Tag Archive: State Department

Nov 13 2017

Who Thought This Was A Good Idea?

If there ever was doubt that the Trump administration is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s play toy, this has to be it. From the International Business Times: Putin’s Former KGB Boss Heads Security For US Embassies In Russia A company headed by the former chief of KGB counterintelligence will provide security for U.S. embassies in Russia. …

Continue reading »

Jan 07 2015

CIA Secrecy and Drone Strikes Affect on US Foreign Policy

From torture and black sites to continued drone strikes on sovereign countries, the CIA has been secretly undermining US foreign policy around the world but mostly in the Middle East and Near Asia.

MSNBC’s host Rachel Maddow discusses how the CIA making deals for black site torture facilities undercut the State Department calling for open disclosure about the prisoners that were being held in those countries.

She is joined by Philip Zelikow, counselor to the State Department from 2005 to 2007, to discuss the conflict between the CIA and State Department.

It isn’t just the secret dealing to cover up the crime of torture that is damaging foreign policy, drone strikes that allegedly target Al Qaeda and ISIS leaders have angered the governments of the countries that have been attacked. The effectiveness of these strikes are dubious since there is no evidence of their effectiveness. What is certain is that the strikes have killed more civilians than terrorists and made Americans less safe.

Scott Horton, human rights attorney and contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine, joined Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman to the US secret foreign policy of drone sites and torture black sites.

At least nine Pakistanis were killed Sunday in a U.S. drone strike in North Waziristan, the first reported drone strike of 2015. News accounts of the strike are based on unnamed Pakistani government and security officials. The Obama administration has said nothing so far. For years, the United States did not even publicly acknowledge the existence of the drone strikes. The drone program is just one example of the national security state’s reliance on secret operations. The recent Senate Intelligence Committee report revealed another example: the shadowy network of overseas CIA black sites where the United States held and tortured prisoners. The report also noted the CIA shrouded itself in a cloak of secrecy keeping policymakers largely in the dark about the brutality of its detainee interrogations. The agency reportedly deceived the White House, the National Security Council, the Justice Department and Congress about the efficacy of its controversial interrogation techniques



Full transcript can be read here

Feb 01 2014

KeystoneXL on Fast Track for Approval

Stop Keystone XL photo pipelinedump_zpsbf093d9e.jpg

The Koch brothers must be thrilled. Late this afternoon, the US State Department released its environmental impact study on the Keystone XL pipeline that, if approved, will carry the dirtiest oil in the world from Canada, across the US heartland to the Gulf Coast where it will be sent to China and other foreign markets.

In the final review, the study concludes that the pipeline would have little environmental impact, and would likely have no significant effect on carbon emissions. This fits the criteria that President Barack Obama has said that he would need to approve the construction.

The State Department, in Friday’s report, essentially concluded that Keystone would have little material effect on greenhouse gas emissions and that Canada would continue to develop and ship tar sands crude with or without the pipeline. [..]

The review included models suggesting that transporting oil by rail would generate even more greenhouse gas emissions than a pipeline, and also discussed measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the pipeline. [..]

The campaign against Keystone XL has become a national movement over the last three years, with environmental activists, Nebraska landowners and hedge fund managers all coming out against the project. In 2012, Obama, under pressure from landowners concerned about underground water sources and sensitive prairie, rejected the first proposed route for the pipeline across Nebraska. [..]

The State Department had conducted two earlier environmental reviews of the project. Last March, it found that if Obama rejected the pipeline Alberta crude would go to market by rail or other pipelines. But it revisited the issue under criticism from the Environmental Protection Agency, which said the early reviews had not been broad enough.

There is one more report to be released on an investigation by the State Department Inspector General of allegations that that a contractor’s review was biased because of connections to TransCanada and the oil industry.

The accusations stem from the release of unredacted documents submitted to the State Department by Environmental Resources Management (ERM), the consultant hired to perform the environmental review. Those documents, released by Mother Jones in May, show that analysts who worked on the Keystone report had previously worked for TransCanada and “other energy companies poised to benefit from Keystone’s construction.” [..]

In July, Friends of the Earth and the Checks and Balances Project, another advocacy group, said they uncovered publicly available documents online that show TransCanada, ERM, and an ERM subsidiary have worked together at least since 2011 on a separate pipeline project in Alaska. Last week, Bloomberg Businessweek posted a 2010 document in which ERM lists TransCanada as a client.

If true, the department would have to conduct another study.

The battle to keep the grease in the ground is not over.

Sign the petition and tell President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to Protect the Earth’s Future and Stop the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Aug 07 2013

John & Lindsey’s Not So Excellent Adventure

What was Barack Obama thinking when he gave his blessing to a these two clods to represent the US in Egypt, for any reason. Apparently, Republican Senators John McCain (AZ) and Lindsey Graham (SC) not only managed to fail at whatever it was they were sent to accomplish but managed to insult everyone in the military led interim government.

First, didn’t anyone in the State Department brief McCain to put a sock in it and not use the word “coup”?

McCain (R-Ariz.) and Graham (R-S.C.) had used the word “coup” at an afternoon press conference to describe the manner in which Egypt’s military had seized power from the Muslim Brotherhood’s elected president, Mohamed Morsi, in early July. [..]

In a statement later on Tuesday, distributed by Egypt’s Middle East News Agency and reported by Al Jazeera’s Rawya Rageh, a top media advisor to Egypt’s interim president, Adly Mansour, offered a stronger rebuke. The statement accused McCain of twisting facts, and dismissed his remarks as “clumsy,” or “irresponsible,” depending on the translation. (On Twitter, bilingual Arabic speakers debated the best translation for the word, “kharqa,” which also could be interpreted as “moronic” or “irrational.”)

Pres. Mansour went to call McCain’s comments “an unacceptable interference in internal policies”. When later asked by journalists whether the pair really meant that the military-backed overthrow was a coup, a term the US State Department has avoided using, McCain’s response was,  “I’m not here to go through the dictionary. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.”

These two dolts went on to lecture the Egyptian leadership on ways to reach an accord with the Muslim Brotherhood, urging General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, in a Tuesday meeting to release all political prisoners as a starting point for holding free elections. In a press conference after the meeting, Graham further stepped in the diplomatic mire the two had created

“In democracy, you sit down and talk to each other. It is impossible to talk to somebody who is in jail.” [..]

“The people who are in charge were not elected. The people who were elected are in jail. The status quo is not acceptable.”

Really? Could Pres. Obamba sent two worse representatives into such a volitile situation? Maybe he could have sent Bill and Ted, from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

Middle East expert and historian Juan Cole weighed in on why McCain and Graham the lack of credibility to talk to the Egyptians:

1. McCain and Graham are urging the interim Egyptian government to engage in dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood. But in winter of 2011 just after the fall of Mubarak, this is what McCain said:

   ” SPIEGEL: What is your assessment of the Muslim Brotherhood?

   McCain: I think they are a radical group that first of all supports Sharia law; that in itself is anti-democratic – at least as far as women are concerned. They have been involved with other terrorist organizations and I believe that they should be specifically excluded from any transition government. “

The phrase “they have been involved with other terrorist organizations” suggests that McCain considered the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, just as Gen. Sisi does. One of the pretexts on which Sisi has jailed several Muslim Brotherhood leaders is their ties to Hamas and “terrorism.” So how would McCain argue him out of that stance.  [..]

2. McCain insisted that there was in fact a military coup in Egypt on July 3, and called for political prisoners (the former Muslim Brotherhood elected government) to be released. But McCain supported the military coup of 1999 by Gen. Pervez Musharraf against the elected government of Muslim League leader Nawaz Sharif.

3. Graham doesn’t like people to win elections if he doesn’t like them. When the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, won the Palestine Authority elections in early 2006, Graham rejected their legitimacy [..]

If this mission was meant to help resolve the crisis the crisis in a country that is instrumental in Washington’s Middle East policy, it was a miserable failure that may have actually harmed the US relationship with Egypt.

Jul 18 2013

Pravda on the Potomac

One of the many provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 that was signed by Pres. Barack Obama late in the night of December 30, 2012, was the repeal of the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948. The original act outlined the State Department’s dissemination of information outside the boarders of the United States:

authorizes the U.S. State Department to communicate to audiences outside of the borders of the United States through broadcasting, face-to-face contacts, exchanges (including educational, cultural, and technical), online activities, the publishing of books, magazines, and other media of communication and engagement.

The legislation included three key provision the first, and most important was a prohibition on domestic dissemination of materials intended for foreign audiences by the State Department.

Section 501(a) of the Act (care of the Voice of America website) provides that

   “information produced by VOA for audiences outside the United States shall not be disseminated within the United States … but, on request, shall be available in the English language at VOA, at all reasonable times following its release as information abroad, for examination only by representatives of United States press associations, newspapers, magazines, radio systems, and stations, and by research students and scholars, and, on request, shall be made available for examination only to Members of Congress.”

“This means that VOA is forbidden to broadcast within the United States.” In reality, of course, any American with a shortwave receiver or an Internet connection can listen to VOA. That’s incidental, however. VOA cannot direct or intend its programs to be “for” Americans. This distinction is often lost on experts who see the letter of the law but with no real understanding of the media. George W. Bush-era State Department official James K. Glassman has called for directing VOA at American audiences.

The 2013 NDAA ended that restriction on July 2:

(T)he Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) was given permission to let US households tune-in to hear the type of programming that has previously only been allowed in outside nations.

The BBG is the independent government agency that broadcasts Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and other networks created “to inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy” – and a new law now allows the agency to provide members of the American public with program materials originally meant to be disseminated abroad.

Back in 1972, Arkansas Senator J. William Fulbright equated those government stories with propaganda when he said they “should be given the opportunity to take their rightful place in the graveyard of Cold War relics.” A couple of current lawmakers were singing a different tune when they proposed the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 last year, though, which became official just two weeks ago.

Reps. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) and Adam Smith (D-WA), who introduced the changes to the Smith Mundt last year argued

“Effective strategic communication and public diplomacy should be front-and-center as we work to roll back al-Qaeda’s and other violent extremists’ influence among disaffected opulations,” [..]

An essential part of our efforts must be a coordinated, comprehensive, adequately resourced plan to counter their radical messages and undermine their recruitment abilities. To do this, Smith-Mundt must be updated to bolster our strategic communications and public diplomacy capacity on all fronts and mediums – especially online.

According to Tim Cushing at Techdirt, there is the good news and bad news of the government’s ability to aim its pre-approved news at US citizens. The “good new”:

BBG spokesperson Lynne Weil says these efforts aren’t simply pro-government hype machines.  [..]

As Weil points out, this will bring a new level of transparency to the BBG as communicating to Americans is no longer prohibited. If nothing else, transcripts of BBG programming will be easier for Americans to get ahold of. A court ruled in 1998 that the limitations of the Smith-Mundt Act exempted the Voice of America from releasing transcripts in response to FOIA requests.

Another possible plus is the fact that the BBG will provide a free, “local” news source for immigrant populations. [..]

However, there is the “bad news”:

(T)he thought of a state-run news agency being allowed to direct its efforts at Americans is still uncomfortable. Despite claims of independence, it’s hard to believe the source is 100% trustworthy when its stated purpose is to run flack for the State Department in foreign nations. (Of course, the mainstream media outlets haven’t shown much reluctance to regurgitate talking points, which almost makes the BBG’s efforts seem redundant.)

While the BBG may provide a less-biased source of news for many foreigners (or at least provide a different bias), the purpose of its broadcasts to its new American audience is less clear. The fact that the State Department is behind the effort doesn’t do much to allay fears that the BBG will become a tool of domestic propaganda. The State Department’s reaction to the leak of diplomatic correspondence by Wikileaks was to block its employees’ access to the site (or any site containing the word “Wikileaks”) and demand the digital documents be “returned.” How will a state-run press react to developments like these? Will it be forced to play by the department’s rules, no matter how illogical, or will it be able to deal with them in a more forthright manner?

In a time where the administration seems to be forced to play defense with increasing frequency, it’s hard to believe it won’t be willing to exploit this addition to its PR arsenal.

In a May 18, 2012 BuzzFeded article, the late Michael Hastings warned that this revision would open the door to Pentagon propaganda:

The evaporation of Smith-Mundt and other provisions to safeguard U.S. citizens against government propaganda campaigns is part of a larger trend within the diplomatic and military establishment.

In December, the Pentagon used software to monitor the Twitter debate over Bradley Manning’s pre-trial hearing; another program being developed by the Pentagon would design software to create “sock puppets” on social media outlets; and, last year, General William Caldwell, deployed an information operations team under his command that had been trained in psychological operations to influence visiting American politicians to Kabul.

A U.S. Army whistleblower, Lieutenant Col. Daniel Davis, noted recently in his scathing 84-page unclassified report on Afghanistan that there remains a strong desire within the defense establishment “to enable Public Affairs officers to influence American public opinion when they deem it necessary to “protect a key friendly center of gravity, to wit US national will,” he wrote, quoting a well-regarded general.

Not only is the government creating an state approved press, it will now have its own news agencies within the US to disseminate its own sanctioned news stories, a true Pravda on the Potomac.

May 17 2013

The Mountain That Was Benghazi

The Republicans have been screaming cover-up for months over the attack on the American diplomatic mission at Benghazi, in Libya on September 11, 2012 that took the lives of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. One of the accusations surrounded e-mails between the White House, the State Department and the CIA was that there was an intentional downplay of the motive for the September 11 attack.

Based on e-mails that were leaked, the Republicans claimed that the White House had changed the talking points to edit out “terrorism” in an effort to down play the attack just before the election. In an attempt to quell the GOP’s uproar, the White House released a 100 pages of e-mails to the public to disprove the cover-up allegations. Guess what, like true to from politicians trying to make a mountain out of a molehill, they fabricated the so-called quotes to create a scandal. The quotes that were cited by Republicans as accurate are far different than which is in the actual emails.

CBSNews‘ Major Garrett broke the story on its Evening News:

On Friday, Republicans leaked what they said was a quote from (deputy national security adviser Ben) Rhodes: “We must make sure that the talking points reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department, and we don’t want to undermine the FBI investigation.”

But it turns out that in the actual email, Rhodes did not mention the State Department.

It read: “We need to resolve this in a way that respects all of the relevant equities, particularly the investigation.”

Republicans also provided what they said was a quote from an email written by State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland.

The Republican version quotes Nuland discussing, “The penultimate point is a paragraph talking about all the previous warnings provided by the Agency (CIA) about al-Qaeda’s presence and activities of al-Qaeda.”

The actual email from Nuland says: “The penultimate point could be abused by members to beat the State Department for not paying attention to Agency warnings.”

There is no indications that the White House “fixed” the talking  points. This is a purely manufactured conspiracy by the Republicans to discredit, not just the White House, but the State Department and Hillary Rodham Clinton for political advantage.

This isn’t Watergate this is Whitewater. There nothing there, never was but that won’t stop the right wing lying smear machine from wasting millions of tax payer dollars digging more holes:

Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Republican House speaker John Boehner, made it clear that it will not be giving up the fight. “This release is long overdue and there are relevant documents the administration has still refused to produce. We hope, however, that this limited release of documents is a sign of more co-operation to come,” Buck said.

Never mind that they lied. Keep digging your own grave, guys.

h/t John Aravosis at Americablog

Apr 05 2012

Another Bush Era Torture Memo Released

” Others who say torture is a big deal but we have to move on are complicit not just in these crimes but also the ones that will inevitably occur in the future because nothing was done about these.” ~ Meteor Blades

In 2009, former counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Philip Zelikow revealed that he had written a memo in 2006, carefully arguing that the Geneva conventions applied to Al Qaeda. It was written to rebut a memo written by Stephen Bradbury (pdf) for the Department of Justice that argued the CIA’s “advanced interrogation techniques” were in compliance with the Convention against Torture. At that time, it was believed that all the copies had been destroyed by the State Department, until now. A copy had been preserved (pdf) by The National Security Archive and it has been released through  Freedom of Information Act request  by the National Security Archive, a group dedicated to real government transparency.

In the 5 page memo. Zelikow argued that techniques such as waterboarding, cramped confinement, stressed positions, slamming the prisoner’s head against a wall, and dousing with ice water were degrading and in violation of Article 16 of the Convention Against Torture.

According to Kevin Kosztola at FDL, ZElikow was prompted to write the memo after the McCain Amendment was passed that sought to prohibit the inhumane treatment of prisoners in US custody:

In the memo, he begins by noting the State Department agreed with the Justice Department in May 2005 that Article 16 of the CAT (“to prevent in any territory under its jurisdiction other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment which do not amount to torture”) “did not apply to CIA interrogations in foreign countries.” But, the McCain Amendment had “extended the application of Article 16 of the CAT to conduct by US officials anywhere in the world.”

   “The prohibitions of Article 16 of the CAT now do apply to the enhanced interrogation techniques authorized for employment by CIA. In this case, given the relationship of domestic law to the question of treaty interpretation, the responsibility of advising on interpretation is shared by both the Department of State and the Department of Justice.

Zelikow’s State Department memo would not have been binding on the CIA, but he felt because of his history as a constitutional lawyer he had to put forward an argument that challenged the idea that these “enhanced interrogation techniques” were legal.

He told the Associated Press on April 3, “I believe that the Department of Justice’s opinion was an extreme reading of the law and because the Justice Department opinion was secret, the only way the president could hear an alternative interpretation was for someone like me to offer it.”

At least there were some people in the Bush government who had some common legal sense and humanity. So where does that leave us now? The Obama administration has conveniently hidden evidence against the guilty behind the cloak of state secrecy and refused to investigate many of the higher ups who were most agreeable to torture and actually authorized it. As Spencer Ackerman at the Danger Room points out:

Zelikow’s warnings about the legal dangers of torture went unheeded – not just by the Bush administration, which ignored them, but, ironically, by the Obama administration, which effectively refuted them. In June, the Justice Department concluded an extensive inquiry into CIA torture by dropping potential charges against agency interrogators in 99 out of 101 cases of detainee abuse. That inquiry did not examine criminal complicity for senior Bush administration officials who designed the torture regimen and ordered agency interrogators to implement it.

“I don’t know why Mr. Durham came to the conclusions he did,” Zelikow says, referring to the Justice Department special prosecutor for the CIA torture inquiry, John Durham. “I’m not impugning them, I just literally don’t know why, because he never published any details about either the factual analysis or legal analysis that led to those conclusions.”

Also beyond the scope of Durham’s inquiry: The international damage to the U.S. reputation caused by the post-9/11 embrace of “cruel, inhuman and degrading” interrogation methods; and the damage done to international protocols against torture.

According to the Geneva Convention the covering up of torture and war crimes is a violation of the Principles.

Marcy Wheeler, aka emptywheel, has an in depth discussion here. The memo can also be read in Ackerman’s memo.