The Justice Department has already summoned hundreds of government officials for interviews in its investigation of national security leaks, meaning that the investigation is already well underway, according to Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
"We are three weeks into the investigation by the two prosecutors. Literally hundreds of people have been summoned for interviews," Feinstein said in a short interview Tuesday. "So the process has begun and my view is that the process should be allowed to run."
Feinstein was responding to calls from several GOP senators for an independent special counsel to investigate recent leaks into classified national security program. Thirty-one GOP senators wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder calling for an independent counsel Tuesday.
The letter was led by Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC) and signed by Sens. Lamar Alexander (TN), Kelly Ayotte (NH), John Barrasso (WY), Roy Blunt (MO), John Boozman (AR), Richard Burr (NC), Saxby Chambliss (GA), Susan Collins (ME), John Cornyn (TX), Mike Crapo (ID), Jim DeMint (SC), Mike Enzi (WY), Charles Grassley (IA), John Hoeven (ND), Mike Johanns (NE), Mark Kirk (IL), Mitch McConnell (KY), John McCain (AZ), Jerry Moran (KS), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Rand Paul (KY), Rob Portman (OH), James Risch (ID), Pat Roberts (KS), Marco Rubio (FL), Jeff Sessions (AL), John Thune (SD), Pat Toomey (PA), David Vitter (LA), and Roger Wicker (MS).
Feinstein said that if the current process proves ineffective, she would reconsider. She also said that despite reports Tuesday the Defense Department was the subject of the investigation, her information is that the investigation is looking into the actions of officials throughout the executive branch.
"My understanding is that many dozens of FBI personnel have been asked to come in for interviews. I think it is a robust investigation and that's what we want," she said. "A special counsel takes four or five months to get set up and hire staff and become functioning. This is already functioning and has been for three weeks."
In a short interview, Graham rejected that argument and promised to push not only for an independent investigation but one that is expanded to cover more leaks over a greater period of time.
"I cannot believe this is good policy to allow an administration to investigate itself," he said. "[Feinstein] was OK with an independent counsel to investigate [lobbyist Jack] Abramoff and [former CIA case officer] Valerie Plame because the argument was the Bush administration was too tied to the suspected wrongdoing. I can assure you I'm not going to let this go."
Graham called for a special counsel that senators could support, and said that there are Democrats he might endorse for the role but that he won't accept the two Justice Department officials chosen by Holder .
Graham also called for the investigation to be expanded well beyond the two leaks that he said are the subjects of the investigation: U.S. involvement in the Stuxnet virus that disabled Iranian nuclear centrifuges and the details of a foiled airplane bomb plot originating out of Yemen.
He said the investigation should include the leaks of details of the May 2011 raid in Abbotabad that resulted in the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the disclosures of secret U.S. bases in Africa and a secret U.S. drone base in Pakistan, the disclosure of the process the president uses to compile his "kill list," and disclosures of details of negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban over a prisoner swap for Army private Bowe Bergdahl.
The Cable pointed out that two of those leaks were disclosed publicly by Feinstein herself. She disclosed the existence of the Pakistan drone base in an open hearing in 2009 and disclosed the details of the Taliban negotiations in a March interview with The Cable.
"My beef is not with Senator Feinstein. My beef is with a system that's failing," Graham said. "I think that this failure is politically motivated. The leaks have tried to create a political advantage for this president. Nothing Senator Feinstein has done or said has been in that mode."
Feinstein's leaks may have been accidental and her disclosures about negotiations with the Taliban didn't actually compromise any counterterrorism operations in the field, so the investigation should be limited to the actions of administration officials, Graham said.
"This is part of a plan to compromise our programs for political purposes, in my view. That's the allegation I'm making," he said.
The nomination of Brett McGurk to be the next U.S. ambassador to Iraq is now facing increased opposition in the Senate due to allegations he had an affair with a reporter in Baghdad in 2008 while working as a top White House advisor and may have been videotaped while engaged in a sex act on the roof of Saddam Hussein's Republican Palace with a different woman.
McGurk, who served as a senior National Security Council official and the lead negotiator of the U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement in 2008, allegedly held an extended affair with Gina Chon, a Wall Street Journal reporter, that began four years ago in Iraq, according to intimate and occasionally graphic e-mails exposed on the Cryptome website earlier this week. The Washington Free Beacon reported today that McGurk was married to another woman at the time and is married to Chon now.
The leaked e-mails, which could not be independently verified and were published on the Flikr site of an anonymous user named Diplojoke, show McGurk pursuing and then canoodling with Chon, a Wall Street Journal reporter who was also in Baghdad at the time.
McGurk and Chon did not respond to requests for comment. The State Department declined to comment.
Over in the Senate, one leading lawmaker is taking the allegations seriously. The Cable has confirmed that Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), the second ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, cancelled a scheduled meeting with McGurk this week when he heard about the e-mails and an allegation that McGurk was caught on video engaged in a sex act on the roof of Baghdad's Republican Palace, as alluded to by State Department whistleblower Peter Van Buren on his blog.
Inhofe's spokesman told The Cable that the senator won't proceed on the McGurk nomination until both allegations are cleared up.
"The senator always prefers to meet with nominees personally before giving his support. In regards to this nominee, Senator Inhofe has heard some concerning issues, and until those issues are cleared up, he will not meet with Mr. McGurk," Inhofe's spokesman Jared Young told The Cable.
Inhofe hasn't placed a formal hold on the McGurk nomination yet, but he is considering it.
Multiple sources told The Cable the State Department has investigated the allegation about McGurk's activity on top of the palace but was unable to find any evidence of that incident. It's unclear whether State is investigating the circumstances surrounding McGurk's affair with Chon.
Neither of these incidencts were mentioned at McGurk's confirmation hearing Wednesday. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee now must approve his nomination, but no vote has yet been scheduled.
Inhofe's objection would be only one of the several potential holds McGurk could face on his path to the nomination.
As The Cable reported in March, Senate Armed Services Committee ranking Republican John McCain (R-AZ) has reservations about McGurk taking on the Baghdad post over concerns that McGurk has never led an embassy and or any large organization and because McGurk was a key part of the failed SOFA negotiations to extend the U.S. troop presence in Iraq beyond 2011.
There are also concerns on Capitol Hill that McGurk may be too close to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, impairing his ability to work with all segments of Iraq's political society. When he was nominated, Waheed Al Sammarraie, the D.C. representative of the office of former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, the leader of the opposition, wrote a letter to Congress that said, "I would like to inform you that Aliraqia Bloc and the liberal trend will not deal with new assigned ambassador to Iraq Mr. Brett Mcgurk for his loyalty and bounds with the Islamic party."
The congressional drive to update a 1948 law on how the U.S. government manages its public diplomacy has kicked off a heated debate over whether Congress is about to allow the State Department to propagandize Americans. But the actual impact of the change is less sinister than it might seem.
On May 18, Buzzfeed published a story by reporter Michael Hastings about the bipartisan congressional effort to change the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 (as amended by the Foreign Relations Authorization Act in 1987). The story was entitled, "Congressmen seek to lift propaganda ban," and focuses on the successful effort by Reps. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) and Adam Smith (D-WA) to add their Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 as an amendment to the House version of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act.
The new legislation would "authorize the domestic dissemination of information and material about the United States intended primarily for foreign audiences." The Buzzfeed article outlines concerns inside the defense community that the Pentagon might now be allowed to use information operations and propaganda operations against U.S. citizens. A correction added to the story notes that Smith-Mundt doesn't apply to the Pentagon in the first place.
In fact, the Smith-Mundt act (as amended in 1987) only covers the select parts of the State Department that are engaged in public diplomacy efforts abroad, such as the public diplomacy section of the "R" bureau, and the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the body that oversees the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and other U.S. government-funded media organizations.
Implementation of the law over the years has been selective, haphazard, and at times confusing, because even State Department bureaus often aren't sure if they have to abide by it. The Thornberry-Smith language is meant to fix that by applying Smith-Mundt to the entire State Department and USAID.
The Defense Department, meanwhile, has its own "no propaganda" rider, enshrined in the part of U.S. code that covers the Pentagon, and that is not affected in any way by either Smith-Mundt as it stands or by the proposed update now found in the defense bill. The only reason the Smith-Mundt modernization bill was attached to the defense bill was because that bill is one that's sure to move and Congress hasn't actually passed a foreign affairs authorization bill in years.
"To me, it's a fascinating case study in how one blogger was pretty sloppy, not understanding the issue and then it got picked up by Politico's Playbook, and you had one level of sloppiness on top of another. And once something sensational gets out there, it just spreads like wildfire," Thornberry told The Cable in an interview today.
He said the update for Smith-Mundt was intended to recognize that U.S. public diplomacy needs to compete on the Internet and through satellite channels and therefore the law preventing this information from being available to U.S. citizens was simply obsolete.
"It should be completely obvious that a law first passed in 1948 might need to be updated to reflect a world of the Internet and satellite [TV]," he said. "If you want the State Department to engage on the war of ideas, it has to do it over the Internet and satellite channels, which don't have geographical borders."
Salon writer Glenn Greenwald interviewed Smith Tuesday and wrote a story questioning whether the law would allow the State Department to try to influence American public opinion though "propaganda." He noted a press release on the Thornberry-Smith legislation which complained that Smith-Mundt had prevented a Minneapolis radio station from replaying VOA broadcasts to Somali-Americans to rebut terrorist propaganda.
Thornberry's response was to say that the 21st century media environment is already so diverse and open that opening Americans' access to one more source of information, State Department-produced news and information, was not likely to propagandize American citizens.
"It makes me chuckle. This is not 1948 when everybody was tuned to a few radio stations and the fear was that the information we were sending to Eastern Bloc countries was going to affect American politics," he said. "The idea that the State Department could be so effective as to impact domestic politics is just silly. This gives Americans the chance to see what the State Department is saying to people all over the world."
In fact, advocates of the bill tout the issue of transparency and oversight of U.S. public diplomacy as one of the main benefits of the new bill. Previously, oversight of State Department public diplomacy efforts abroad was done by an advisory commission inside the State Department that was shut down last year, while Congress and the media has little to no direct access to the material.
Thornberry said that domestic dissemination of the material will actually increase the transparency and oversight of U.S. public diplomacy by laying it bare for Americans to chew over.
"If all these bloggers see the State Department trying to influence something domestically, they will be the first to raise the alarm," he said. "It is always going to be true that you have to look at the effectiveness and truthfulness of the content of the information. But it would no longer be against the law that the American people can see it."
Matt Armstrong, who was the executive director of the State Department's advisory commission on public diplomacy before it got shut down because Congress declined to reauthorize it, explained on his Mountainrunner blog that Smith-Mundt was designed by a Cold War U.S. government that simply didn't trust the State Department to talk directly to the American people.
"The Smith-Mundt Act is misunderstood and often mistaken for ‘anti-propaganda' legislation intended to censor the Government. The reality is the original prohibition on the State Department disseminating inside the U.S. its own information products designed for audiences abroad was, first, to protect the Government from the State Department and, second, to protect commercial media," he wrote.
In an interview today, Armstrong pointed out that the Thornberry-Smith bill explicitly notes that two existing provisions of Smith-Mundt, both of which would remain intact, address concerns that the State Department might overreach in trying to influence Americans. Section 1437 of the existing legislation requires the State Department to defer to private media whenever possible and Section 1462 requires State to withdraw from a government information activity whenever a private media source is found as an adequate replacement.
He said the law as it stands is just not working and doesn't make a lot of sense. "When Cal Ripkin or Michele Kwan go to China, Americans aren't supposed to know that they went or what they did there. In addition, virtually anything that's on a U.S. embassy website is off limits," he said.
The discussion over Smith-Mundt is further distorted by a lack of understanding about what public diplomacy is and when it crosses over into "propaganda."
"Let's face it, it is impossible to communicate and not influence.. The idea here is that U.S. public diplomacy is not based on lies," said Armstrong. "There's this misconception that public diplomacy is propaganda. Propaganda is a lie, a deception, or intentional ambiguity, none of which can be lead to effective public diplomacy by any country, let alone the U.S."
Of course, the State Department's Public Affairs bureaucracy, which speaks to Americans every day in various forms, is capable of "propaganda," but is not covered by Smith-Mundt. The Cable asked State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland at today's press briefing if State supported the Thornberry-Smith legislation.
"We have long thought that aspects of Smith-Mundt need to be modernized, that in a 24-7 Internet age it's hard to draw hard lines like the original Smith-Mundt [Act] did in the ‘40s," she said.
We then asked Nuland whether the State Department has any intent to propagandize American citizens.
"We do not and never have," she said with a smile.
U.S. Ambassador to Russia Mike McFaul got a little freaked out this week by the fact that reporters in Moscow are mysteriously turning up everywhere he goes. Today, he learned that the Russian government has been alerting reporters as to his whereabouts on a constant basis.
"Everywhere I go NTV is there. Wonder who gives them my calendar? They wouldn't tell me. Wonder what the laws are here for such things?" McFaul tweeted Thursday.
Unsure how the Russia press, which has been severely critical of McFaul, has been able to follow him so closely, he initially concluded they were spying on his personal communications.
"Welceom (sic) to my life. Press has right to film me anywhere. But do they have a right to read my email and listen to my phone?" McFaul tweeted. "I respect press right to go anywhere & ask any question. But do they have a right to read my email and listen to my phone?"
McFaul said that when he asked the "reporters" showing up at his meetings how they knew where he was, they wouldn't tell him.
Later Thursday, journalist Jace Foster tweeted back to McFaul to clue him in on how the Russian reporters always knew where to find him.
"Your schedule is fair game. We know it because Russian consulate watches you & releases your schedule," she tweeted. "Russia watches your Twitter account too, which is open to the public. Surely you know this."
McFaul seemed relieved to hear that Russian journalists are not tapping his phones. But he emphasized that the U.S. government does not tip off reporters in Washington about the travels of his Russian counterpart.
"I am new to the world of diplomacy and did not [know] this fact. Thanks. I know we do not do the same with Russian ambo in U.S.," McFaul tweeted. "Maybe I should start publishing my schedule? I am always happy to interact with press."
"Ambassador, if you feel it would help & make your life more secure, then perhaps posting when you are publicly available would help," Foster tweeted back.
Ever get the feeling that the Obama administration abuses the use of anonymity when offering up "senior administration officials" to speak about policy on "background?"
Yeah, so do we.
The Obama team routinely gives briefings and interviews on the condition that the briefer not be identified by name, but only with a vague reference to the fact that they work for the administration. The reporters on the call know who the briefer is, but for the purposes of publication, only a vague description of the person can be used.
Traditionally, anonymity was granted by news organizations to officials so they would be free to talk about sensitive matters without fear of retribution or so officials could go beyond the talking points to say things that were true but impolitic.
But these days, "background" briefings are the rule, not the exception, and the demand for anonymity is sometimes so unnecessary and so silly that simply reading the transcript can demonstrate the futility of the exercise.
Such was the case with yesterday's State Department background briefing with a "senior administration official" regarding U.S. policy in the Middle East.
"We're very fortunate to have with us today [Senior Administration Official], who's been traveling in the region, and we thought it would be helpful to give you all just an update on his travels, his trips, his meetings, and an update on U.S. efforts to advance Middle East peace," Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner said to begin the call. "So without further ado, I will hand it over to [Senior Administration Official], but just - I'm sorry, just one - briefly before I do that, for the attribution on this, he should be henceforth known as senior administration official. This call is on background."
The "senior administration official" went on to describe his trip around the Middle East with NSC Senior Director Dennis Ross and his meetings with officials and special envoy throughout the region.
"Last week, Dennis Ross from the Washington and I followed up and met with Prime Minister Netanyahu and his advisors, and then I stayed on in the region and I've met with President Abbas, with the lead negotiator Saeb Erekat, Nabil Abu Rudaina, and others on the Palestinian side, and I've also met with the Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Elaraby this afternoon, the head of the Egyptian intelligence service General Mawafi, and I have other meetings later today at the Arab League," the official said.
Toner and the "senior administration official" must have realized that in several State Department briefings, spokesmen have talked about how Dennis Ross and Acting Special Envoy David Hale were traveling in the region. In one briefing, Spokesperson Victoria Nuland actually listed the specific meetings that Hale was conducting, which magically match the meetings of the "senior administration official" on the call.
Several readers wrote to The Cable to remark that the State Department was comically failing to protect the identity of its "senior administration official," despite the fact no one really thought there was any risk in identifying him by name in the first place.
So what was the sensitive information that this "senior administration official" gave on the call that just couldn't be put to his name?
"Well, I don't want to get into the specifics of our diplomatic exchanges, particularly since we're smack in the middle of a trip and with the effort," the official said in a response to a question about what he was telling the parties.
"Obviously, the reconciliation issue is a significant one. It raises profound questions that the president himself has mentioned in his speech," the official said in response to a question about how to deal with a unity government that includes Hamas. "We'll need to face those questions."
Talking about President Obama's big Middle East Speech, the official said, "Well, I think the speech is powerful in and of itself and, I mean, this was a game-changing, historic development by our president. At this stage, I think I really can't address questions related to what we might do in the future with it."
Good thing none of that was on the record!
In the GOP's latest salvo in its campaign against Obama nominees, conservatives didn't even wait for Wendy Sherman to be nominated as the next undersecretary of State for Policy before attacking her suitability for the post.
The Cable first reported on May 25 that Sherman is the "leading candidate" to replace Bill Burns, who was nominated as Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg's replacement. Currently the vice chair of the Albright Stonebridge Group, Sherman was counselor to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, where she also held the role of North Korea policy coordinator. She served as assistant secretary of State for legislative affairs from 1993 to 1996 under Secretary of State Warren Christopher. She is also chair of the board of directors of Oxfam America and serves on the U.S. Department of Defense's Defense Policy Board.
President Obama hasn't actually announced his intention to nominate Sherman. Our sources say the nomination is all but certain -- although nothing is 100 percent certain until it's announced. Meanwhile, those on the right who are opposed to her nomination have begun airing their concerns in the media.
Over at Washington Post's Right Turn blog, conservative writer Jennifer Rubin has posted three pieces on Sherman this week. The first one on June 14 contended that Sherman's tenure as a key official on North Korea policy was not an unqualified success. "She was a key player, at then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's side in negotiating the North Korea deal that is generally regarded as a farce and a failure," Rubin wrote. She also quoted conservative writer Claudia Rosett, who named Sherman as "part of the Clinton team that brought us some of the worst appeasement of North Korea."
Rubin then speculated that Sherman might have represented the Chinese government or a Chinese state-owned company while at Stonebridge. Rubin quotes a "Senate advisor" as saying, "Senators will specifically want to know if the prospective nominee for the number 3 position in the State Department has lobbied for the People's Republic of China."
Rubin's second post on Sherman June 15 quoted former State Department official John Bolton as saying Sherman was "centrally involved" in a North Korea policy that amounted to "appeasement."
Rubin's third post today focuses on Sherman's tenure as head of the Fannie Mae Foundation from 1996 to 1997. The destructive behavior of Fannie Mae, which the New York Times' David Brooks said "helped sink the American economy," largely were perpetrated after Sherman left, but Rubin nonetheless asserts, "Sherman had left by 2001 but surely her role in the debacle-in-the-making should be cause for concern."
We went to our administration sources to see how they were planning to respond to the already heated attacks on their potential high-level nominee. Administration officials were reluctant to engage in a media war over a nominee who has yet even to be named, but spelled out their current thinking about the charges leveled against Sherman.
One administration official bristled at Rubin's insinuation that Sherman worked as a lobbyist, perhaps even for the Chinese, while at Stonebridge. Sherman was never a lobbyist, was never representing a foreign agent, and as such was never registered as a lobbyist or a representative of foreign governments.
"If you look at who Wendy's clients are that have been public, they are household names like Coke, BMW, and Pew Global attitudes. These are items in the public eye," the official said.
Moreover, when Sherman worked for the Fannie Mae Foundation, it was a 501(c)(3) entity - a tax-exempt, non-profit organization -- and she was never paid directly by Fannie Mae.
One talking point that's sure to come up, if and when she is nominated, is the fact that Sherman was confirmed by a Republican Senate in 1997 to be State Department counselor, and approved by a Republican Senate Foreign Relations Committee led at the time by Sen. Jesse Helms. And this was after her time at the Fannie Mae Foundation.
"It's a bit ironic to bring this up now, considering the GOP actually confirmed her after she worked there," the official said.
Overall, administration sources close to the issue are aware they may in for a battle over Sherman's nomination, but they feel they have a strong argument and a strong nominee who can weather the storm.
"It's interesting that people are starting extraordinary fishing expeditions when there's no nomination," the official said. "But it just speaks to Wendy's professional qualifications and abilities, the lengths to which people are digging around."
Foggy Bottom is flat out denying a British news report on Sunday that said State Department money would be awarded to the BBC to combat Internet censorship around the world.
"The BBC World Service is to receive a "significant" sum of money from the US government to help combat the blocking of TV and internet services in countries including Iran and China," the Guardian reported.
In fact, State has not yet made any decisions on how to spend the $30 million of congressionally appropriated money for fighting internet censorship that is sitting in its coffers. The BBC World Trust Service is just one of the 61 organizations applying for the funds, but has not gotten any approval or grants.
Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Michael Posner called the Guardian article "inaccurate and misleading."
"The BBC World Service Trust has indicated its intention to submit a proposal to the State Department in the area of Internet freedom, as part of an open and competitive solicitation, but we have not yet received this proposal or made any funding decisions," Posner said in a statement.
He also said State has no intention of announcing the awarding of the funds on May 3, Press Freedom Day, as the Guardian article alleged. Our sources said that proposals are due on March 31; the following week, evaluation panels will meet to go over the proposals and make decisions.
On Capitol Hill, there's a bipartisan push to make sure most of those funds go to the U.S. government funded Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) wrote a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking her to immediately transfer no less than $8 million of the funds to the BBG.
Lugar is concerned that America is falling behind in the public diplomacy competition to countries that are expanding their external media operations, such as China.
"In the same way that our trade with China is out of balance, it is clear to even the casual observer that when it comes to interacting directly with the other nation's public we are in another lop-sided contest," Lugar wrote in a recent report (PDF).
In Senate testimony earlier this month, Clinton agreed.
"We are in an information war, and we are losing that war," she said. "I'll be very blunt in my assessment. Al Jazeera is winning. The Chinese have opened a global English language and multi-language television network. The Russians have opened up an English-language network."
The House's version of the temporary funding bill for the rest of fiscal 2011 calls for $10 million to be transferred from State to BBG toward this effort; the Senate version of the bill calls for $15 million. Aides on the Hill told The Cable that if a significant portion of the funds don't end up in BBG hands, Lugar and other lawmakers will get deeply involved in pressuring State to rethink its decision.
"Given the recent language included in both House and Senate continuing resolutions, the State Department's inability to see the Congressional handwriting on the wall on this issue is nothing short of breathtaking," a GOP Senate aide said.
When State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley resigned on Sunday afternoon, the U.S. diplomatic establishment didn't just lose its top spokesman -- it also lost one of its most prolific, entertaining, and sharp-tongued tweeters. Since Crowley began tweeting in May 2010, he's told off dictators, criticized Congress, and talked some baseball as well, 140 characters at a time.
Crowley's Twitter personality mirrored his real-life personality -- affable, edgy, sometimes sarcastic, and occasionally a little off-message. Crowley's energy and willingness to take measured risks by going beyond the Obama administration's standard talking points is what endeared him to the reporters he worked with each day. It was that same openness that cost him his job, after he admitted that he believed the Marine Corps' treatment of alleged WikiLeaks source Private Bradley Manning was "ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid."
Crowley's last tweet before resigning was a gem, but he deleted it. "We've been watching hopeful #tsunami sweep across #MiddleEast. Now seeing a tsunami of a different kind sweep across Japan," read the March 11 tweet.
Of the remaining 400-plus tweets he sent out to his 24,000-plus followers, here are The Cable's top 10, in reverse chronological order:
What seemed like a routine visit to the State Department by a group of college students last December has now become a thorn in the side of the U.S.-Japan relationship and cost the State Department's Japan desk director his job.
Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell just happened to be landing in Tokyo on Wednesday as the controversy over remarks about Okinawa allegedly made by Director of Japan Affairs Kevin Maher to a visiting group of American University students reached a fever pitch across Japan. Campbell's apology as he stepped off the plane was only the first of several he's going to be making about the controversy while in Tokyo.
"I will, in all of my meetings, offer deep apologies for the developments in Okinawa and for the misunderstandings that have taken place. I think as you all know, the alleged statements in no way reflect U.S. government policy, or indeed the deep feelings of the American people towards the people of Okinawa," Campbell said. "We are deeply saddened by these recent developments and I will in all of my meetings express deep regret for the misunderstandings that have taken place. These statements not only reflect my own personal attitudes, but the attitudes of the American government."
Campbell was referring to the controversy over a December meeting at the State Department between Maher and a group of students who asked for a briefing before taking a trip to Okinawa. One of the students gave the Japanese press a memo of notes from the meeting, which stated that Maher said that the Okinawan people were masters of "manipulation" and "extortion" when dealing with U.S.-Japanese plans to relocate the Marine Corps' Futenma air base to another part of the main Okinawan island.
"By pretending to seek consensus, people try to get as much money as possible. Okinawans are masters of ‘manipulation' and ‘extortion' of Tokyo," Maher allegedly said, according to the memo of the off-the-record briefing. The memo also accuses Maher of calling Okinawan politicians liars and saying the Okinawan people are lazy, have social problems, and often drive drunk.
Maher told Japan's Kyodo news that the memo was not accurate and contained several misrepresentations about what he said. Nevertheless, a State Department official confirmed to The Cable that Maher will step down from his job as head of the Japan desk immediately and be given another role at the State Department, as a result of the national uproar in Japan about the alleged remarks.
What Maher didn't know at the time of his meeting was that this was no ordinary group of American University students. One leader of the group was a Japanese activist who works hard to build opposition to any U.S. basing on Okinawa. That activist, Sayo Saruta, was one of two student leaders for the group of mostly American AU students and participated in the meeting at the State Department. Maher didn't know that the group was led by an anti-base activist until the memo was leaked this week.
The State Department could have known Saruta's agenda had they just done a little research. She is a very public critic of U.S. military bases in Japan. The website for the students' Japan trip identifies her as "the leader of the Network for Okinawa, an organization calling for the closure of bases in Okinawa."
Saruta also works with the website closethebase.org, which is run with help from the Institute for Policy Studies, a liberal foreign policy think tank in Washington, DC. John Feffer, who works at IPS and is co-director of their Foreign Policy in Focus project, told The Cable that the purpose of the Network for Okinawa "was to have a U.S. counterpart for the activists in Okinawa."
Feffer said he didn't know if Maher's remarks were reported accurately but he said that if they were, they were an "expression of frustration among U.S. government officials about the consistent opposition by Okinawans to any plan to relocate the Futenma base on Okinawa and frustration with the Japanese government for not moving more quickly."
The original idea to relocate the base was agreed to in 1996 and the plan to do it was signed by both governments in 2006. Since then, the Liberal Democratic Party, which ruled Japan since World War II, fell to a government led by the Democratic Party of Japan, which hasn't been able or willing to confront local Okinawan politicians on the issue.
"For the most part the U.S. government hasn't really cared what the politics are in Okinawa. They've worked through Tokyo and expect the Tokyo government to take care of the situation, which hasn't happened," Feffer said.
The Obama administration came in hoping to work with the DPJ on the Futenma issue, but cooperation and top-level relations broke down in late 2009 when then Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama promised the Japanese he would move the base off of Okinawa and then reversed himself.
"There is always some level of opposition to U.S.-Japan proposals for realigning bases on Okinawa. It is much worse now because Hatoyama raised and then dashed expectations in a way that made a difficult problem even harder," said Michael Green, who was the NSC's senior director for Asia during the Bush administration. He defended Maher, who was the head consular official in Okinawa from 2006 to 2009.
"Maher is a veteran Japan hand who knows the politics of Okinawa better than just about anyone. It sounds like this was an ambush and his comments were selectively distorted to suit the agenda of the event organizers, though perhaps he should have seen that coming given the audience," said Green. "In any case, the real fault is with the Japanese press for trying to manufacture a crisis out of an off-the-record discussion with students."
Japan expert Mindy Kotler, who directs the organization Asia Policy Point, said that both sides are to blame. U.S. officials often talk insensitively about the Okinawan objections to the base and Okinawans often blow such comments widely out of proportion.
Nevertheless, the incident illustrates that the small cadre of U.S. government officials and experts who have been dealing with Japan for years is not tuned in to the rising level of frustration in Japan about American policy and the growing momentum of the anti-base movement both in Japan and around the world, she said.
"There's no reason that Maher should have gone into that room thinking this was just another group of average college kids," Kotler said.
"Instead of getting upset of what he did or did not say we should focus on where the frustration comes from. The alliance managers have not done enough to try to understand what's behind the changing politics in Japan and how to adapt."
Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's chief of staff accused Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward on Tuesday of practicing "access journalism," and said that Woodward has been repeatedly accused of "tilting the facts," "misleading remarks," "disingenuous statements," and placing "book sales above journalism."
Keith Urbahn, who is also Rumsfeld's official spokesperson, made the accusations in a statement to reporters in response to Woodward's scathing critique of Rumsfeld's recently released memoir, Known and Unknown.
"Rumsfeld's memoir is one big clean-up job, a brazen effort to shift blame to others -- including President Bush -- distort history, ignore the record or simply avoid discussing matters that cannot be airbrushed away. It is a travesty, and I think the rewrite job won't wash," Woodward wrote on Foreign Policy's Best Defense blog, run by Tom Ricks.
Woodward expressed skepticism of Rumsfeld's claim that he kept no notes of a crucial Sept. 12, 2001, meeting, during which Rumsfeld allegedly brought up the idea of attacking Iraq. Woodward also noted that Rumsfeld's book contradicted his own previous statements about when the Bush administration began discussing an invasion of Iraq, and criticized Rumsfeld for trying to absolve himself of blame for the post-invasion mistakes.
Urbahn accused Woodward of favoring his sources and granting them anonymity in exchange for access, while pushing his own storyline ahead of the facts.
"The well known story about Bob Woodward is that he practices what is derided as ‘access journalism,' whereby he favors those who provide him with information and gossip and leak against their colleagues," he said in a statement, which was also posted on Rumsfeld's Facebook page. "Those who refuse to play along, such as Donald Rumsfeld, then pay the price."
Woodward's critique referenced multiple interviews with Rumsfeld, including three hours spent with Rumsfeld over two days in July 2006.
Urbahn implied that Woodward had fabricated a famous interview conducted at the death bed of CIA Director Bill Casey where Casey admitted guild and implicated President Ronald Reagan, in the Iran-Contra affair.
"There is most notoriously the supposed deathbed conversation he had with former CIA Director Bill Casey that implicated President Reagan in the Iran-Contra affair and just so conveniently provided the perfect scene for a book Woodward was writing on the CIA -- even though Mr. Casey was reported to be nearly comatose at the time and witnesses, including Mr. Casey's widow, denied Woodward's account," Urbahn said.
"Woodward ends his latest attempt to defend his version of events by suggesting that at some point in the future ‘when all the records are available,' new facts and assertions that come to light will differ from those in Known and Unknown," Urbahn said. "If this means Woodward is now committed to writing a serious book of history based on contemporaneous documents and first-hand sources he is to be commended."
The calls are increasing in Washington for the Obama administration to take new, stronger measures to punish the Libyan government led by Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi for atrocities and to protect Libyan civilians.
Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) implored Obama on in a press conference to establish a no-fly zone in Libya, abandon its recognition of the Qaddafi government, transfer recognition to a transitional government formed by the rebels as soon as possible, and provide the opposition with support, including weapons.
"The government of Libya, epitomized by Muammar Qaddafi is massacring some of his people. There is very little doubt about Mr. Qaddafi's commitment to remaining in power no matter how much blood has to be shed," McCain said on behalf of both senators at a Friday press conference in Jerusalem.
"When a government massacres its own people, it loses its legitimacy. So, we should no longer recognize the existing government of Libya."
Lieberman added that the no-fly zone should be organized by NATO and he compared the ongoing killing of civilians in Libya to the genocide perpetrated by Serbia during the 1990s that eventually resulted in a NATO bombing campaign.
"I think in that sense it is very important that we not just make statements about the massacre that is occurring in Libya but that we lead an international coalition to do something," Lieberman said. "What is happening in Libya today reminds me what happened in the Balkans in the 1990s. We in the United States decided that we could not simply stand by and watch a government massacre its people."
Back in Washington, Vice President Joseph Biden lamented on Thursday that NATO intervention in the Balkans didn't come sooner, when it could have saved more lives.
"It's amazing how in the Balkans it took so long," Biden told an audience at the Holocaust Memorial Museum. "First, we must recognize early indicators of potential atrocities and respond accordingly, rather than waiting until we are confronted by massacres like those in Rwanda or in Srebrenica."
Former State Department Policy Planning Chief Anne-Marie Slaughter also compared the violence in Libya to the Balkans and the 1994 Rwandan genocide in a Thursday tweet.
"The international community cannot stand by and watch the massacre of Libyan protesters. In Rwanda we watched. In Kosovo we acted," Slaughter tweeted.
Also on Friday, a bipartisan group of senior mostly-Republican foreign policy experts penned an open letter to President Barack Obama, urging him to make good on his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, when he said, "Inaction tears at our conscience and can lead to more costly intervention later."
The experts asked Obama to call on NATO to urgently develop plans to establish an air and naval presence in Libya, freeze all Libyan government assets in the U.S. and Europe, consider halting Libyan oil imports, pledge to hold Qaddafi responsible for any atrocities, and speed humanitarian aid to the Libyan people.
"With violence spiraling to new heights, and with the apparent willingness of the Qaddafi regime to use all weapons at its disposal against the Libyan people, we may be on the threshold of a moral and humanitarian catastrophe," the experts wrote. "Inaction, or slow and inadequate measures, may not only fail to stop the slaughter in Libya but will cast doubt on the commitment of the United States and Europe to basic principles of human rights and freedoms."
The letter was signed by several senior GOP former officials, including Elliott Abrams, Paul Wolfowitz, Bill Kristol, Eric Edelman, Eliot Cohen, Jamie Fly and Scott Carpenter, human rights activities David Kramer and Neil Hicks, and Clinton administration official John Shattuck.
"The United States and our European allies have a moral interest in both an end to the violence and an end to the murderous Libyan regime. There is no time for delay and indecisiveness," they wrote. "The people of Libya, the people of the Middle East, and the world require clear U.S. leadership in this time of opportunity and peril."
Full text of the letter after the jump:
The Libyan government officially warned the State Department on Thursday that foreign journalists entering Libya would be arrested and treated as al Qaeda collaborators.
"Be advised, entering Libya to report on the events unfolding there is additionally hazardous with the government labeling unauthorized media as terrorist collaborators and claiming they will be arrested if caught," the State Department said in a press release.
The State Department said that Libyan government officials told U.S. diplomats that approved teams of reporters from CNN, BBC Arabic, and Al Arabiya would be allowed into the country, but any other reporters found in Libya would be in danger.
"These same senior officials also said that some reporters had entered the country illegally and that the Libyan government now considered these reporters Al Qaida collaborators," the State Department said.
It was not immediately clear which Libyan government officials issued the warning, but the State Department said it was a "senior official" of the Libyan government. Reporters would be arrested on "immigration charges" and their safety could not be guaranteed, the U.S. diplomats were told.
On Friday, hundreds of friends and colleagues of the recently departed Richard Holbrooke will convene to honor his career and his legacy at the Kennedy Center in Washington for an event that, just as Holbrooke was, promises to be larger than life.
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will both speak at the memorial, and former President Bill Clinton will also attend. In total, there will be three sitting heads of state in the room, 20 foreign ministers, 125 heads of diplomatic missions, and other friends of Holbrooke hailing from academia, the media, and his private life.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari will come to Washington for the event and will have a bilateral meeting with Secretary Clinton as well. The meeting is meant to show solidarity between the U.S. government and Zardari, a Pakistani government official explained. Zardari has faced continued political and legal challenges and most recently the assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, a close ally, but continues to hold on to power.
Also in town for the event is Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who will not meet with Clinton but will give a speech on Thursday morning at the American Enterprise Institute. We've been told that Borjana Kristo, chairman of the rotating presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, will also attend. Among the foreign ministers attending is Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt.
Staffan de Mistura, the top U.N. official in Afghanistan, will also be attending the memorial, a State Department official told The Cable. Holbrooke will additionally be honored by the planned attendance of a large chunk of the international network of Special Representatives for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAPs). Holbrooke was instrumental in building this network of officials who would meet periodically to coordinate international activity regarding Afghanistan.
SRAPs are coming to Washington for Friday's event from Australia, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, the European Union, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Turkey, the UAE, and the United Kingdom, the State Department official said.
With all these diplomatic celebrities in one place at one time, the day is quickly evolving into a conference of sorts, with embassies around Washington scrambling to figure out which visiting leaders will be available for impromptu bilateral meetings, pull aside chats, and the like.
Holbrooke, the consummate networker, would be proud.
The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) has announced that Jeff Gedmin will step down as the head of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), the Prague-based organization he has led since 2007.
Gedmin will move to London to become CEO and president of the Legatum Institute, a research organization focused on understanding free markets and promoting the issues of democracy and civil society. He starts in his new role March 1.
In an interview from Prague, Gedmin said that his decision to leave RFE/RL after working so hard on its expansion for the last four years was the toughest career decision he's ever made.
"The best time to leave a job you love is never, yet if you are genuinely committed to growth and personal development, you always have to mindful of what you're giving to the organization where you work as well as what your next step will be," Gedmin said.
"I decided it was the right time to move on because if I'm telling my people to step out of their comfort zone and be open to growth, I have to be able to take my own advice."
Gedmin's tenure at RFE/RL was marked by an expansion of the reporting resources there. He now manages a staff of over 550 people in Prague and RFE/RL has about 40 personnel in Washington, DC as well. Gedmin oversaw the launching of Radio Mashaal, a news service covering neglected regions of Pakistan, which will celebrate its one year anniversary this week.
RFE/RL under Gedmin's leadership has also expanded its reporting in Central Asia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran. Through the use of anti-censorship Internet technologies, the RFE/RL websites now log over 1 million visitors each month from inside Iran through a proxy server.
Multiple staff members told The Cable that Gedmin's departure would leave a huge void at RFE/RL, but they nevertheless wished him well.
"He's immensely popular in the building with the staff. He's completely revamped this [organization] into a 21st century media operation. He's really put it on the map. Everybody is really disappointing that he's leaving," said one employee.
Another reporter for RFE/RL in Prague noted how Gedmin transitioned the organization's focus "away from the traditional places, toward the Caucasus, toward Central Asia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran. Those are the hotbeds today where accurate, reliable information is in need the way it was in Eastern Europe during the cold war."
Gedmin's departure comes just after the installation of the BBG's new chairman, Walter Isaacson, former head of CNN and Time magazine.
"Jeff's passion for the power of the truth has been a great inspiration for all of us involved in international broadcasting," Isaacson said in statement. "The Board looks forward to Jeff serving as a valuable adviser in the future."
Much has been written about the State Department's intensive effort to deal with the release of secret diplomatic cables by the website WikiLeaks, but there is also a separate, massive effort to deal with the crisis by the embassies of foreign governments, aided by the paid lobbyists and consultants who represent them.
Working as a Washington lobbyist for a foreign country is usually a pretty sweet gig. These hired guns keep governments informed on anything in town that could affect their country's diplomatic or political interests -- for a hefty monthly fee, of course. Lobbyists apply added elbow grease when relevant legislation needs cheerleading on Capitol Hill. Consultants work harder when foreign officials are in town or there's a pressing bilateral issue. But overall, crises are relatively rare.
Not this week, though: It's all hands on deck on K Street, as firms are fielding frantic and constant requests from diplomats in foreign capitals, trying to make sense of the released and soon-to-be-released WikiLeaks State Department cables.
"When was the last time that every embassy and every consultancy in town went into crisis mode simultaneously," one consultant with clients in Europe and Asia told The Cable. This consultant said that his firm has been totally swamped since Sunday's initial document dump with panicked emails, rushed conference calls, and requests for information.
"Basically you have governments that have absolutely no idea what's in these documents. And everybody from senior officials to embassy personnel to Washington consultants are in a mad scramble to go through each new batch of documents as they come out to identify items that are potential vulnerabilities, paint their bosses in an unflattering light, or reveal some sensitive information," the consultant said. "The entire chain of command is in panic mode with every new release."
Compounding the difficulty of the damage control effort is the fact that nobody knows what new revelations are coming down the pike: Only 291 of the WikiLeaks promised 251,287 documents have been released thus far.
At the embassies themselves, foreign diplomats are working day and night to try to collect as much information as possible about the coming leaks that reference their own country. One European diplomat said that his embassy had set up an around-the-clock monitoring system to make sure that if something breaks, they will be ready to handle it immediately.
"We are in 24-hour mode, somebody is always watching and waiting. When we [at the embassy] sleep they [back home] watch, and when they sleep we watch," the diplomat told The Cable.
Embassies have been getting apology phone calls from the State Department directly, but they aren't waiting for the U.S. government to explain it all; they are working to figure out their exposure themselves or with their hired help.
One of the main tasks asked of diplomats, lobbyists, and consultants dealing with the crisis in Washington is to try and collect cables that haven't been officially released yet, but are nonetheless being circulated inside the diplomatic community. Nobody knows exactly where all the extra cables coming from, but WikiLeaks has said it would give country specific cables to local foreign media outlets.
One Washington lobbyist who represents countries in the Middle East said that local press in several countries he works on is reporting on cables that haven't yet been reported on by the media outlets who had advance access to the documents. The lobbyist speculated that foreign governments may also be selectively leaking cables they've come across in order to spin them in their own favor before WikiLeaks or local media has a chance to weigh in.
"New leaked cables are coming from weird sources, think tanks, the countries involved. There's a lot of stuff being quoted in local press from cables that haven't been released yet and I have no idea where they are coming from," this lobbyist said.
Getting out ahead of stories that are using information in unreleased cables is a big part of what Washington lobbyists and consultants are struggling to do this week. "It's really hard to counter something that nobody has seen," the lobbyist said.
There's some agreement among the beltway bandit community, however, that the disclosures in the cables, while perhaps embarrassing, aren't likely to have significant effects on foreign embassy interactions with the U.S. government. "Our analysis is not whether it will have an effect on bilateral relations, but more what the impact will be on the public perception of that country," said one consultant who represents an embassy that was highlighted in the first tranche of leaks.
That said, the lobbyists and consultants interviewed for this article all had different ideas of how aggressive embassies and their Washington hired hands should be in mitigating the damage.
One consultant who represents countries not in the immediate line of fire right now argued that best approach is to lay low and let the media focus on the most salacious items.
"You just keep your head down and hope that there's so much of it that you don't get the worst of it," the consultant said.
One lobbyist was recommending to her clients not to try to use the leaked information in their dealings with the State Department going forward. "No sane government can use this to their advantage because it would hurt their relations with the U.S.," the lobbyist said.
Another consultant advocated a more aggressive approach. "There is a treasure trove of information and making strategic use of the information will be the job of thousands of people in Washington going forward," said this consultant, who represents a Latin American foreign government not yet implicated in the crisis.
It's only day three of Cablegate and the WikiLeaks revelations show no signs of slowing down as of yet. And though Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Kazakhstan for the OSCE summit, in Washington, the foreign embassies and their paid representatives are working overtime to unearth and mitigate documents that might be damaging. The levels of concern are all over the map, one lobbyist said.
"The spectrum goes from panicked to intrigued, optimistic to ape shit."
U.S. diplomats collecting personal information on foreign officials is neither new nor unusual, multiple State Department officials told The Cable, in response to the release of hundreds of thousands of sensitive diplomatic messages by the self-described whistleblower website WikiLeaks.
One of the most discussed of the more than 200 diplomatic cables WikiLeaks has released from its reported cache of over 250,000 is a July 31, 2009 cable sent from Washington to several diplomatic missions entitled, "Reporting and collection needs: The United Nations." Classified as SECRET by Michael Owens, the State Department's acting director for operations at the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), the cable outlines a long list of personal information the U.S. intelligence community wanted U.S. diplomats to collect about U.N. and foreign officials, including cell phone numbers, e-mail addresses, internet "handles," passwords, credit card account numbers, and frequent flyer account numbers.
The new National HUMINT Collection Directive was only one of several that asked U.S. diplomats to collect human intelligence around the world, has been roundly portrayed in domestic and foreign media as directing diplomats to act as intelligence assets. The U.K.'s Guardian newspaper's article was entitled, "US diplomats spied on UN leadership." The New York Times said that the cables "appear to blur the traditional boundaries between statesmen and spies."
But in an interview with The Cable on Sunday evening, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said that these activities did not mean that U.S. diplomats were being asked to act as intelligence assets.
"Our diplomats are just that, diplomats," Crowley said. "They represent our country around the world and engage openly and transparently with representatives of foreign governments and civil society. Through this process, they collect information that shapes our policies and actions. This is what diplomats, from our country and other countries, have done for hundreds of years."
Another State Department senior official objected to the contention that these directives came from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, despite the fact that they are marked as being from "SECSTATE." Germany's Der Spiegel, in their write up of the State Department cables, called them "Orders from Clinton."
"The long-standing practice at the State Department is to include the secretary's name at the end of every cable sent from Washington," Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy told The Cable. "This practice has not included that the secretary review or approve the hundreds of thousands of cables sent each year."
But the leaked directives to U.S. diplomats to report about foreign officials are causing considerable angst inside the State Department, where many officials believe that the nature of the communiqués are being misreported and misinterpreted.
"What this cable represents is an annual wish list from intelligence managers that just highlights for the U.S. government issues of particular interest and just asks if they come across any of these areas in the course of their normal duties that they report it through appropriate channels," one State Department official told The Cable on background basis.
"Overseas, it's being misconstrued that the Secretary of State is tasking diplomats to do intelligence duties, and that's not the case," the official said.
At their Foggy Bottom headquarters, State has set up an internal working group that is working in shifts around the clock, "monitoring the situation and supporting our senior staff and embassies around the world," the official said. "We follow the same process whenever a major event occurs."
Specifically, the cables show that U.S. diplomats in New York were asked to collect Biographic and biometric information on ranking North Korean diplomats. Separate cables disclosed on Sunday show that U.S. diplomats overseas were asked for specific reporting on officials from the Palestinian territories, Paraguay, Bulgaria, and Africa's Great Lakes region.
The State Department officials emphasized to The Cable the distinction between diplomats who collect information as part of a wide range of duties and intelligence personnel, who have a singular and specific mission. The official also argued that other countries do the same thing and that the intelligence gathered by U.S. diplomats also benefits Washington's allies.
"Information collection is something that diplomats of every country do every day. These areas of particular interest, they're not just ours," the official said. "This is information that's of use to us, and to our allies and friends with whom we're trying to solve regional and global challenges."
"We're not asking our diplomats to do anything substantially different from what they've been doing for eons," the official continued. "Every diplomat and mission around the world is doing the same thing."
The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) has a new chairman in Walter Isaacson, and the former CNN and Time magazine chief is calling for even more money for the BBG to combat the public diplomacy efforts of America's "enemies," which he identifies as Iran, Venezuela, Russia, and China.
The BBG, which oversees a $700 million annual budget to run such organizations as the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and Radio Free Asia, funds breakthrough reporting in some of the most dangerous parts of the world, but at the same time is facing increased competition from other governments' forays into international broadcasting.
Isaacson said that other countries are stepping up their international broadcasting efforts and that the Congress must allow the U.S. government to do the same.
"We can't allow ourselves to be out-communicated by our enemies," he said. "You've got Russia Today, Iran's Press TV, Venezuela's TeleSUR, and of course, China is launching an international broadcasting 24-hour news channel with correspondents around the world [and has] reportedly set aside six to ten billion [dollars] -- we've to go to Capitol Hill with that number -- to expand their overseas media operations."
Isaacson said that combating internet censorship would be a major focus of the BBG under his leadership and that China and Iran were the prime targets.
"China, Iran, and other countries block democratic impulses using their later technologies, and Beijing has deployed armies of cyber militias to go after their country's cyber dissidents," he said. "The BBG is at the forefront of combating this. Through constant innovation and technical evolution, our engineers are opening up the Internet gateway for audiences in China and Iran."
"We know where we stand in the fight for Internet freedom," Isaacson said. "Wherever there is a firewall, it's our duty to storm it, to denounce it and to circumvent it."
Isaacson was speaking at last week's 60th anniversary celebration for Radio Free Europe, which he credited as contributing to the end of the Cold War. He made it clear the BBG's outlets will stick to reporting the news objectively, even if that conflicts with the foreign policy of the Obama administration.
"It's sometimes said that our international broadcasting is in a difficult position because by law and by tradition it's tasked with two separate missions that might conflict: first of all, covering the news with the highest journalistic standards and secondly, being a part of America's public diplomacy by accurately conveying its policies and values to the world," Isaacson said.
"Let me say to you, my fellow journalists, that I will stress and we will stress the primacy of the first of these missions, our mission of being credible journalists, because in fact, it's the only way to carry out the second mission. You can't do it unless you're credible and telling the truth, and in the end, the truth is on our side."
Pressed by The Cable to explain exactly what that means, especially in light of reports that the Obama administration sought to influence BBG reporting after the disputed Iranian presidential elections, Isaacson promised he wouldn't hesitate to air views that contradict American foreign policy on BBG stations.
He said that the goals of American foreign policy and the objectives of credible journalism overlap about 90 percent of the time -- as for the other 10 percent, a choice must be made.
"I feel it's the role of the BBG to always make the choice on the side of credible journalism, just as you would in the private sector," Isaacson said. "We can never compromise our credibility. And in doing so, that will probably help further the foreign policy interests of the United States. But if it's ever a real conflict, our goal one is to protect our credibility."
UPDATE: Isaacson e-mails in to The Cable to apologize for the remark, while saying that the "enemies" he was referring to were in Afghanistan, not the several countries he mentioned.
"I of course did not mean to refer to, nor do I consider, that Russia, China, and the other countries or news services are enemies of the U.S., and I'm sorry if I gave that impression," he said.
When State Department employees tuned in Thursday to watch President Obama's U.N. speech, a few of them noticed something amiss. The internal channel that broadcasts MSNBC inside the State Department's Foggy Bottom complex was, for some reason, tuned to FOX News!
"I wanted to watch Obama's speech on MSNBC but I couldn't find it. I still can't find it," one civil servant complained to The Cable Friday morning, saying that many in the building were "hoping to catch a few minutes of the president's speech to the U.N. without post-snark analysis from Fox."
What seemed even more odd was that FOX News was already being broadcast on another channel on the State Department's television system, meaning that there were two FOX broadcasts and no MSNBC to be found. Employees could watch two C-Spans, three CNNs, and three Arabic language stations including Al-Jazeera -- but not Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann.
Your humble Cable guy decided to dig into the situation and find out the truth. After some initial calls to the technical staff and an e-mail to the State Department's public affairs shop Friday afternoon, Channel 11, the station in question, went dead.
About an hour later, MSNBC was restored to Channel 11. State Department spokesman Mark Toner responded to our request with an explanation.
Apparently, there were various interruptions in service by the State Department's cable provider, Capital Connections, on Thursday. The State Department's technical services department worked to correct the cable feeds for some time before they realized the problem lay with the provider. Capital Connections had thought they appropriately restored service, but instead accidentally had created two channels of Fox News.
So to all you State Department employees who like MSNBC, we're happy to announce your choices for news at work are now again, um, fair and balanced. Enjoy!
The Washington Times owes the State Department more than $15,000 in long-overdue travel expenses, The Cable has learned.
The overdue bills are related to travel by Nicholas Kralev, the struggling paper's recently departed State Department correspondent, who traveled with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Israel, Japan, Korea, Egypt, Belgium, Turkey, China and Afghanistan on four separate trips dating from May 2008 to November 2009. The total outstanding debt is $15,927.32, according to State Department records obtained by The Cable.
Reached by The Cable, Kralev said he had submitted each bill up the chain of command in a timely fashion but had no luck in getting Times management to pay them. The State Department has been emailing and calling Kralev and the Times management demanding the bills be paid as recently as last week.
The Times management itself turned over in November 2009, when executive editor John Solomon was replaced with current editor, former U.S. News and World Report contributor Sam Dealey. Kralev said that after the switchover, all expenses-related questions were being handled by Dealey's chief assistant, Christine Reed, and that Reed was copied on several of the invoices from State. Reed told Kralev that the Times was having cash-flow problems and that the company simply couldn't pay the bills, he said.
"I'm guessing the new management doesn't have the money to pay the bills or doesn't want to pay the bills. State has every right to request those bills be paid," said Kralev.
A State Department official told The Cable that State sees a huge irony to the unpaid bills, given that the Times has been publishing a series of articles criticizing Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew for his actions regarding disclosure of a $1 million bonus he received from his former employer Citigroup shortly before joining the administration.
One article was devoted to a typographical error Lew made on an ethics form regarding his departure date from Citigroup.
"Maybe before getting sanctimonious about the finances of a public servant of the very highest caliber, they should pay their own substantial debt to the American taxpayer," a State Department official said of the Times.
Dealey, reached by The Cable, declined to comment on why the bills have not been paid but he denied that there was a direct connection to the paper's negative coverage of Lew.
"I'm the editor, not the accountant, and our story on Jack Lew's million-dollar taxpayer-funded bonus from Citibank speaks for itself," he said.
The financial problems at the Times have been well reported. Following the firing of top executives last November, the paper let go about 40 percent of the editorial staff over the succeeding two months.
When publisher Jonathan Slevin left in April, he sent out a blistering letter criticizing Dealey for leaking information to the press and accusing Nicholas Chiaia, one of two board members, of large-scale mismanagement related to the Times and its financial operations specifically.
The Unification Church, a well-heeled religious movement led by self-proclaimed Messiah Rev. Sun Myung Moon, which owns the Times, has slashed the financial subsidies that had been keeping the paper afloat and in May, Chiaia admitted that the paper is up for sale.
Reed and Solomon both declined to comment and attempts to reach the Times accounting staff were unsuccessful.
The Broadcasting Board of Governors has been on the receiving end of a lot of criticism lately. The agency's efforts in Iran, especially, have come under fire, as well as the way the home office in Washington, D.C. has been managed.
But in the most concise report your humble Cable guy has ever seen coming out of the Office of the Inspector General, the oversight board reported Thursday that as far as the BBG's operations in Pakistan are concerned, everything is cool.
"Discussions with BBG staff in Washington during the survey phase revealed no outstanding issues. Discussions with the staff at the office in Islamabad found a staff engaged and proud of their accomplishments," the one-page report stated. "The VOA bureau chief was satisfied with Washington support (he is extending for a second year): the contractors for the Urdu service were satisfied with their terms of employment, their working conditions, and the work itself."
Any room for improvement?
"The OIG team, then, found no issues that require recommendations."
An OIG report with zero recommendations is pretty unusual. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that this was a severely limited investigation. The OIG team visited the BBG's Islamabad bureau for one day in February. "Because of security concerns, this was a limited-scope inspection," the report said.
The team did not review financial records and also did not
talk to the BBG's Pakistani broadcast partners, again, "for security reasons."
In a letter to BBG executive director Jeff Trimble, Assistant Inspector General for Inspections Robert B. Peterson wrote, "The report contains no recommendations because, overall, the work of the Broadcasting Board of Governors Operations in Islamabad is being performed well."
The U.S. government-sponsored television and radio stations aimed at bringing objective news into communist Cuba aren't doing the job and need new leadership and direction, according to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
In a new report by the committee's majority staff, led by John Kerry, D-MA, lawmakers are calling out Radio Marti and TV Marti, both of which are funded by Congress, for a lack of quality programming and for failing to uphold the standards of a free and fair journalistic enterprise.
"Radio Marti was created in 1983 to support the Cuban people in their quest for ‘accurate, unbiased, and consistently reliable' news and entertainment; TV Marti followed in 1990. Unfortunately, listeners and viewers never received the kind of high quality programming that was originally intended," Kerry wrote in a letter accompanying the report. "Problems with adherence to traditional journalistic standards, minuscule audience size, Cuban Government jamming, and allegations of cronyism have dogged the program since its creation."
Congress has already reduced funding for TV Marti and has criticized Radio Marti before, but now the committee is recommending that the entire Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), which is now an independent agency reporting up to the Broadcasting Board of Governors, be moved from Miami to Washington, and be incorporated into the BBG's Voice of America.
Congress stripped $4 million from TV Marti's budget in last year's appropriations and sought to end the use of the airplane the station uses for much of its reporting. This was only the latest congressional attempt to reform the agency using funding levers, and the report's blunt language suggests that lawmakers are growing frustrated.
"Radio and TV Marti have failed to make any discernable inroads into Cuban society or to influence the Cuban Government," the report stated.
Both stations run unsubstantiated reports as if they were real news, use offensive and incendiary language in broadcasts, and have an audience of less than 2 percent of Cubans overall, mostly due to successful jamming by the Cuban government, according to the committee.
The report also highlights allegations of nepotism and cronyism at the OCB. For example, the director of Voice of America's Latin American service is a nephew of the OCB director and the former director of TV Marti's programming pleaded guilty in 2007 to receiving more than $112,000 in kickbacks from an OCB vendor.
Among other recommendations, the committee urges the OCB to "attract quality talent from outside Miami, implement quality editorial standards, and attract quality management," and calls upon the organization to hire and train a "de-politicized and professional workforce."
"Radio and TV Marti have been more about employing embargo proponents, paralyzing US-Cuban relations and perpetuating an anachronistic Cold War standoff than they have been about furthering American interests or triggering change in Cuba," said Steve Clemons, foreign policy head at the New America Foundation, "Barack Obama voted against these programs in the Senate because he said they 'don't work' and it's commendable that the Senator Kerry and his team are shining a spotlight on the corruption and incompetence embedded in these programs."
When European foreign ministers meet in Brussels next Monday, three European powers will be pressing for continent-wide action to confront Iran's jamming of international satellites.
"Iran has been regularly jamming the broadcasting by satellite of a number of foreign televisions and radio stations ... since December 2009, a repetition of its practice in the run up to the disputed elections earlier that year," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle wrote to the European Union's new foreign-policy chief, Baroness Catherine Ashton, in a previously unreported letter obtained by The Cable.
"The objective was clearly to prevent the people of Iran from freely exercising their right to information."
The three powers want the EU not only to pen a declaration condemning the practice, but also to figure out how to un-jam the satellites and perhaps even stop the export of technologies that Iran can use for censorship purposes.
The French have been pushing particularly hard on the issue in recent weeks, in part due to the fact that much of the jamming was aimed at the French firm EutelSat, which carries more than 70 foreign radio and television services, some of which are run by the Iranian regime but many of which have nothing to do with Iran.
A European diplomat told The Cable that one option was to kick Iranian programming off of EutelSat. There is expected to be widespread support for a declaration, the diplomat added.
The Iranian actions violate the agreements of the International Union of Telecommunications, to which it is a party, but that body has no real enforcement power.
The EU has been more active than the U.S. on confronting Iranian satellite jamming, at least in public, a situation that several GOP senators complained about in a recent letter to Jeff Trimble, head of the Broadcasting Board of Governors.
The senators were demanding answers to questions raised by an exclusive report in The Cable that revealed the involvement of the National Security Council in the Broadcasting Board of Governor's actions regarding Iran.
In the Feb. 18 story, which was also reprinted in the Washington Post, we reported that the NSC had been involved in negotiating the wording of a statement on Iranian media censorship that was eventually issued by the Voice of America, a subsidiary of the BBG, as well as the British Broadcasting Company and Deutsche Welle.
The NSC's involvement was seen by some as an inappropriate violation of the "firewall" that is supposed to exist between the administration and the BBG, which should be operating independently. An NSC official denied that there was anything inappropriate about the council's intervention.
Senior senators on both sides of the aisle leveled heavy criticism Tuesday against a controversial ad put forth by Liz Cheney and William Kristol, which labeled Justice Department lawyers as the "al Qaeda 7."
The ad, paid for and produced by the group Keep American Safe, referred to the U.S. Justice Department as the "Department of Jihad," and called out Attorney General Eric Holder for hiring but not revealing the names of several attorneys who had previously worked to defend terrorism suspects. More than a dozen Bush administration era legal officials have already condemned the ad.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a member of the Senate Armed Services and Judiciary Committees, told The Cable Tuesday that the Cheney-Kristol ad was inappropriate and unfairly demonized DOJ lawyers for doing a noble public service by defending unpopular suspects.
"I've been a military lawyer for almost 30 years, I represented people as a defense attorney in the military that were charged with some pretty horrific acts, and I gave them my all," said Graham. "This system of justice that we're so proud of in America requires the unpopular to have an advocate and every time a defense lawyer fights to make the government do their job, that defense lawyer has made us all safer."
Graham pointed out that when Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito were facing Senate confirmation, some attempted to use their client lists against them and it was wrong then too.
"I'm with Kenneth Starr on this one," Graham added, referring to a letter signed by several GOP lawyers, many of whom defended Bush-era detainee policies, condemning the "al Qaeda 7" ad.
"To suggest that the Justice Department should not employ talented lawyers who have advocated on behalf of detainees maligns the patriotism of people who have taken honorable positions on contested questions and demands a uniformity of background and view in government service from which no administration would benefit," read the letter, which was organized by the Brookings Institution's Benjamin Wittes and signed by David Rivkin, Lee Casey, and Philip Zelikow, among others.
Senate Armed Service Committee Chairman Carl Levin agreed with Graham, and told The Cable that the ad was symbolic of the type of rhetoric put forth by the Cheney-Kristol group.
"They probably would have called President John Adams a terrorist too, because he defended the British soldiers who killed Americans at Bunker Hill," said Levin. "I don't think folks like that will stop at anything to attack the president and Democrats. I don't know if there are any limits to their venom.... I haven't seen any."
Even senior Republicans who agreed with the ad's criticism of Holder's appointment of the lawyers said that the ad was beyond the pale.
"An ad that says it's the Department of Jihad is over the top and unjustified," said Jeff Sessions, R-AL, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Still, Sessions said he agreed with the thrust of the ad and its overall criticisms of Holder.
"Out of the hundreds of thousands of lawyers in America, they picked seven that cut their teeth defending terrorists and put them in key positions," Sessions said. "Yes, you can defend criminals and work at the department of justice, but it says something to me about why they've been so wrong on this issue."
Terror suspects are entitled to good, strong legal representation, Sessions added.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, said that McConnell has not and would not use the terms "al Qaeda 7" or "Department of Jihad."
Meanwhile, Graham is still working with the White House to come up with some way to build congressional-executive agreement on the handling of suspects who the administration may want to detain indefinitely without a charge, perhaps through new legislation.
"My latest is what I've been doing for four years, trying to find legal infrastructure that will help in court, meet the needs of justice, and deal with unique issues," such as what to do about cases for suspects who have successfully filed for writs of habeas corpus but who still are too dangerous to release, Graham said.
Levin said he was not directly involved in the negotiations over detainee policy but planned to meet with the White House soon. He said he wasn't sure if the president needed any additional specific legal authorities to hold prisoners indefinitely, beyond what's provided for in the Geneva Conventions.
"I leave it up to the executive branch to decide where people are tried and what they're tried for," Levin said.
Sessions said he was not on board with Graham's proposal and Senate Armed Services Committee ranking Republican John McCain, R-AZ, said the ball was in the administration's court, not Congress's.
"You have to have an overall policy," said McCain. "They have not developed one; they have been all over the map."
But Graham emphasized that there needs to be a legal basis for indefinite detention that can be defended as a policy coming from the American people through Congress, not just as an executive decree.
"If you're worried about what people think about America, you should," Graham said. "We're a nation at war, but we have to fight the war within our value system."
"Neither Senators Graham nor Levin offers any defense for Eric Holder's attempts to stonewall the public as to the identities of the al Qaeda lawyers working at the Justice Department," said Michael Goldfarb, advisor and spokesman for the group. "Senator Graham is working with the administration to close the detention center at Guantánamo Bay and Keep America Safe opposes those efforts."
The Iranian regime's blanket censorship of satellite and Internet communications last week was so effective, it led many to wonder, why didn't the U.S. government do more to stop it?
But despite strong statements from the podium in Foggy Bottom, the Obama White House appears to be treading carefully. Three sources tell The Cable that the National Security Council at first tried to prevent Jeff Trimble, executive director of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the independent agency that oversees the U.S. government's media operations including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America, from allowing VOA to attach its name to a statement last week with Deutsche Welle and the British Broadcasting Corporation protesting Iranian signal jamming.
Two sources close to the issue say the NSC first didn't want the VOA to join the statement if it mentioned "jamming." Later in the email chain, the NSC modified its position to object to the use of the term "intensified jamming."
According to Trimble, "The BBG wasn't asked not to participate in the statement."
"NSC is ok with our confirming that jamming continues, they ask that we not say for now that it has intensified," one Feb. 11 email from Trimble to several BBG staffers read.
Dan Austin, the president of VOA, acknowledged that changes had been made to the statement, but declined to discuss the NSC's role. He said that the U.S. government should not be interfering with the BBG's editorial content, but acknowledged that on the communications and policy side, the lines were less clear.
"If it doesn't violate the letter of the firewall, common sense dictates it violates the spirit," a BBG official told The Cable on background basis.
VOA did finally join the statement, and Trimble declined to confirm or deny that the White House pressured him. His spokeswoman sent The Cable a list of actions BBG has taken to combat Iranian censorship and referred to two previous BBG statements on the issue.
Meanwhile, the State Department says it is working furiously to increase its capabilities to confront the kind of censorship promulgated by Iran last week, bringing major Silicon Valley companies and top tech executives into the fold, and rushing to develop technologies that can overcome even the most draconian measures.
"We have gone from zero to 100 on this issue in the last 30 days, after inheriting an incredibly empty policy from the last administration," a State Department official told The Cable. "Does that mean that as of right now we are as far along as we intend to be in the not-distant future? Absolutely not."
The White House and NSC did not respond to queries by the time of publication.
As the Senate negotiates with the Obama administration over Iran sanctions, conflict over a French arms sale to Russia could get caught up in the mix.
The friction between top GOP leaders in Congress and the French government is over the Mistral-class amphibious assault ship, which the French are considering selling to the Russian Federation. As the biggest potential arms sale from a NATO country to Russia, U.S. lawmakers are worried this could set off a chain reaction of NATO arms sales to Russia. Plus, they share the concerns of Georgia and the Baltic states that the ship could allow Russia to increase its aggressiveness in its near abroad.
So what does this have to do with Iran sanctions? Well, The Cable brought you exclusively the story of how the State Department wants changes in the Chris Dodd Iran sanctions bill that's currently pending in the Senate. Basically, the Obama administration wants exemptions for countries that cooperate with American sanctions against Iran. France presumably would be at the top of the list.
But a senior GOP Senate aide told The Cable that Republicans negotiating over the Iran sanctions language would not allow an exemption for France or French companies if the Mistral deal goes through.
"Whether or not France gets an exemption could very well depend on whether France decides to sell this ship to Russia," the aide said, explaining that "it's possible to draw that exemption narrow enough so that the president could not possibly exempt France."
One obvious target is the French oil and gas giant Total, which could be caught up in the Dodd bill's restrictions on exporting refined petroleum products to Iran. Total is reportedly in negotiations right now with the Chinese regarding a joint project in Iran's South Pars region.
The petroleum restrictions are also at the core of a companion bill which passed overwhelmingly in the House last week.
Recently, American lawmakers have increased their interest and activity in the Mistral story.
Six GOP senators wrote to French Ambassador Pierre Vimont Monday to express their concerns about the potential sale. House Foreign Affairs ranking Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-FL, introduced a bill last week calling on the French to stand down from the deal.
In a letter dated Monday, obtained by The Cable, Vimont responded to the Senators, telling them basically that France would make its own decisions about selling the ship to the Russians, and thanking them for their interest.
"France has no reason to refuse considering a Russian request, which is being examined, and will be concluded, with all the necessary precautions as part of the French military equipment export control regulatory procedures," Vimont wrote.
Vimont also repeated various French defenses of the sale, as told to The Cable by French embassy spokesmen, which include that the ship has been used for humanitarian missions, has no really advanced technological elements, and would not present a credible threat to the NATO alliance.
But multiple Senate aides reached by The Cable felt unsatisfied with that response and pledged to fight on.
"If France decides to go ahead and do this, which the letter all but says they will, our options are limited but it will have consequences for the NATO alliance," one senate aide warned.
President Obama's trip to China gave Chinese citizens a window into the views and vision of the new American leader, but it also gave the world a window into the censorship and information control still practiced every day by the Chinese Communist Party.
Obama's town-hall meeting with handpicked Shanghai students, during which he praised the free flow of information and citizens' right to open government, was not broadcast outside of Shanghai.
And Obama's interview with China's Southern Weekend newspaper, which has a reputation for pushing the boundaries and the buttons of the government censors, disappeared from both hard copies and electronic versions of the paper.
On Thursday, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, which was established by Congress in 2000 to independently evaluate China, came out with a new report that lays out exactly how the Chinese government thinks and acts on Internet censorship and media control through its secretive but powerful "Propaganda Department."
The commission is recommending that Congress look into any agreement with American Internet companies that might give personal information to the Chinese government. The commission is also recommending that Congress investigate whether Chinese Internet censorship violates its obligations as a member of the World Trade Organization.
"The propaganda system of the People's Republic of China (PRC) exercises control of information as a form of state power. It does not limit itself simply to monitoring and censoring news but instead has developed into ‘a sprawling bureaucratic establishment, extending into virtually every medium concerned with the dissemination of information,'" the report states.
The Communist leadership sends policy directives down through the Propaganda Department, which then lords over all sorts of entities, including newspapers, radio outlets, TV and film companies, and even artist and musicians' associations. Personnel appointments at all sorts of cultural and academic institutions have to be vetted through the Propaganda Department, which works hard to conceal its role.
"The Propaganda Department is both a highly influential and highly secretive body: it is not listed on any official diagrams of the Chinese party-state structure, its street address and phone numbers are classified as state secrets, and there is no sign outside the Propaganda Department's main office complex in Beijing."
Meanwhile, the Chinese government operates what the report calls the most extensive and sophisticated Internet control system in the world. A filtering system called the "Golden Shield Project" uses technologies sold to the China by U.S. firms such as Cisco to keep out anti-government information. An estimated 30,000 internet monitors scour the Chinese Web to find violations and a loose network of independent Internet users get paid small amounts for posting content favorable to the PRC in what's known as the "Fifty Cent Party."
Media, educational, and cultural professionals in China also self-censor under fear of fines, demotion, termination, and imprisonment, the USCC reported. Foreign journalists are not outside the reach of such threats and intimidation.
Although the technologies have advanced, the Chinese government's drive to drown out outside voices is not new, said the commission's vice chairman, Larry Wortzel.
Wortzel was an official escort to then Secretary of State Madeline Albright and then First Lady Hillary Clinton to a 1995 women's conference in Beijing. "When Albright began her speech, seven provincial Chinese women's bands began playing music that sounded like cats being castrated inside a garbage can and the microphones failed," he remembered. "These are just the sorts of roadblocks that are institutionalized when you deal with the Chinese."
"The reality is, it is still an authoritarian government that still maintains tight access to information, as tight control as they are able to maintain," said commission chairwoman Carolyn Bartholomew.
U.S. taxpayer money that was supposed to be used for emergency purposes in Iraq was spent to buy a special advertising issue for an Anbar businessman in a British trade magazine, a U.S. government investigation has found.
FDI magazine, a bimonthly print publication and website owned by the Financial Times, nearly simultaneously showered Anbar Governor Qasim Abid Muhammad Hammadi Al Fahadawi with positive coverage, praising the dangerous Anbar province as "a hot place to invest in" and giving the businessman an award as "Global Personality of the Year for 2009."
FDI's award was announced three days before the "Special Report" on Anbar, entitled, "Bridge to the Future," was published on its website. The award was immediately praised by the U.S. military in Iraq, without mention of the U.S. funds spent on the supplement, and the website makes no mention of it having been paid for by the American government. Then again last month, FDI magazine Editor Courtney Fingar handed the governor another award naming Anbar province one of FDI magazine's "standout regions of the year."
Reached by The Cable, Fingar confirmed the U.S. government had spent "in the neighborhood of $50,000" on the special supplement but denied her magazine's content had been bought and paid for, calling the report on Anbar "balanced and accurate."
The investigation was disclosed in the October quarterly report of the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction (SIGIR), which is tasked with monitoring U.S. expenditures and projects in Iraq, but has so far not been publicly reported. Sources told The Cable that after the report is submitted to Congress, it's up to that body to determine if the payment violated funding rules or the law.
The 14-page special advertising edition, the SIGIR report found, was completely paid for by U.S. military money from what's called the Commanders Emergency Response Program (CERP).
"CERP was originally designed for urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction," said Deputy Inspector General Ginger Cruz told The Cable. "Over the past six years its use has been greatly expanded and expenditures such as promotional media pieces emphasize the importance of having clear criteria to ensure appropriate use of taxpayer dollars."
"It just seems odd at all parts from whatever angle you look at it," said one administration source who requested anonymity because of the sensitive relationship between SIGIR and the military. Another source called the use of emergency funding to advertize for the governor "bizarre."
Defense Department financial regulations define CERP funding as "designed to enable local commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan to respond to urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction requirements within their areas of responsibility by carrying out programs that will immediately assist the indigenous population."
Fingar told The Cable that that while "travelling to Anbar to write the supplement provided an opportunity to become aware of the developments in the province and the work of the Governor," the editorial credibility of the publication was not for sale.
"The decision to grant the award was made after my return from Anbar, based on my experiences there and without consultation with the U.S. government, Anbar governor or any external sources," she said, "The decision is an editorial one alone."
She admitted that the special edition of the publication was paid for by the U.S. government and claimed it had a clearly identified sponsor, but the website version of the supplement made no mention the U.S. government involvement.
per standard practice in the [business to business] specialist
publishing business, the cost of the report was underwritten by a
clearly identified sponsor -- in this case the US government -- but as
per the very strict editorial code of conduct under which we operate at
The Financial Times Ltd, reporting and editing were carried out independently and with no interference," said Fingar, who described her reporting as "balanced and accurate.'
"We stand by our coverage," she said.
The Defense Department did not respond to requests for comment.
From the transcript:
Q: President Bush framed the war on terror conceptually in a way that was very broad, "war on terror," and used sometimes certain terminology that the many people -- Islamic fascism. You've always framed it in a different way, specifically against one group called al Qaeda and their collaborators. And is this one way of --
THE PRESIDENT: I think that you're making a very important point. And that is that the language we use matters. And what we need to understand is, is that there are extremist organizations -- whether Muslim or any other faith in the past -- that will use faith as a justification for violence. We cannot paint with a broad brush a faith as a consequence of the violence that is done in that faith's name.
And so you will I think see our administration be very clear in distinguishing between organizations like al Qaeda -- that espouse violence, espouse terror and act on it -- and people who may disagree with my administration and certain actions, or may have a particular viewpoint in terms of how their countries should develop. We can have legitimate disagreements but still be respectful. I cannot respect terrorist organizations that would kill innocent civilians and we will hunt them down.
But to the broader Muslim world what we are going to be offering is a hand of friendship.
Q: Can I end with a question on Iran and Iraq then quickly? ...
Q: Will the United States ever live with a nuclear Iran? And if not, how far are you going in the direction of preventing it?
THE PRESIDENT: You know, I said during the campaign that it is very important for us to make sure that we are using all the tools of U.S. power, including diplomacy, in our relationship with Iran.
Now, the Iranian people are a great people, and Persian civilization is a great civilization. Iran has acted in ways that's not conducive to peace and prosperity in the region: their threats against Israel; their pursuit of a nuclear weapon which could potentially set off an arms race in the region that would make everybody less safe; their support of terrorist organizations in the past -- none of these things have been helpful.
But I do think that it is important for us to be willing to talk to Iran, to express very clearly where our differences are, but where there are potential avenues for progress. And we will over the next several months be laying out our general framework and approach. And as I said during my inauguration speech, if countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us.
UPDATE: My colleague Marc Lynch offers his take on the interview's signficance. "It's impossible to exaggerate the symbolic importance of Barack Obama choosing an Arabic satellite television station for his first formal interview as President -- and of taking that opportunity to talk frankly about a new relationship with the Muslim world based on mutual respect and emphasizing listening rather than dictating. His interview promises a genuinely fresh start in the way the United States interacts with the Arab world and a new dedication to public diplomacy. ..."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.