

    April 6, 2011 // Comments Off on Dinner with Bradley Manning

    The same photo of Bradley Manning you've seen before.I probably had dinner with Bradley Manning. Manning, the soldier who allegedly handed over massive amounts of classified material to Wikileaks, was stationed at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Hammer at the same time I was. The office where he worked was right down the hall from mine and though I never knowingly met him, it is hard to believe that we never walked past each other in the corridor, or ended up in the single cafeteria at the same time. The food wasn’t that good, and it could have been Manning one of those days when an anonymous soldier muttered that the salt was not enough to overpower the grease on pot roast Wednesdays.

    One of the most striking things Manning alledgedly leaked was gun camera video from an Apache attack. The aircraft gunned down two journalists and may have also killed civilians. A new film, Incident in New Baghdad, revisits the leaked video and includes interviews with one of the soldiers involved. Take a look at a clip from the film.

    You can see the original gun camera video as well, though YouTube requires you to sign in to prove you are mature enough to see what war is really about.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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