Top Leaderboard, Site wide
Truthdig: Drilling Beneath the Headlines
May 26, 2017 Disclaimer: Please read.

Statements and opinions expressed in articles are those of the authors, not Truthdig. Truthdig takes no responsibility for such statements or opinions.

Pentagon Confirms Airstrike Killed More Than 100 Civilians in Mosul

Czeslaw Milosz: A Life

Truthdig Bazaar
The New Rational Therapy

The New Rational Therapy

Elliot D. Cohen

The Crisis of the Oikoumene

The Crisis of the Oikoumene

Celia M. Chazelle, Catherine Cubitt

more items

Email this item Print this item

Freedom Isn’t Free at the State Department

Posted on Oct 3, 2011
Metropolitan Books

By Peter Van Buren

(Page 2)

Wishing Isn’t a Strategy, Hope Isn’t a Plan

Despite their own shortcomings, State and its Bureau of Diplomatic Security take this position: if we shut our eyes tightly enough, there is no WikiLeaks. (The morning news summary at State includes this message: “Due to the security classification of many documents, the Daily Addendum will not include news clips that are generated by leaked cables by the website WikiLeaks.”)

The corollary to such a position evidently goes something like this: since we won’t punish our own technical security people or the big shots who approved the whole flawed scheme in the first place, and the damned First Amendment doesn’t allow us to punish The New York Times, let’s just punish one of our own employees for looking at, creating links to, and discussing stuff on the Web—and while he was at it, writing an accurate, firsthand, and critical account of the disastrous, if often farcical, American project in Iraq.

That’s what frustrated bullies do—they pick on the ones they think they can get away with beating up. The advantage of all this?  It gets rid of a “troublemaker,” and the Bureau of Diplomatic Security people can claim that they are “doing something” about the WikiLeaks drip that continues even while they fiddle.  Of course, it also chills free speech, sending a message to other employees about the price of speaking plainly.


Square, Site wide
Now does that make sense? Only inside the world of Diplomatic Security, and historically it always has.

For example, 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.

Imagine this: State’s employees are still blocked by a firewall from looking at websites that carry or simply write about and refer to WikiLeaks documents, including, which is publishing this piece.  (That, in turn, means my colleagues at State won’t be able to read this—except on the sly.)

In the Belly of the Beast

Back in that windowless room for a second time, I faced the two DS agents clumsily trying to play semi-bad and altogether-bad cop. They once again reminded me of my obligation to protect classified information, and studiously ignored my response—that I indeed do take that obligation seriously, enough in fact to distinguish between actual disclosure and a witch-hunt.

As they raised their voices and made uncomfortable eye contact just like it says to do in any Interrogation 101 manual, you could almost imagine the hundreds of thousands of unredacted cables physically spinning through the air around us, heading—splat, splot, splat—for the Web. Despite the Hollywood-style theatrics and the grim surroundings, the interrogation-style was less police state or 1984-style nightmare than a Brazil-like dark comedy.

In the end, though, it’s no joke. I’ve been a blogger since April, but my meeting with the DS agents somehow took place only a week before the publication date of my book. Days after my second interrogation, the principal deputy secretary of state wrote my publisher demanding small redactions in my book—already shipped to the bookstores—to avoid “harm to U.S. security.” One demand: to cut a vignette based on a scene from the movie version of “Black Hawk Down.”

The link to WikiLeaks is still on my blog. The Bureau of Diplomatic Security declined my written offer to remove it, certainly an indication that however much my punishment mattered to them, the actual link mattered little. I may lose my job in State’s attempt to turn us all into mini-Bradley Mannings and so make America safe.

These are not people steeped in, or particularly appreciative of, the finer points of irony. Still, would anyone claim that there isn’t irony in the way the State Department regularly crusades for the rights of bloggers abroad in the face of all kinds of government oppression, crediting their voices for the Arab Spring, while going after one of its own bloggers at home for saying nothing that wasn’t truthful?

Here’s the best advice my friends in Diplomatic Security have to offer, as far as I can tell: Slam the door after the cow has left the barn, then beat your wife as punishment. She didn’t do anything wrong, but she deserved it, and don’t you feel better now?

Copyright 2011 Peter Van Buren

New and Improved Comments

If you have trouble leaving a comment, review this help page. Still having problems? Let us know. If you find yourself moderated, take a moment to review our comment policy.

Join the conversation

Load Comments

By Tom Edgar, October 6, 2011 at 8:37 pm Link to this comment

When will Americans realise they are not a democracy but a neo Fascist country posing as a democracy.

From the Depression and Union suppression to present day government opposition oppression. There are too many instances of European style fascist activities of the past to enumerate here but this article alone is a supreme example.

Report this

By prosefights, October 6, 2011 at 8:28 am Link to this comment

This is FISA judge John Edwards Conway.

1 Whether by inadvertence, the press of federal caseloads, or design, the court suggested at a pretrial conference in May 1993, that both parties suspend further discovery until it ruled on defendants’ summary judgment motion. Discovery has ceased ever since.

2 Nearly one year ago, on August 19, 1993, the court issued its amended protective order, effectively sealing all substantive pleadings in this case.

3 Before issuing that order, the court considered plaintiff’s written response against sealing. Judge Conway informed all counsel in open court that James R. Gosler [a Sandia manager] would be permitted to deliver unknown documents to Judge Conway at time and place certain.

4 Judge Conway apparently reviewed those documents in camera without counsel for plaintiff.

5 The communication with Gosler constitutes an improper, ex parte communication with the one defendant who has been charged in plaintiff’s amended complaint with the most outrageous and culpable acts.

6 Given the nature of this lawsuit, where defendants allege some sort of security infraction by plaintiff as justification for his firing, such communication under the guise of national security violated plaintiff’s due process rights. Plaintiff has been prejudiced by this improper communication coupled with protracted delays. ...

WHEREFORE Plaintiff William H. Payne requests that:

A Judge Conway recuse himself from further participation in these proceeding, based on improper communication with defendant Gosler,

B The newly designated judge reconsider the standing protective order without recourse to ex parte communications with a named defendant, or in the alternative, allow counsel for plaintiff to review and respond to such communications, and,

C The court deny defendants’ long-standing motion for summary judgment, set new discovery deadlines under the circumstances, and grant such further relief as justice requires.

Aarons Law Firm
Counsel for Plaintiff

Recovery of our stolen $22,036 would only be possible because of Internet.

‘A short and deadly history of how we got to where we are’ details why it was stolen.

Report this

By gerard, October 4, 2011 at 11:40 am Link to this comment

Post postscript:  And certainly the Supreme Court!
Any body of serious people who can seriously think that “corporations equal people” ... or are they pretending?

Report this

By gerard, October 4, 2011 at 11:34 am Link to this comment

Postscript:  I strongly suspect that Obama’s predicament is largely due to the fact that he lacks a sense of irony.

Report this

By gerard, October 4, 2011 at 11:23 am Link to this comment

Lack of a sense of irony is a HUGE disadvantage.  It
means you can never see the bitter (often damaging) inconsistencies in things you and others do and say, all unconsciously of course, which prevents situations that might be remedied instead come crashing down on everybody’s head, including your own.

This obvious lack of a sense of irony permeates the behaviors of the most “serious” people in the world:  rulers, legislators, judges, military leaders—all people who take their power so seriously that they abuse it repeatedly, and never learn. 

Learning to view human affairs with a sense of irony points out inconsistencies, foolish, prideful decisions, short-sighted policies and all kinds of
future pratfalls.  Irony might help to eliminate
colossal errors, if only .....

Wall Street sitting on its balconies drinking cocktails while Occupy Wall Street representing 99% of “the people” fills the streets below—is totally ironic.  Think Nero fiddling while Rome burned, anybody? It’s not like we don’t know.  It’s that we refuse to see the whole picture. The most important—and often the funniest (sardonic) part is on the back side of the mirror.

Report this

By bram druckman, October 4, 2011 at 11:01 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

If we don’t want to become the next terror-filled Stalinist state where free speech
and freedom of expression have been banned and the terror apparatus of
authority operates with impuity, we need to nip the this race to totalitarianism
starting now. Start by naming names: Don’t just say two Department of Security
blah, blah, blahs conducted a Nazi-style interrogation, tell us who they are so the
rest of us can decide on our own if we wish to have anything more to do with
them. Or is that crime too, a violation of state secrets to let the public know who is
doing the threatening - in the name of national security, of course?

Report this

By faultroy, October 4, 2011 at 10:49 am Link to this comment

Thanks for posting this. This is nothing new. People would be appalled at what is going on in terms of denying all Americans the right to be heard.
  It should be noted that this is not a problem with just government and other civic institutions.
  Almost all internet sites are actively moderated. Larry Flynt of Hustler Magazine, who has probably done more for free speech rights than any man in modern day America, says that this is part of the corporatization of the media.
  It seems ironic to me that the very media organizations that decry the limiting of free speech are the very ones limiting free speech.
  CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, The Daily Beast, Slate, and now Salon all aggressively limit free speech rights via moderation. It is rather amusing that the Huffington Post—the champion of liberalism—was and is the most heavily moderated of all sites. They consistently violate their own Terms of Agreement in that each moderator is allowed to decide what they feel is appropriate.
  Salon, the only place I knew of where one can freely post, has now gone to a new format and eliminated almost all of those posters that did not follow the corporate the Salon narrative.
  It used to be the internet term: “troll” meant someone creating controversy in order to start a fight. Today, “troll” means someone that does not agree with you and makes a good case against your position and you don’t like that.
  The relatively new website: “Big Think,” which is supposed to be an intellectual area for discussion, has become consistently scrubbed and utilizes a “word moderating program.” So if you make any comment even remotely negative, it will be moderated.
  They also have gone corporatist as they are now aggressively hawking their “floating university.”
  Most of these organizations are private businesses, and they have a right to do as they choose, but my point is that it is becoming more the standard that regardless as to where you go on the web, and regardless as to your political persuasions, the feeling is that Free Speech is a very important right—but just not here.
  One thing is clear: our issues with the economy pale in comparison the the fundamental rights of being heard which we are quickly loosing.
  And we are seeing a scary “tribalization,” of all media that purports to be public. The bad part about this is that disagreeing parties will circle the wagons and only preach to the choir. The end result may be the unraveling—or at the very least—the diluting of our traditional Constitutional safeguards.
  The only way to counteract this trend, is by not patronizing these heavily moderated sites. That way, you hit them where they live—in their pocketbooks.

Report this

By Wogga, October 4, 2011 at 7:01 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Would be interesting to contrast this with a similar person in a Russian Ministry.  I guess you can imagine what I’m suggesting the difference would be.

Report this

By balkas, October 3, 2011 at 12:11 pm Link to this comment

this just proves that nothing can be a secret, top secret, toppiest-tippiest-tipsiest ever
secret as long as even just one person knows what it is.

the highest of all secrets appears to be the secret how secrets are discovered; or, rather,
why are they that much unguarded that even a passerby can palm some of them on
her/his way to lunchbreak or to see a senator.

i keep all my secrets by simply not putting them on paper. and i got thousands of such
secrets; all kept in the safest place possible: in my brain.

mystery appears to be that what u.s does against econo-military-diplomatically
weak[est] peoples [own weakest people also] and regions/lands is not a secret or
mystery, anyway.

and one can see this with even one poor eye let alone with two good/healthy ones—
along with, u guessed it, sane thinking.

with no sane looking, no sane thinking or doing, or viceversa. tnx

Report this
Right Top, Site wide - Care2
Right Skyscraper, Site Wide
Right Internal Skyscraper, Site wide