In a stunning and blatantly obvious move to try to hide its failed efforts in Afghanistan, the military suddenly decided back in October that they would classify any and all information on the capabilities of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) despite data having been provided to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) for the 24 quarterly reports that preceded the one dated October 30, 2014 (pdf). Initial digging on that classification decision appeared to put the classification decision in the hands of ISAF Joint Command. The head of ISAF Joint Command then broke his own classification of ANSF capability a few days later when he proclaimed that ANSF is a “hugely capable fighting force” in a news briefing.
The timing for this classification couldn’t have been worse. US forces were in the final stages of the handoff of Afghan security to ANSF and Barack Obama eventually relied on butchered semantics to proudly proclaim that the war was over, despite a residual fighting force to which he had secretly given expanded combat powers.
Today, though, the classification of ANSF capability last quarter looks less like an arbitrary move by the Commander of ISAF Joint Command and more like a total information shutdown on Afghanistan. Perhaps Lt. Gen. Anderson just got the call for a shutdown before everyone else. In the SIGAR quarterly report released today (pdf), we learn that the military now has classified “nearly every piece of data used by the inspector general to assess the Afghan security forces.” In an appendix to the report, SIGAR lists the more than 140 questions that the military previously responded to openly but now says the answers are classified. Here is a sampling that SIGAR provided in the email sent out releasing the report:
–The over 140 SIGAR questions that received classified or otherwise restricted responses are listed starting on page 211. Sample of questions:
–Please provide a broad definition of the terms “unavailable” and “present for duty.” (page 211)
–Total amount of funding that the United States has expended on Afghan National Army food from Afghan Security Forces Fund (ASFF) for the current year. (page 211)
–How has the $25 million authorized by Congress for women in the Afghan army been used? (page 212)
–Total amount of funding that the United States has expended on Afghan National Police salaries from ASFF for the current year. (page 212)
–Please provide details of DOD/NATO-funded contracts to provide literacy training to the ANSF, including: a. the cost of the contract(s) and estimated cost(s) to complete (page 213)
–Please confirm that the Combined Joint Interagency Task Force-Afghanistan (CJIATF-A) is dissolved. (page 215)
–Please offer an assessment of the anticorruption initiatives of Afghan Ministry of Defense and Afghan Ministry of Interior (page 215)
As the New York Times article linked above points out, the military also initially tried to classify the number of US forces present in Afghanistan and only relented on that point when it was pointed out that the number had already been released by the Obama Administration.
The “explanation” offered by the Commander of US troops in Afghanistan, General John F. Campbell, is far from satisfactory. Here is an excerpt from his letter to SIGAR explaining the sudden expansion of classification:
Campbell then had the temerity to add later in his letter that he is “committed to maximum transparency in our operations”. Just wow. That sounds like Obama declaring himself the most transparent President ever, and then going on to rely on expanded classification coupled with unprecedented levels of prosecution of whistleblowers.
But instead of just looking like a move Obama would make, perhaps it did come at his behest. Not only is the military clamming up on virtually all information out of Afghanistan, it appears that the State Department is as well. From page 147 of SIGAR’s report:
Despite the requirement of Public Law 110-181 that federal agencies provide requested information or assistance to SIGAR, the State Department did not answer any of SIGAR’s questions on economic and social-development this quarter, and failed to respond to SIGAR’s attempts to follow up.
Had only one Federal agency, the Defense Department, suddenly shut down the flow of information, it would have been easy to believe that they were ones trying to hide their own failures. But now that a second agency, the State Department, has shut down information flow at the same time, and won’t even provide an explanation for their move, it seems clear to me that the order to shut down information flow had to come from above. With both the Defense Department and State Department going silent, could such an order have come down from anyone other than Obama himself? The failure that is our Afghanistan war has entered its fourteenth year, has spanned two presidents and is now being summarily swept under the rug by the Most Transparent Administration Ever®.
Postscript: For more evidence on just how failed the Afghanistan effort has been, recall that John Kerry’s brokered extra-constitutional National Unity Government was over three months late in finally announcing a full slate of 19 cabinet nominees. Sadly, the slate included poorly screened candidates and the Afghan Parliament yesterday rejected 10 of those nominees while voting to confirm only 9.
John Kerry has made not one, but two trips to Afghanistan to pursue his extra-constitutional “power sharing” agreement between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah that creates the completely new position of chief executive within the Afghan government. As was easily predicted, that plan now teeters near total failure. Clearly, Afghanistan’s constitution means nothing to John Kerry in his pursuit of US goals in that country.
In the daily press briefing yesterday at Kerry’s State Department headquarters, spokesperson Marie Harf had this remarkable exchange with a reporter, where we suddenly see that next door, in Pakistan, the constitution is of prime importance*:
QUESTION: One more quickly. What Imran Khan is saying and others in the country, including hundreds of thousands or millions of people in Pakistan, they are not happy with the current government, and Imran Khan is saying that those elections by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif were fraud and fake and they were not legitimate or he’s calling that he should step down. That’s what I’m asking. I’m saying —
MS. HARF: He’s the prime minister, period.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: So you’re not calling for Prime Minister Sharif to step down?
MS. HARF: I in no way am calling on that.
QUESTION: Does the United States support regime change in Pakistan?
MS. HARF: We support the constitutional and electoral process in Pakistan, which produced the Prime Minister of Nawaz Sharif. That was a process they followed, an election they had, and we are focused on working with Pakistan. And we do not support any extra-constitutional changes to that democratic system or people attempting to impose them.
How about that? In Pakistan, the State Department does “not support any extra-constitutional changes to that democratic system or people attempting to impose them”, while just across the border in Afghanistan, the Cabinet member in charge of the State Department is putting a huge amount of his own energy into an extra-constitutional change to the democratic system there.
Just three days ago, Kerry included this snippet in his letter of congratulations to Afghanistan on their independence day:
With millions of Afghans across your great nation braving violence and intimidation to cast their ballots, it is critical that all parties honor those voters’ aspiration for a democratic, peaceful transfer of power that unifies the country. We will continue to strongly support the democratic process and the agreement reached between the two candidates concerning the formation of a national unity government.
So Kerry claims he supports the democratic process and yet he wants it to produce a “national unity government” that is described nowhere in the constitution that enabled the voting. His real aim appears near the end of the letter:
With a timely resolution of the election and the signing of a Bilateral Security Agreement, I am confident that the next year will open an important new era in U.S.-Afghan relations.
For John Kerry, as well as the rest of the US government, it always has been and always will be about keeping those troops going (and those military contracts running).
Postscript: Did you notice the *asterisk above? I felt compelled to add it when I said that for the US, the constitution in Pakistan is of prime importance. There is a huge exception to that statement. The democratically elected government of Pakistan, whose constitutionality Harf is praising in her briefing, means absolutely nothing to the US when the US wishes to carry out a drone strike inside Pakistan’s borders, even when that same democratically elected government has made it clear that such actions are a violation of sovereignty.
By law, the Department of Defense is required to prepare reports on “progress” in the war in Afghanistan twice a year. The first report for 2012 was published (pdf) in April, so one would expect the second report to follow in October. Even though this second report was provided to Congress around that time, it was not published (pdf) until yesterday. It seems likely to me that the Obama administration did not want the public to be reminded so close to the November elections just how big a failure the war effort in Afghanistan has become, and so release of the report was significantly delayed, first by the election and then presumably to allow time for more panty-sniffing in the Petraeus-Broadwell-Allen-Kelley scandal.
It turns out that delaying important reports before releasing them has consequences. Pakistan took exception to a claim in the report regarding safe havens for terrorists in Pakistan and whether Pakistan is cooperating in taking action against those terrorists. From the Express Tribune:
Pakistan on Tuesday rejected as ‘baseless’ the latest US report accusing Islamabad of undermining security in Afghanistan by allowing safe havens for insurgents.
A Pentagon report released on Monday said that Pakistan is persistently undermining security in Afghanistan by permitting safe havens for insurgents and its failure to effectively combat the flow of improvised explosive devices (IED) materials.
The October 2012 report, published by the US Department of Defense (DoD), is from the period of April to October of this year. The report says, “The insurgency’s safe havens in Pakistan, the limited institutional capacity of the Afghan government, and endemic corruption remain the greatest risks to long-term stability and sustainable security in Afghanistan.”
However, a senior security official told The Express Tribune on Tuesday on condition of anonymity that “as the drawdown approaches, the US appears to make Pakistan a scapegoat to cover up its own failures in Afghanistan.”
The accusations and Pakistan’s response continue:
The DoD report stated that the insurgency in Afghanistan receives support including sanctuary, training infrastructure, operational and financial support from within Pakistan. “The availability of sanctuary inside of Pakistan enables key elements of the insurgency to remain potent and threatening, including the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Taliban Network.”
But Taliban havens across the border in Pakistan, the limited capacity of the Afghan government and “endemic corruption” posed the greatest risks as the US prepares to pull out troops by the end of 2014, the Pentagon said.
Reacting to the Pentagon assessment, the official insisted that Pakistan had not permitted any “terrorist sanctuaries” on its soil. “If they (US) have any evidence about safe heavens, they should share with us,” he added.
Yesterday, the State Department released its annual Country Reports on Terrorism and held a briefing regarding the findings. Both ABC and Reuters covered the report and crafted their stories around a single finding from it: world-wide terror attacks decreased from 11,641 in 2010 to 10,283 in 2011. Both outlets decided (as the State Department dictated to them) that this decline was due to the death of Osama bin Laden just before the midpoint of 2011. ABC chose to use “Sharp Decline in Terror Attacks After Bin Laden Death” as their headline and Reuters went with “Al Qaeda decline hard to reverse after Bin Laden killing: US“.
However, even a cursory look beyond the comparison of the attack totals for 2011 compared to 2010 shows that drawing the conclusions stated by these headlines is completely unwarranted. First, take a look at the “noise” in the annual numbers for worldwide attacks. Data have only been collected for four years, 2007-2011 and the number jumps considerably from year to year:
I don’t think bin Laden also died in 2008 and 2009, so there must be some other reason the worldwide attack numbers went down in those years.
Looking further into the data, we see that the NCTC did break out the attacks that could be directly attributed to al Qaeda. Neither ABC nor Reuters chose to present this information in their stories, perhaps because it directly contradicts the narrative that the State Department wanted delivered:
Attacks by AQ and its affiliates increased by 8 percent from 2010 to 2011. A significant increase in attacks by al-Shabaab, from 401 in 2010 to 544 in 2011, offset a sharp decline in attacks by al-Qa‘ida in Iraq (AQI) and a smaller decline in attacks by al-Qa‘ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and al-Qa‘ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
That’s right. Attacks by al Qaeda actually went up in 2011, and yet the State Department and our subservient press are happily chirping that we have them on the run. From ABC Continue reading
I am in the unenviable position of having to say I was wrong and am sorry. This is in relation to the issue of US diplomacy vis a vis China as relates to Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng. In case anybody has forgotten, I wrote a rather harsh article toward the US government, by the State Department, conduct within 24 hours or so of it hitting the news wires:
Hillary Clinton, and the State Department under President Obama, have been far from perfect, to be sure; but, overall, one of the stronger, if not strongest, departments in Obama’s cabinet. But this is way ugly, and ought to, by all rights, leave a very permanent mark. It is a stain fairly earned in every sense of the word. Hard to imagine a more cravenly constructed pile of PR bullshit since the Jessica Lynch affair. Yet here it is in living steaming brownish color. All painted with Madame Secretary conveniently in Beijing, China. Awkward!
In a nutshell, I was extremely critical of the entire show, and especially the press manipulation component thereof.
I was wrong. I still have pretty strong issues with the opportunistic way in which the press was contacted by Chen on the way from the embassy to the hospital, which was completely aided and abetted by the US diplomatic officials with him, but this is, at this point, kind of a minor quibble it seems. And, heck, who knows, maybe it was even part of the plan.
Whatever, it seems to have worked out.
Here is today’s lead from the Washington Post:
Blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng, who had been at the center of a diplomatic row between the U.S. and Chinese governments, left Beijing on Saturday afternoon on a United Airlines flight bound for Newark and an uncertain life in the United States, after Chinese officials and American diplomats worked out of the public view to arrange for him and his family to travel out of the country.
In the past two weeks, while waiting for movement on the Chinese side, senior staff in the State Department had been laying the groundwork for Chen’s departure, including the logistics of his transportation, according to a senior administration official who was not authorized to give his name.
Listen, this is still very far from ideal in a number of respects, and it will be a long time, if ever, before we know all the facts and circumstances surrounding this mess. But fair is fair, my initial criticism, even if correct in some lesser elements, was dreadfully wrong overall.
Hat’s off to Hillary Clinton, the State Department and the Obama Administration. It is far from perfect, but it is looking pretty good. I was wrong to be too critical, too soon.
UPDATE: The Washington Post has a pretty fleshed out tick tock on the gig. It actually does look like fairly decent work by State. Would love to see an honest version of the same on the flip side, from the Chinese perspective. That would be fascinating.
I live in the Pacific time zone, a full three hours behind the news makers and breakers on the east coast. I woke up early yesterday, by my time, and found an apparent great story occupying my Twitter stream: Chinese dissident and activist Chen Guangcheng had not only, through the miracle that is United States benevolence, been sheltered in the US Embassy (as had been theorized) from his daring blind man’s escape from house arrest, but had been represented in a breathtakingly humanitarian deal with the oppressive Chinese government that resulted in his proper medical care, reunion with his family and a safe and fulfilling life from here on out.
The proverbial “and everybody lived happily ever after”.
By the time I got my second eye open, and focused, I realized what I was reading something more akin to a Highlights Magazine “What’s Wrong With This Picture?” puzzle.
And so it was. What a difference a day makes. The initial report I read this morning at the source Washington Post article appears to be pushed aside from their website, supplanted by a more honest report.
The first report at the WaPo depicted an incoming call to the reporter from US Ambassador to China, Gary Locke:
What I was not prepared for was when Locke said, “I’m here with Chen Guangcheng. Do you speak Chinese? Hold on.”
And then passed the phone over.
“Hello, this is Chen Guangcheng,” came a matter-of-fact, almost cheerful voice.
I introduced myself in halting Chinese, using my Chinese name and the Chinese name for The Washington Post. I asked how Chen was, and where. I asked him to speak slowly, to make sure I could understand.
“Washington Post?” Chen repeated, his voice sounding generally happy. Chen said he was fine and was in the car headed to the hospital, Chaoyang Hospital. He repeated the name slowly, three times.
And that was it. Chen handed the phone back to the ambassador, who said they were stuck in traffic, but promised a full briefing later.
Following the old “two source” rule for journalists, I definitely had my story. Chen was indeed under U.S. diplomatic protection, as we and other news outlets had been reporting. He was now leaving the embassy on his way to the hospital. In a vehicle with the American ambassador. The first word would go out soon after that, in a blast to our overnight editors, and via my Twitter account.
I learned later that I was just one in a succession of calls U.S. diplomats made from the van at Chen’s request — they also spoke to Chen’s lawyer and to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, recently arrived in Beijing for an important two-day summit.
That was the “happily ever after” story which was too good to be true.
It was indeed too good to be true. A mere twelve hours later, and even the Washington Post Continue reading
Demonstrating the tact, cultural sensitivity and deep research skills of today’s Congressional Republicans, Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) chaired a hearing Wednesday for the House Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation and throughout the hearing he mispronounced the name of area being discussed. Proper pronunciation would be described as “Baloochistan” and yet Rohrabacher repeatedly said “Balookistan”.
The topic of the hearing was listed as “Baluchistan” on the committee’s website. The Pakistani press uniformly uses “Balochistan” for its spelling of the province where ethnic Balochs reside. As with many languages and dialects from the region, transliteration of vowels varies, so the “Baluchistan” vs. “Balochistan” spelling matters little. In this case the proper pronunciation puts that vowel sound as more like the English “oo”, so using the “u” spelling makes a bit of sense. What Rohrabacher mangled is that the “ch” is never pronounced as a “k” sound.
Needless to say, Rohrabacher’s pronunciation became a part of Pakistan’s coverage of the hearing:
The House Committee on Foreign Affairs has declared Balochistan a troubled area and said that the Baloch have seen little benefit from the development of natural gas and other natural resources that are produced in their province.
The US House Committee conducted a hearing on Balochistan on Wednesday under the chair of Congressman Donna Rohrbacher.
Rohrbacher, who kept pronouncing Balochistan as “Balookistan”, said that Islamabad has refused to concede any legitimacy to Baloch nationalism, or to engage the Baloch leadership in serious negotiations. “Its response has been based on brute force, including extra-judicial killings.”
I’m guessing that the editors at The News were having a bit of fun at Rohrabacher’s expense with their variant spelling of both his first and last names.
Although the hearing was dressed up as a “serious” discussion of the rights of Balochs who seek independence, it seems much more likely that Rohrabacher’s true intent was to disrupt the planned Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. From Dawn’s coverage of the hearing:
Dr. M. Hosseinbor, a Baloch nationalist scholar, assured the Americans that the Balochs were natural US allies and would like to share the Gwadar port with the United States, would not allow the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline through their lands and will fight the Taliban as well.
Developments over the past few days on several different fronts are coming together in a way that outlines just how arrogantly the US conducted the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and how the consequences of that hubris are now diminishing the previously dominant role for the US in the region going into the future. At the same time, these developments drive home the message of the terrible waste of lives and money the war efforts have been.
In today’s New York Times, we learn that the staff at the gargantuan US embassy in Baghdad is about to be cut in half. It appears that one of the driving forces behind these cuts is that the Iraqis are not making it easy for embassy personnel to move freely into and out of the country:
At every turn, the Americans say, the Iraqi government has interfered with the activities of the diplomatic mission, one they grant that the Iraqis never asked for or agreed upon. Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s office — and sometimes even the prime minister himself — now must approve visas for all Americans, resulting in lengthy delays. American diplomats have had trouble setting up meetings with Iraqi officials.
Perhaps Mr. al-Maliki should study the activities of the US Customs Service if he really wants to learn how to make it even clearer to selected foreigners that he doesn’t want them in his country.
But al-Maliki is not the only elected Iraqi official who sees an opportunity to repay the US for the hubris it has shown the region, as the Times quoted Nahida al-Dayni, whom they described as “a lawmaker and member of Iraqiya, a largely Sunni bloc in Parliament” with regard to the embassy compound:
The U.S. had something on their mind when they made it so big. Perhaps they want to run the Middle East from Iraq, and their embassy will be a base for them here.
That US actions in the Middle East would have prompted such an attitude among local officials should have been foreseen, but the Times article informs us that the State Department seems to have been hit by a bit of shock and awe: Continue reading
the term “material support or resources” means any property, tangible or intangible, or service, including currency or monetary instruments or financial securities, financial services, lodging, training, expert advice or assistance, safehouses, false documentation or identification, communications equipment, facilities, weapons, lethal substances, explosives, personnel (1 or more individuals who may be or include oneself), and transportation, except medicine or religious materials;
During oral argument on the now seminal defining case as to the astounding reach of this statute, Holder v. HLP, now Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan argued, as Solicitor General, that even humanitarian lawyers could be charged and convicted under the wide ranging provisions:
JUSTICE KENNEDY: Do you stick with the argument made below that it’s unlawful to file an amicus brief?
GENERAL KAGAN: Justice Kennedy —
JUSTICE KENNEDY: I think I’m right in saying it that that was the argument below.
GENERAL KAGAN: Yes, I think that would be a service. In other words, not an amicus brief just to make sure that we understand each other. The Petitioners can file amicus briefs in a case that might involve the PKK or the LTTE for themselves, but to the extent that a lawyer drafts an amicus brief for the PKK or for the LTTE, that that’s the amicus party, then that indeed would be prohibited.
Kagan argued for an interpretation so broad that even the filing of an amicus brief would be violative of the material support prohibitions and the Supreme Court so held.
So, surely, the DOJ is going to heed the words and intent of the right honorable Justice Kagan over this report then, right?
The Iraqi government has promised to shutter Camp Ashraf — the home of the Iranian dissident group Mujahedeen e-Khalq (MEK) — by Dec. 31. Now, the United Nations and the State Department are scrambling to move the MEK to another location inside Iraq, which just may be a former U.S. military base.
The saga puts the United Nations and President Barack Obama’s administration in the middle of a struggle between the Iraqi government, a new and fragile ally, and the MEK, a persecuted group that is also on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations.
The Marxist-Islamist group, which was formed in 1965, was used by Saddam Hussein to attack the Iranian government during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, and has been implicated in the deaths of U.S. military personnel and civilians. The new Iraqi government has been trying to evict them from Camp Ashraf since the United States toppled Saddam in 2003. The U.S. military guarded the outside of the camp until handing over external security to the Iraqis in 2009. The Iraqi Army has since tried twice to enter Camp Ashraf, resulting in bloody clashes with the MEK both times. (emphasis added)
Well, no, there will be no prosecution for aiding and abetting these terrorists. Now, in all Continue reading
This is a post I could have written (in fact, I think I did here, here, here, and here). One difference, however, is that the author of this post is a government insider, State Department Foreign Service Officer Peter Van Buren.
The State Department and its Bureau of Diplomatic Security never took responsibility for their part in the loss of all those [WikiLeak] cables, never acknowledged their own mistakes or porous security measures. No one will ever be fired at State because of WikiLeaks — except, at some point, possibly me. Instead, State joined in the Federal mugging of Army Private Bradley Manning, the person alleged to have copied the cables onto a Lady Gaga CD while sitting in the Iraqi desert.
That all those cables were available electronically to everyone from the Secretary of State to a lowly Army private was the result of a clumsy post-9/11 decision at the highest levels of the State Department to quickly make up for information-sharing shortcomings. Trying to please an angry Bush White House, State went from sharing almost nothing to sharing almost everything overnight. They flung their whole library onto the government’s classified intranet, SIPRnet, making it available to hundreds of thousands of Federal employees worldwide. It is usually not a good idea to make classified information that broadly available when you cannot control who gets access to it outside your own organization. The intelligence agencies and the military certainly did no such thing on SIPRnet, before or after 9/11.
State did not restrict access. If you were in, you could see it all. There was no safeguard to ask why someone in the Army in Iraq in 2010 needed to see reporting from 1980s Iceland. Even inside their own organization, State requires its employees to “subscribe” to classified cables by topic, creating a record of what you see and limiting access by justifiable need. A guy who works on trade issues for Morocco might need to explain why he asked for political-military reports from Chile.
Another difference is that Van Buren is being harassed because he included a link from his blog to some cables describing the US dealing weapons to Moammar Qaddafi, including this account of John McCain and Lindsey Graham sucking up to the dictator.
The more amusing cable is from August 2009, just two short years ago. It recounts the visit to Libya of Congressional super heroes John McCain,Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham. The boys had a nice visit with Qaddafi and his son it seems. The cable notes “Lieberman called Libya an important ally in the war on terrorism, noting that common enemies sometimes make better friends.” Old Man McCain assured his hosts “that the United States wanted to provide Libya with the equipment it needs for its security. He stated that he understood Libya’s requests regarding the rehabilitation of its eight C-130s and pledged to see what he could do to move things forward in Congress. He described the bilateral military relationship as strong and pointed to Libyan officer training at U.S. Command, Staff, and War colleges as some of the best programs for Libyan military participation.”
The cable continued to say that “Qadhafi commented that friendship was better for the people of both countries and expressed his desire to see the relationship flourish. He thanked the Senators for their visit and described America as a race rather than a nationality, explaining that many Libyans are dual citizens because they were born in the United States. Senators McCain and Graham conveyed the U.S. interest in continuing the progress of the bilateral relationship and pledged to try to resolve the C-130 issue with Congress and Defense Secretary Gates.”
And whereas in my posts on the government’s overreaction to WikiLeaks, I focused on DOD’s hypocrisy on assigning all of the blame for a massive security breach to Bradley Manning in spite of its own rank incompetence keeping its networks safe, Van Buren rehearses the State Department’s past failures to keep their data safe.
Over the years, State has leaked like an old boot. One of its most hilarious security breaches took place when an unknown person walked into the Secretary of State’s outer office and grabbed a pile of classified documents. From the vast trove of missing classified laptops to bugging devices found in its secure conference rooms, from high ranking officials trading secrets in Vienna to top diplomats dallying with spies in Taiwan, even the publicly available list is long and ugly.
Then again, history shows that technical security is just not State’s game, which means the Wikileaks uproar is less of a surprise in context. For example,in 2006, news reports indicated that State’s computer systems were massively hacked by Chinese computer geeks. In 2008, State data disclosures led to an identity theft scheme only uncovered through a fluke arrest by the Washington D.C. cops. Before it was closed down in 2009, snooping on private passport records was a popular intramural activity at the State Department, widely known and casually accepted. In 2011, contractors using fake identities appear to have downloaded 250,000 internal medical records of State Department employees, including mine.
Diplomatic Security famously took into custody the color slides reproduced in the Foreign Service Journal showing an open copy of one of the Government’s most sensitive intelligence documents, albeit only after the photos were published and distributed in the thousands. Similarly DS made it a crime to take photos of the giant U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad, but only after the architecture firm building it posted sketches of the Embassy online; a Google search will still reveal many of those images; others who served in Iraq have posted them on their unsecured Facebook pages
Finally, though, there’s the big difference. State is threatening to take away Van Buren’s security clearance, which would amount to firing a successful Foreign Service Officer for a few links to WikiLeaks cables widely available elsewhere.
Secrecy News just posted a Congressional Research Service report written on WikiLeaks type leaks. As SN has previously reported, CRS researchers aren’t allowed to refer to the WL cables, not even for their reports.
“Add me to the list of grumblers,” said a respected national security analyst at the Congressional Research Service, where employees have been prohibited from accessing WikiLeaks documents online.
“This whole thing is so [expletive] stupid,” he said yesterday. “Even staff with clearances can’t read the cables, let alone quote them. One reason is that we can’t read classified materials on unclassified computers and we have no classified computers.”
“We can now quote news stories which cite the cables, but we have no way of verifying whether the article correctly quotes the cables.”
“This is hampering CRS work and management knows it,” the analyst said. “There’s just no leadership on this issue.”
The rule, in the case of this recent report, results in the absurdity of long footnotes citing news articles, but never once citing an actual WL cable.
16 State’s Secrets, NY TIMES (online edition), Nov. 29, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/world/statessecrets.html. According to the Guardian, the fact that most of the cables are dated from 2008 to 2009 is explained by the increase in the number of U.S. embassies linked to the military’s secure computer network, SIPRNet, over the past decade. See The US embassy cables, GUARDIAN (UK), http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2010/nov/29/wikileaks-cables-data.
17 Scott Shane and Andrew W. Lehren, Cables Obtained by WikiLeaks Shine Light Into Secret Diplomatic Channels, NY TIMES.
18 The Guardian states that the earliest of the cables is from 1966. See The US embassy cables, supra footnote 16.
Not to mention a CRS report the very first sentence of which makes a demonstrably false statement.
The online publication of classified defense documents and diplomatic cables by the organization WikiLeaks and subsequent reporting by The New York Times, The Guardian (UK), and Der Spiegel (Germany), among others, have focused attention on whether such publication violates U.S. criminal law. [my emphasis]
The Iraq cables were published simultaneously, and except for the recent dump of everything, the State cables were published by the newspapers before WL published them.
This continuing game–the persecution of insiders for non-serious leaks while sanctioned leaks to Bob Woodward or General’s kids go un-investigated, the preference for the error and inanity of this CRS report over actual information–is getting really pathetic. It makes us dysfunctional as a country, preventing real discussion and therefore sound decision making, while we’re not doing the bureaucratic things to keep our secrets safe from our actual enemies. And all the while, efforts of people like Van Buren to tell us what a catastrophe our Iraq project really was get punished.