Friday, December 31, 2010


The State Department dodged a bullet last May, according to the WaPo.

In a WaPo story with a somewhat misleading headline, WikiLeaks cable dump reveals flaws of State Department's information-sharing tool, we learn that:

A few State Department officials expressed early concerns about unauthorized access to the [Net-Centric Diplomacy] database, but these worries mostly involved threats to individual privacy, department officials said. In practice, agency officials relied on the end-users of the data - mostly military and intelligence personnel - to guard against abuse.

The department was not equipped to assign individual passwords or perform independent scrutiny over the hundreds of thousands of users authorized by the Pentagon to use the database, said Kennedy, the undersecretary of state.

"It is the responsibility of the receiving agency to ensure that the information is handled, stored and processed in accordance with U.S. government procedures," he said.

Indeed. That's what is somewhat misleading about the headline, since the "flaws" in that info-sharing tool were introduced when the Army allowed PFC Manning to pretty much run amok with its classified computer databases.

But here's the bullet-dodging moment:

Although it is perhaps small comfort, the disclosures could have been worse. In May, the Obama administration's top intelligence officer asked the State Department to expand the amount of material available to other agencies through Net-Centric Diplomacy.

In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, then-Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair urged that the database include not only cables but also e-mails between State Department officials. Such a move would "ensure that critical information will reach the necessary readers across the government," Blair wrote.

Clinton refused.

Having cable traffic in the public view is bad enough, but imagine how much worse it would be if WikiLeaks had your e-mails as well.

That was close.


A correspondent who keeps track of these things notified me of a confluence of seemingly unrelated events that occurred in St. Petersburg, Russia, on December 28/29.

First, Bobby Farrell, front man of the musical group Boney M, died there while on tour. The UK Telegraph reports:

Farrell, 61, had performed in St Petersburg on Wednesday but had complained of breathing problems before and after his show, according to his agent John Seine. Staff at his hotel discovered him after he failed to answer a wake-up call.

Coincidentally, the date of his death, December 29, was the same as Grigori Rasputin, the infamous Russian mystic who was an adviser of the Russian Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra, who died in 1916. Rasputin however met a more brutal demise, as he was poisoned, shot four teams and thrown in the river before he eventually drowned.

Rasputin was also the name of a 1978 Boney M hit [here's the video], reaching number two in the British charts.

-- snip --

Boney M was the first Western music group invited by a Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev, to perform in the Soviet Union. A Soviet military plane flew the performers from London to Moscow, where they sang for an audience of 2,700 Russians in Red Square.

Okay, one coincidence is easy to accept. But now the coincidences multiply.

The evening before Farrell and Rasputin died, Anna Chapman, the protege of Vladimir Putin, Russia's current mad monk and St. Petersburg's favorite son [Putin and Rasputin, is there a little similarity there?] gave her first interview to Russian state-run television. She talked about her hopes to have a TV or movie career, and was presented with a pet lion.

See for yourself:

Now here's the second Rasputin tie-in. Rasputin had a daughter, Maria, who grew up in St. Petersburg and aspired to be an entertainer. After the Revolution she became a lion tamer, toured the United States, and settled down in Los Angeles. She died in a bungalow near the Hollywood Freeway.

I'll admit the destiny behind all of this is still a bit murky. Maybe it will take a vodka or two before the course of the future becomes clear.

H/T to The Snake's Mommy, and a happy new year!

Mexico's Drug Wars "Surpassing Usual, Proper, Or Specified Limits"

If you follow the news from Mexico you are probably numb from the unrelenting tragedy of the drug wars, in which more than 30,000 people have been killed since Mexican President Felipe Calderon began a crackdown on the narco cartels four years ago this month.

H/T to Blog del Narco for reporting on a commonplace administrative matter in one Mexican city that cut through the fog of statistics and made me wince.

Due to the excess of deaths (
"debido al exceso de muertes") that occurred in recent months in Sinaloa, the city many drug kingpins call home, the health department has run out of death certificates and is giving families of the dead copies of the certificates rather than originals.


Webster's definition of EXCESS:

(1) the state or an instance of surpassing usual, proper, or specified limits; superfluity; the amount or degree by which one thing or quantity exceeds another

(2) undue or immoderate indulgence; intemperance; also, an act or instance of intemperance

Thursday, December 30, 2010

I Didn't Want To Be The First ...

... to notice the news story about that guy who robbed a bank while wearing a Hillary Clinton mask. But, since John Brown's Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review has broken the ice, here it is:

A gun-toting man in a Halloween-style mask robbed a Sterling [Virginia] bank on Dec. 27, authorities said. It appeared that the man wore a Hillary Clinton mask, according to Kraig Troxell, spokesman for the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office.

Read the rest of the WaPo story here.

Now, here's my question - was the robber wearing a pantsuit?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

WikiLeaks? More Like Late'nWeak

WikiLeaks is a latecomer to the business of publishing U.S. diplomatic documents, and an amateurish one.

As the Office of the Historian reminds us in a DipNote post today, the State Department has been publishing its own official diplomatic documents for all the world to see for 150 years now. And, unlike WikiLeaks, it adds scholarly value to the raw documents via a documentary editorial process, and also gets them declassified. There's really no comparison.

The WikiLeaks controversy highlights a whole set of important questions about how the United States, or any government, conducts its affairs in the international arena. Similarly, the ongoing challenges of the day attest to the sweep of issues that must be negotiated among states. What, exactly, do diplomats do? How, precisely, is diplomacy conducted? How are particularly thorny diplomatic issues negotiated? How much information should be kept secret, and how much should be shared? What is the goal of foreign policy? What does “national security” mean, and who defines it?

-- snip --

The Civil War marked a key turning point in this tradition of public disclosure [which began in the 1790s], because the Department of State began disseminating foreign policy records on a regular basis. Documents have been published continuously since 1861, selected for their importance, annotated for accuracy, and bound into book-length volumes. Now called the Foreign Relations of the United States (or FRUS), this series celebrates its 150th year of publication in 2011. They are not stories written by historians who have digested the material and presented it in narrative form. Rather, after a thoroughgoing process that combines scholarly principles of documentary editing and responsible procedures for declassification review, the documents are allowed to speak for themselves, giving the reader the opportunity to experience the “you were there” feeling that comes from encountering the original material yourself.

-- snip --

By reading FRUS, anyone can gain insight into how diplomacy actually happens. Sometimes the negotiations become intense, with messages flying about the world on an hourly basis, multiple meetings, hushed corridor conversations, and deals struck after much bargaining. Some problems are resolved, while others are not. In some cases, long-held secrets are revealed. At other times the documents confirm what has long been believed but not previously proven ...... Mostly, however, one encounters the dilemmas facing ordinary people who must make immediate decisions with incomplete information, fearful of worst-case scenarios, and hopeful that they can craft a better world than they inherited. It is the stuff of mundane routine and high drama; taken altogether, it is a story of great consequence for the peoples of the world.

Read the whole thing here: “Foreign Relations of the United States” Series Tells the Story of U.S. Diplomacy.

Woman In a Burka Reviews "Burka Woman"

Some people - and by "some people" I mean my wife - misunderstand it when I laugh at a satirical treatment of women in strict Islamic societies, such as "Burka Woman", because they think I'm laughing at the women in the Burkas rather than at their societies.

So I am very pleased to report that an actual woman in a Burka also finds that video hilarious.

Check out the blogger Saudiwoman, who describes herself as "Saudi, genetically wahabi and a woman," and read the 20-plus comments to her post about "Burka Woman."
p.s. - Regarding the photo above, I consider it definitive proof that men in the Islamic world do indeed find women in Burkas sexually attractive. I took the photo in Riyadh, inside a barracks occupied by Saudi Ministry of Interior security forces. Some of the troops had taken photos of women from glossy magazines, cut out the (lavishly made-up) eyes, and taped them to the walls in their rooms. Not the rest of the women, just their eyes. Saudi pin-up girls.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Making Sense of Martyrs

H/T to Marisa at Making Sense of Jihad who has made available her unfinished magnum opus, Martyrs in a Time of Alienation - Complete Bloggers Cut:

I've received numerous requests for the full copy of Martyrs in a Time of Alienation, my never-ending analysis of a collection of 120 biographies of contemporary mujahideen published back in January 2008. I still believe that the document offers fascinating insights into the current "character" of the mujahideen networks operating along the Afghan-Pakistan border. One day I will finish it, but in order to satisfy my European readers -- apparently I have many! -- I am publishing my entire unfinished draft

Read it here.

As someone who has only scratched the surface of that large Af/Pak muj body of literature, I find this analysis extremely helpful. A study guide to our most intractable national security problem.

"Burka Woman, My Mystery Prize"

I've just discovered a comedian in Pakistan, Saad Haroon. Here's his rendition of "Burka Woman."

There are more videos at the link, mostly from Pakistan’s first English language comedy show "The Real News."

Surely All Movies of Significance, But Don’t Call Them Shirley

A committee of Big Brains at the Library of Congress have chosen twenty-five more "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant films to include in the National Film Registry this year. See the LOC press release below.

Looking at their picks, I'd agree they are all significant. But some are significantly silly (Airplane!), some are significantly embarrassing (Saturday Night Fever), and some are significant mainly for their commercial success (All the President's Men, and The Empire Strikes Back).

The one that I think is really significant is a World War II Army Signal Corps documentary about the treatment of combat veterans with psychological trauma, "Let There Be Light." You can watch it here. That film is one of three brilliant WWII documentaries that were directed by John Huston. The other two are "Battle of San Pietro" and "Report from the Aleutians," both of which I have owned and marveled over for many years. Unlike the other two, "Let There Be Light" was suppressed by the Army, ostensibly for reasons of patient privacy but very likely also out of a misplaced sense of embarrassment about the very topic of psychological casualties. Watching the film, I can't help but contrast the great psychological care that was provided for WWII veterans with that provided, or not, for the diagnosing and treating of brain injuries among present-day combat veterans.

Here is today's LOC press release:

The year 2010 will mark yet another December to remember in film preservation. Librarian of Congress James H. Billington today named 25 motion pictures—Hollywood classics, documentaries and innovative shorts reflecting genres from every era of American filmmaking—to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.

Spanning the period 1891-1996, the films named to the registry range from a rare glimpse of San Francisco before the 1906 earthquake and the political thriller "All the President’s Men" to George Lucas’ student film in 1967 and his sci-fi special-effects extravaganza "The Empire Strikes Back." Also included in the registry are lesser-known, but culturally vital films such as the black independent film "Cry of Jazz," Luis Valdez’s "I Am Joaquin" and John Huston’s war documentary "Let There Be Light," which was banned by the War Department for 35 years. This year’s selections bring the number of films in the registry to 550.

Under the terms of the National Film Preservation Act, each year the Librarian of Congress names 25 films to the National Film Registry that are "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant, to be preserved for all time. These films are not selected as the "best" American films of all time, but rather as works of enduring significance to American culture.

"As the nation’s repository of American creativity, the Library of Congress—with the support of the U.S. Congress—must ensure the preservation of America’s film patrimony," said Billington. "The National Film Registry is a reminder to the nation that the preservation of our cinematic creativity must be a priority because about half of the films produced before 1950 and as much as 90 percent of those made before 1920 have been lost to future generations."

Annual selections to the registry are finalized by the Librarian after reviewing hundreds of titles nominated by the public (this year 2,112 films were nominated) and having extensive discussions with the distinguished members of the National Film Preservation Board, as well as the Library’s motion-picture staff. The Librarian urges the public to make nominations for next year’s registry at the Film Board’s website (

In other news about the National Film Registry, "These Amazing Shadows," a documentary on the National Film Registry independently produced by Gravitas Docufilms, will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2011. More information can be found at the website [here].

And here are the National Film Registry's picks for 2010:

Airplane! (1980)

"Airplane!" emerged in 1980 as a sharply perceptive parody of the big-budget disaster films that dominated Hollywood during the 1970s. Characterized by a freewheeling style reminiscent of comedies of the 1920s, "Airplane!" introduced a much-needed deflating assessment of the tendency of theatrical film producers to push successful formulaic movie conventions beyond the point of logic. One of the film’s most noteworthy achievements was to cast actors best known for careers in melodrama productions, e.g., Leslie Nielsen, and provide them with opportunities to showcase their comic talents.

All the President’s Men (1976)

Based on the memoir by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein about political dirty tricks in the nation’s capital, "All the President’s Men" is a rare example of a best-selling book that was transformed into a hit theatrical film and a cultural phenomenon in its own right.

The Bargain (1914)

After beginning his career on the stage (where he originated the role of Messala in "Ben-Hur" in 1899), William S. Hart found his greatest fame as the silent screen’s most popular cowboy. His 1914 "The Bargain," directed by Reginald Barker, was Hart’s first film and made him a star. The second Hart Western to be named to the National Film Registry, the film was selected because of Hart’s charisma, the film’s authenticity and realistic portrayal of the Western genre and the star’s good/bad man role as an outlaw attempting to go straight.

Cry of Jazz (1959)

"Cry of Jazz" is a 34-minute, black-and-white short subject that is now recognized as an early and influential example of African-American independent filmmaking. Director Ed Bland, with the help of more than 60 volunteer crew members, intercuts scenes of life in Chicago’s black neighborhoods with interviews of interracial artists and intellectuals. "Cry of Jazz" argues that black life in America shares a structural identity with jazz music. With performance clips by the jazz composer, bandleader and pianist Sun Ra and his Arkestra, the film demonstrates the unifying tension between rehearsed and improvised jazz. "Cry of Jazz" is a historic and fascinating film that comments on racism and the appropriation of jazz by those who fail to understand its artistic and cultural origins.

Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB (1967)

This 15-minute film, produced by George Lucas while a student at the University of Southern California, won the 1968 United States National Student Film Festival drama award and inspired Warner Bros. studio to sign Lucas to produce the expanded feature length "THX 1138" under the tutelage of Francis Ford Coppola. This film has evoked comparisons to George Orwell’s "1984" and impressed audiences with its technical inventiveness and cautionary view of a future filled with security cameras and omnipresent scrutiny.

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

The much anticipated continuation of the "Star Wars" saga, Irvin Kershner’s 1980 sequel sustained the action-adventure and storytelling success of its predecessor and helped lay the foundation for one of the most commercially successful film series in American cinematic history.

The Exorcist (1973)

"The Exorcist" is one of the most successful and influential horror films of all time. Its influence, both stylistically and in narrative, continues to be seen in many movies of the 21st century. The film’s success, both commercially and cinematically, provides a rare example of a popular novel being ably adapted for the big screen.

The Front Page (1931)

"The Front Page" is a historically significant early sound movie that successfully demonstrates the rapid progress achieved by Hollywood filmmakers in all creative professions after realizing the capabilities of sound technology to invent new film narratives. The film is based on one of the best screenplays of the 1930s by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. It was directed by Lewis Milestone and featured great performances by Pat O’Brien, Adolphe Menjou, Mary Brian, Edward Everett Horton, Walter Catlett, Mae Clark, Slim Summerville, Matt Moore and Frank McHugh.

Grey Gardens (1976)

"Grey Gardens" is an influential cinema verité documentary by Albert and David Maysles that has provided inspiration for creative works on the stage and in film. Through its close and sometimes disturbing look at the eccentric lives of "Big Edie" and "Little Edie" Beale, two women (cousins of former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy) living in East Hampton, N.Y., the film documents a complex and difficult mother-daughter relationship and a vanished era of decayed gentility.

I Am Joaquin (1969)

"I Am Joaquin" is a 20-minute short film based on an epic poem published by Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales in 1967. Gonzales’ poem weaves together the long tangled roots of his Mexican, Spanish, Indian and American parentage and a past mythology of pre-Columbian cultures. The film is important to the history and culture of Chicanos in America, spotlighting the challenges they have endured because of discrimination. Luis Valdez, often described as the father of Chicano theater, produced and directed "I Am Joaquin" as a project of Teatro Campesino (the Farmworkers Theater), which he founded in 1965 to inform, encourage and entertain Chicano farm workers. Valdez later directed the Chicano-themed "Zoot Suit" in 1981, a retelling of the early 1940s Los Angeles race riots, and "La Bamba" in 1987.

It’s a Gift (1934)

The popularity and influence of W.C. Fields continues with each succeeding generation, distinguishing him as one of the greatest American comedians of the 20th century. "It’s a Gift" has survived a perilous preservation history and is the third Fields film to be named to the National Film Registry. The film’s extended comic sequence featuring Baby LeRoy, and depicting Fields’ travails while trying to sleep on the open-air back porch of a rooming house, was adapted from one of his most successful live theatrical sketches.

Let There Be Light (1946)

Director John Huston directed three classic war documentaries for the U.S. Army Signal Corps during the period of 1943-46: "Report from the Aleutians," "Battle of San Pietro" and "Let There Be Light." "Let There Be Light" was blocked from public distribution by the War Department for 35 years because no effort was made during filming to disguise or mask the identities of combat veterans suffering from various forms of psychological trauma. The film provides important historical documentation of the efforts of psychiatric professionals during World War II to care for emotionally wounded veterans and prepare them to return to civilian life. "Let There Be Light" was filmed by cinematographer Stanley Cortez and its score was composed by Dimitri Tiomkin.

Lonesome (1928)

"Lonesome" is one of the few American feature films directed by the gifted Hungarian-born filmmaker and scientist Paul Fejös (1897-1963). The film has been recognized for its success as both a comic melodrama (about young lovers who become separated during the chaos of a thunderstorm at Coney Island) and for its early use of dialogue and two-color Technicolor. The film was restored by the George Eastman House and has found renewed popularity with repertory and film-festival audiences.

Make Way for Tomorrow (1937)

"Make Way for Tomorrow" is a sensitive, progressive, issue-oriented Depression-era film by director Leo McCarey. It concerns an aged and indigent married couple forced by their self-absorbed children to live separately in order to save money. The final scene, depicting the husband and wife parting company in a train station, counters the belief that late-30s Hollywood films always had happy endings. "Make Way for Tomorrow" deftly explores themes of retirement, poverty, generational dissonance and the nuances of love and regret at the end of a long married life.

Malcolm X (1992)

Director Spike Lee’s biographical film about the life of civil rights leader Malcom X was produced in the classical Hollywood style. Featuring an Oscar-nominated performance by Denzel Washington, the film exemplifies the willingness of the American film industry in the early ‘90s to support the making of mainstream films about earlier generations of social leaders.

McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971)

"McCabe and Mrs. Miller" is an aesthetically acclaimed film that demonstrates why the Western genre, especially when reinvented by acclaimed Robert Altman, endured in the 20th century as a useful model for critically examining the realities of contemporary American culture. The film’s credits include notable cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond and a music score by Leonard Cohen.

Newark Athlete (1891)

Produced May-June 1891, this experimental film was one of the first made in America at the Edison Laboratory in West Orange, N.J. The filmmakers were W.K.L. Dickson and William Heise, both of whom were employed as inventors and engineers in the industrial research facility owned by Thomas Edison. Heise and especially Dickson made important technical contributions during 1891-1893, leading to the invention of the world’s first successful motion picture camera—the Edison Kinetograph—and to the playback device required for viewing early peepshow films—the Edison Kinetoscope.

Our Lady of the Sphere (1969)

A leading figure in the California Bay Area independent film movement, Lawrence Jordan has crafted more than 40 experimental, animation and dramatic films. Jordan uses "found" graphics to produce his influential animated collages, noting that his goal is to create "unknown worlds and landscapes of the mind." Inspired by "The Tibetan Book of the Dead," "Our Lady of the Sphere" is one of Jordan’s best-known works. It is a surrealistic dream-like journey blending baroque images with Victorian-era image cut-outs, iconic space age symbols, various musical themes and noise effects, including animal sounds and buzzers.

The Pink Panther (1964)

This comic masterpiece by Blake Edwards introduced both the animated Pink Panther character in the film’s opening-and-closing credit sequences, and actor Peter Sellers in his most renowned comic role as the inept Inspector Clouseau. The influence of the great comics of the silent era on Edwards and Sellers is apparent throughout the film, which is recognized for its enduring popularity. The musical score composed by Henry Mancini is also memorable.

Preservation of the Sign Language (1913)

Presented without subtitles, "Preservation" is a two-minute film featuring George Veditz, onetime president of the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) of the United States, demonstrating in sign language the importance of defending the right of deaf people to sign as opposed to verbalizing their communication. Deafened by scarlet fever at the age of eight, Veditz was one of the first to make motion-picture recordings of American Sign Language. Taking care to sign precisely and in large gestures for the cameras, Veditz chose fiery biblical passages to give his speech emotional impact. In some of his films, Veditz used finger spelling so his gestures could be translated directly into English in venues where interpreters were present. On behalf of the NAD, Veditz made this film specifically to record sign language for posterity at a time when oralists (those who promoted lip reading and speech in lieu of sign language) were gaining momentum in the education of the hearing-impaired. The film conveys one of the ways that deaf Americans debated the issues of their language and public understanding during the era of World War I.

Saturday Night Fever (1977)

Produced long after the heyday of classic Hollywood musicals, this cinematic cultural touchstone incorporated set-piece music and dance numbers into a story of dramatic realism. With its success, "Saturday Night Fever" proved that the American movie musical could be reinvented. The film’s soundtrack, featuring hits by the Bee Gees and others, sold millions of copies and gave musical life to a movie significant for much more than just its celebration of the mid-70s disco phenomenon.

Study of a River (1996)

Experimental filmmaker Peter Hutton is best known for his thoughtful and beautifully photographed ruminations on the co-existence of urban areas and natural waterways. His most renowned films focused on the Hudson River. "Study of a River" is a meditative examination of the winter cycle of the Hudson River over a two-year period, showing its environment, ships plying its waterways, ice floes, and the interaction of nature and civilization. Some critics have described Hutton’s work as reminiscent of the 19th century artist Thomas Cole and other painters of the Hudson River School.

Tarantella (1940)

"Tarantella" is a five-minute color, avant-garde short film created by Mary Ellen Bute, a pioneer of visual music and electronic art in experimental cinema. With piano accompaniment by Edwin Gershefsky, "Tarantella" features rich reds and blues that Bute uses to signify a lighter mood, while her syncopated spirals, shards, lines and squiggles dance exuberantly to Gershefsky’s modern beat. Bute produced more than a dozen short films between the 1930s and the 1950s and once described herself as a "designer of kinetic abstractions" who sought to "bring to the eyes a combination of visual forms unfolding with the … rhythmic cadences of music." Bute’s work influenced many other filmmakers working with abstract animation during the ‘30s and ‘40s, and with experimental electronic imagery in the ‘50s.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945)

Elia Kazan’s first feature film, based on the novel by Betty Smith, focuses on a theme that he returned to many times during his film career: the struggle of a weak or ill-prepared individual to survive against powerful forces. A timely film, "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" was released at the end of World War II, helping to remind post-war audiences of the enduring importance of the American dream.

A Trip Down Market Street (1906)

"A Trip Down Market Street" is a 13-minute "actuality" film recorded by placing a movie camera on the front of a cable car as is proceeds down San Francisco’s Market Street. A fascinating time capsule from over a 100 years ago, the film showcases the details of daily life in a major American city, including the fashions, transportations and architecture of the era. The film was originally thought to have been made in 1905, but historian David Kiehn, who examined contemporary newspapers, weather reports and car license plates recorded in the film, later suggested that "A Trip Down Market Street" was likely filmed just a few days before the devastating earthquake on April 18, 1906.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas In Washington

Dance Until Curfew

An Afghan dance troupe performs the Attan, a traditional Afghan folk dance, during the U.S. Air Force’s 63rd birthday celebration, Sept. 19, 2010, at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Maybe I was too quick to dismiss the idea of folk dance as a tool of military psychological operations (see old school PSYOPS), because our coalition partners in Afghanistan have been accused of using just that to fight the Taliban.

Thanks to WikiLeaks, we know about certain comments made by former Australian Prime Minister Rudd:

Despite regular assurances from the Federal Government that gains are being made, it has been reported that secret US embassy cables show Australia has concerns about the nine-year war in which 21 Diggers have died.

The cables, obtained by WikiLeaks, also reveal more embarrassing revelations about former prime minister Kevin Rudd.

It was reported Mr Rudd described the contribution of France and Germany to fighting the Taliban as "organising dance festivals" and confided that Afghanistan "scares the hell" out of him.

He says that France and Germany are running plays out of the U.S. Army's old PSYOPS manual? Well, I hope they are. It worked in Hostland, and it could be just the thing to make the Pashtun lighten up.

I say go for it. In the words of Otis B. Driftwood (Groucho Marx, in Night at the Opera): "Let joy be unconfined. Let there be dancing in the streets, drinking in the saloons and necking in the parlor."

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Old School PSYOPS

This is a great find from the Internet Archives: a U.S. Army training film from 1968 titled Psychological Operations in Support of Internal Defense and Development Assistance Programs.

In Part 1, the U.S. Ambassador to Hostland has a frank exchange of views with a couple shifty-looking local officials who request the USG's assistance with putting down an insurgency. (Check out the note-taking, coffee-serving, embassy secretary.)

The call goes out to Lieutenant Colonel Hamilton, psychological operations staff adviser. LTC Hamilton consults with the embassy's USIS and USAID representatives, and reads into the local situation. He learns that "as with most countries that find themselves in the midst of a Communist inspired insurgency, Hostland has a population with a doubtful sense of national unity."

In Part II, LTC Hamilton shows the locals how it's done. He orders up a printing team, a radio team, and lots of loudspeakers, and goes to work getting the Hostland peasant mind right.

He firms up that weak sense of national unity by sending folk dancers out to tour the provinces (it's just that simple). Next, he does localized development programs, especially small ones since "one finished well is worth far more than an unfinished dam.” His highest priorities are internal security and medical attention for civilians, because the Hostlandian civilian must see that his welfare and safety are the major interest of his government before he will "perceive things from the desired viewpoint.”

After just half an hour the situation has turned around, and the peasants are favoring the military over the insurgents. Really, it makes me wonder why we haven't made more progress in Afghanistan by now.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

An Apt But Too Obvious Acronym

The WaPo reports that:

The CIA has launched a task force to assess the impact of the exposure of thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables and military files by WikiLeaks.

Officially, the panel is called the WikiLeaks Task Force. But at CIA headquarters, it's mainly known by its all-too-apt acronym: W.T.F.

I like the acronym, but I have to take away points for lack of subtlety. The best ironic acronyms are the ones that not everybody gets.

Way back in the Cold War days, my office created a new branch to handle Congressionally-mandated certifications of newly constructed embassy office buildings. ('Certification' is the process by which the Department raises its right hand and swears to Congress that a new embassy has no bugs, unlike the notorious one that was built in Moscow during the 1980s.) We made up the branch name "Certification and Core Chancery Policy" so that we would have "CCCP" in our office symbol. We thought that was amusing since the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, in Russian, is spelt Союз Советских Социалистических Республик.

Not everybody got the reference. We were on the Department's organization chart with an office symbol of XX/XX/CCCP for about a month before our Principal DAS made us change the name to something more bland.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

December 21, 1988

It was twenty-two years ago today that a U.S. airliner was destroyed in an act of state-sponsored terrorism, resulting in the deaths of 270 people.

Among the victims were: Matthew Gannon, an officer assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Beirut (and the brother of now-retired DS Agent Dick Gannon, a survivor of the 1983 Beirut Embassy bombing); DS Special Agent Daniel Emmett O'Connor, a security officer assigned to U.S. Embassy Beirut; and DS Special Agent Ronald Albert Lariviere, a security officer assigned to U.S. Embassy Nicosia.

Maybe I just missed it, but I didn't see any mention of this anniversary in any U.S. news media today, or in any DOS press release or official blog posting. Not so much as a tweet.


Update at 7:50 PM - There is now a State Department tweet:

Today is 22nd anniversary of #PanAm flight 103, destroyed by a bomb over Lockerbie, Scotland killing 259 on board, 11 on ground. #StateBrief

Saturday, December 18, 2010

OMG! RT@Fort Sumter:taking cannon fire from harbor batteries, :-Z

It's Old History in New Media as the WaPo reports breaking news of the Civil War in messages of up to 140 characters:

The Post is tweeting the events leading to the secession of South Carolina 150 years ago, in the words of the people who lived it - from journals, letters, records and newspapers.

Follow it here.

I guess that sort of thing is too gimmicky for history purists, but I like it. I also like the growing trend of turning personal contemporary accounts into blogs, such as the Orwell Diaries.

The memoirs of General Ulysses S. Grant, which were written around an extensive collection of his letters and field orders, would be another great candidate for bloggerization.

Friday, December 17, 2010

After Obama's Election "the Plaque Stirred"

Wow, that's a really big plaque. Judging by the scale of the thing, it might be part of the Lincoln or Jefferson memorials. But, no. The WaPo's Al Kamen reports it is the centerpiece of a shrine that USAID erected to first lady Hillary Clinton back in the day:

Twelve years ago, the U.S. Agency for International Development turned its lobby in the Ronald Reagan Building into a shrine to then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. Its centerpiece was an 800-pound bronze plaque, 6 feet wide by about 9 feet high, bolted to a marble wall.

The plaque, which cost $27,388, plus tens of thousands more for shipping and installation, had an engraved excerpt from a speech she gave about "expanding the circle of human dignity."

Then there was this fulsome bit from the USAID administrator at the time, J. Brian Atwood: "May all who pass through these portals recognize the invaluable contribution to worldwide development made by the First Lady of the United States, Hillary Rodham Clinton."

-- snip --

The plaque was sent to a government warehouse in Maryland, where, as we wrote at the time, it lay "peacefully . . . waiting, waiting" for the next eight years [of the George W. Bush administrations].

But after President Obama's election, the plaque stirred.

It began positively quivering on Jan. 23, 2009, when Secretary of State Clinton went to USAID and mentioned that she had been "quite honored upon leaving the White House to have a plaque put up in the lobby recognizing my work."

"And if anybody knows where that plaque is - [laughter and applause] - you know," Clinton continued with a playful smile, looking at someone just off the stage to her right, "I'd just love to see it again. [Laughter.]"

The USAID people got right to work on that, but they couldn't displace a memorial to fallen employees. So, for an estimated $30,000, the agency, in the fall of 2009, was preparing to schlep the plaque from storage to put it up on another wall in the lobby.

After our inquiry, however, Clinton said she wanted no public funds used to put the plaque back up. And what she said that January "was a joke - not an RFP," or request for proposal, a Clinton aide said.

"We took some preparatory steps," a USAID statement said, such as ripping down part of a marble wall, "but have decided not to proceed with re-hanging the plaque."

But now they've apparently raised the money (not clear from whom), because workers have been on scaffolding preparing the wall to hold the plaque.

I appreciate a good cult of personality as much as the next small "r" republican. So I'm pleased to see that Foreign Policy's Madam Secretary blog is also unenamored:

Thank goodness private -- not public -- funds are apparently being used to rehang the plaque (on another wall in the lobby, so as not to disturb the memorial). And nothing personal against Clinton, but no living person should be glorified in this manner. (As for someone who's deceased and whose legacy has stood the test of time, that's another matter.)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Brother, Can You Paradigm?

Consumer Notice: This post is certified 100% free of Matters of Official Concern that are not referenced from publicly available sources of information.

Browsing the new QDDR today, I saw one little item that especially piqued my interest. The executive summary says that we will:

Establish a new global standard for risk management that protects our people while allowing them to meet the demands of more dynamic missions.

That sounds good to me. I am all in favor of risk management, even though the term is often used in the Department as a delicate way to say 'watered-down security.'

Looking through the rest of the QDDR, I was disappointed to see how little substance there was to follow up on the promise of the summary. The heart of it is in a single paragraph, which is quoted below in its entirety with my comments interspersed:

Establish a new paradigm for risk management.

If we have any kind of paradigm now for making decisions about risk and security, it is a standards-based one. There is definitely value in having uniform security standards when your organization is spread out over 260-some missions around the world and rotates its personnel every few years, such as ensuring equitable treatment of all the Department's employees, but uniformity for its own sake makes it impossible to seek cost-benefit efficiencies or to align limited resources with your greatest needs. That is why I favor taking (calculated) risks over mindlessly following standards.

By the end of 2010, the Secretary will convene a senior level committee from relevant State and USAID offices, including both management and policy officials, to begin a top-to-bottom review of how we manage risk overseas.

They had better hustle if they intend to meet that deadline. Has that committee already been formed and I haven't heard about it?

This review will lead to a comprehensive and responsible construct for managing risk that allows our personnel the flexibility they need to complete mission objectives within a country and to establish new platforms for outreach beyond the embassy and capital.

The part about “new platforms for outreach” refers to the American Spaces initiatives and other new public diplomacy vehicles, and those are addressed elsewhere in the QDDR.

The review will develop a new conceptual approach to balancing risk acceptability with risk mitigation that will be conveyed by State Department leadership to all Chiefs of Mission;

If I read this right, "risk acceptability" refers to waivers of security standards, and "risk mitigation" refers to compensatory measures taken to reduce risk. At present, when a post requests a waiver, the COM provides a statement of concurrence, the Regional Security Officer provides a separate statement about mitigation, and the decision to waive or not is made in Washington by the DS Assistant Secretary or, in certain cases, by the SecState.

examine standards and mechanisms for determining security restrictions and granting security waivers within a country, particularly those that affect travel and diplomatic platforms outside the embassy; consider the appropriate allocation of security decision making authorities between Washington and the field;

I hope this means that waiver decision-making will be pushed down to the level of Chiefs of Mission. If COMs have to get their fingerprints all over waiver decisions, then perhaps the A/S and SecState will merely need to endorse them afterward?

examine the legislative mandate of Accountability Review Boards to determine whether specific revisions should be requested to meet the new risk management paradigm developed in the review.

Mandates regarding ARBs will need to be tweaked to make that new "appropriate allocation of security decision-making" work. And while they're at it, they should look again at the legislative mandates for minimum setback distances and collocation of offices as well, since those are at the center of most high-profile waiver decisions, especially the ones concerning public diplomacy outreach platforms.

At the end of the process, we will recommend revisions to the President’s authorization letter to Chiefs of Mission that incorporate the new risk mitigation paradigm with mission objectives.

Assuming this isn't just a lot of managerial happy-talk, and if it doesn't die a horrible Death by Committee, a new risk mitigation paradigm would be a most welcome change.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

So Glad Our Side Won the Cold War

After listening to the lyrical stylings of Vladimir Putin for another day, I've decided to cleanse my palate with some post-Cold War music.

The Leningrad Cowboys (a Finnish group) backed up by The Red Army Choir (not a put-on, but the actual Red Army Choir) is just the thing.

I hope Lenin is rolling over in his mausoleum.

What Do You Get When You Cross Google With GPO? GooooPo?

E-Readers are hot items at Christmas, and if you needed yet another reason to get one, here it is. You can buy government documents through Google's eBookstore. I can't wait!

Looking for new titles to stock your mobile reading device? How about a copy of the 2011 federal budget? Or a history of the space race?

Hundreds of federal publications are now available for download and purchase through the new Google eBookstore, the search engine giant and Government Printing Office are set to announce Tuesday. Ultimately about 1,800 government publications will be available for download and purchase, GPO said.

The partnership, which quietly launched last week, allows e-Book fans to search for and buy copies of documents ranging from the public papers of President Obama's administration to an official history of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Potential e-readers can purchase government titles online at prices lower than the print versions, the GPO said. A print copy of Obama's 2011 federal budget proposal costs $77.00, for example, but a Google eBook version sells for $9.99. (A PDF version of the document is free.)

Google began converting millions of books and documents into electronic format in 2004 and is bearing the costs of converting the government documents, GPO said.

The E-Reader I use (a Sony) can handle PDF documents, so I'll be able to e-read federal budget proposals free of charge. Lucky me!

Monday, December 13, 2010

RIP Richard Holbrooke

The New Yorker had a fine profile of Holbrooke last year, The Last Mission, which seems to have provided material for many of the obituaries running today, rather like a civic requiem.

I particularly like this sentence, which set Holbrooke in generational context:

So the odd problem out [Af/Pak] was also the most important one, and for guidance the youthful new President had turned to one of the last icons of an earlier era, in which American greatness was assumed, the country’s diplomacy had expansive ambitions, and its foreign policy was dominated by a few men—among them Clark Clifford, Maxwell Taylor, Averell Harriman, and Dean Rusk, all of whom had been Holbrooke’s patrons.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine

Kommie Karaoke: He Found His Threel on Blyubirry Kheel

First, this Slavisied rendition of the Louis Armstrong classic is going directly to my I-Pod. I've been humming it all day.

Second, haven't we already seen this, in a way? Big Mafiosi and established dictators seem to always take a musical turn eventually. Like this guy, for instance.

Imagine that it was the Godfather, instead of Mama Corleone, who had gotten up to sing at his daughter's wedding. Every Underboss, Capo, and Button man in the family would have applauded like his life depended on it. And Johnny Fontaine would have applauded the loudest, just like those over-the-hill Hollywood types on Putin's guest list did. (Yes, I am thinking of Sharon Stone.)

Actually, that's exactly what the setting for this musical evening with Vladimir Putin reminds me of - a wedding. Albeit, a Polish wedding in a VFW Hall basement.

Mind you, that's not a diss. I've been to many such occasions. Backbone of the middle class, salt of the earth, sturdy yeomanry, and all that. Moreover, one is free to criticize the DJ at a Polish wedding without fear of being doused with polonium-210, and you can't say the same about critics of Putin.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

That Weird POTII Press Conference

I must have watched this video clip three times while dawdling over breakfast this morning. I'm sure it would be slightly confusing at any time of day - watching it, you keep checking to see if it's an old press conference from ten years ago, or you wonder whether Obama has called in a substitute POTUS over the holidays, or you remark to yourself that Saturday Night Live parodies have never been better - but the best time of day to watch it is when you're already slightly groggy and slow on the uptake.

MSNBC has nominated its picks for the most awkward parts of this strange presser. From 1 to 10, they are:

1. Bill Clinton’s facial expression while President Obama is talking

Bubba looked so sour you'd think someone just killed his dog. Obama says he “just had a terrific conversation with the former president” but the former president's face sure doesn’t sell it.

2. Obama’s Christmas party excuse

“I’m going to let him speak very briefly and I have to go over and do one more Christmas Party,” Obama says, turning the mic over to the former president.

3. Clinton's abandonment cry

Even if he’s actually happy to take over, Clinton makes it seem like he feels abandoned. “First of all I feel awkward being here and now you’re going to leave me all by myself,” he says.

4. Wait, is Clinton still president?

This brings us to the core awkwardness: The fact that Clinton is doing a White House press conference 10 years after he left office.

5. [My favorite] Clinton keeps talking ... and talking and Obama just stands there

As if it isn't weird enough that Obama said he had to leave, but then didn't, Clinton keeps blabbing away about taxes and the economy while President Obama stands there looking like a demoted (or is it relieved?) beauty queen.

6. Obama’s bizarre departure

Seemingly tired of watching Clinton speak, Obama says he has to go because the first lady is waiting. “Here’s what I’ll say, I’ve been keeping the first lady waiting for about 10 minutes. You’re in good hands.” (Find it at 10:33 here.) He then offers a strange smile.

7. Clinton telling Obama to “please go”

As Obama exited the room, Clinton offered “help me,” presumably in reference to Obama’s declaration that Gibbs would call last question. (See it at 10:38 here). But then it got weirder as Clinton told the president, “I don’t want to make her mad, please go.” Who can
publicly order the president to "please go" other than a previous president?

8. Clinton talking for nearly 30 more minutes without Obama

We didn't know that presidents could call "sub" like you do in a soccer game. But that's sure what it felt like.

9.White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs never called last question -- Clinton did.

President Obama said Press Secretary Robert Gibbs would call last question, but he never did. Instead, Clinton ended the long, bizarre press conference. Did the White House lose control? Was it intended as a fun game of Chinese fire drill, White House style? Maybe, maybe not, but we can already hear conservative radio have a LOT of fun with this

10. The fact that Clinton just delivered what will likely be the most-watched policy statement of the year

Will this go viral? Yes. In other words, a former president just delivered what will will be the Obama administration's most-watched economy policy statement of the year. Because the current president went to a Christmas party ... or wait was it to meet his wife?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Is Not Going Anywhere For A While

Here's another nail in the coffin of the administration's stated goal of closing Gitmo.

Congress's 2011 Full Year Funding Resolution, dated December 7, says:

(SEC. 1116) None of the funds made available in this or any prior Act may be used to transfer, release, or assist in the transfer or release to or within the United States, its territories, or possessions Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or any other detainee who is not a United States citizen or a member of the Armed Forces of the United States; and is or was held on or after June 24, 2009, at the United States Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by the Department of Defense.

So neither KSM nor any other detainee will be transferred to the USA. And, after yesterday's report on the re-engagement of former detainees in terrorism, the administration would be on exceedingly thin ice if it transferred any more to other countries.

Read the whole resolution here.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

It's Not His Bag, Baby

Julian Assange is looking very Austin Powers International Man of Mystery-ish in the photo that accompanied the UK Daily Mail's account of his Swedish legal problems. That's quite a Swinging 60s Carnaby Street kind of thing going on with that jacket.

Maybe emulating Powers was the cause of those problems, since Austin believed that "only sailors use condoms, baby."

Gitmo Catch-and-Release Confirmed

The Director of National Intelligence released this report tonight. The key paragraph reads:

As of 1 October 2010, 598 detainees have been transferred out of Department of Defense (DoD) custody at the U.S. Naval Base, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (GTMO) detention facility. The Intelligence Community assesses that 81 (13.5 percent) are confirmed and 69 (11.5 percent) are suspected of reengaging in terrorist or insurgent activities after transfer. Of the 150 former GTMO detainees assessed as confirmed or suspected of reengaging in terrorist or insurgent activities, the Intelligence Community assesses that 13 are dead, 54 are in custody, and 83 remain at large.

The WaPo report on this development quotes an administration official trying to give it a favorable spin:

But the administration official pointed out that the last administration "knew of recidivism, too, but went ahead because they, too, wanted to close" Guantanamo.

"Our record is still good, and the effort to close Gitmo is still worth it," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the report publicly.

Give it up, Mr. Anonymous Official. The attempt to close Gitmo has gone exactly nowhere for two years, and after today's report it is finally dead. And not just plain dead. To judge by the early reactions coming from key members of Congress, it is Sonny-Corleone-at-the-toll-booth dead.

Remember, Or Not

Bing knows that something memorable happened on December 7.

But over at Google it was just another day.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Best Video Bits of Nigel Farage

I just love watching this euroskeptical Englishman verbally pummel his fellow European Parliamentarians, and especially his poor whipping boy, the hapless Mr. Van Rompuy.

Age Cannot Wither Her, Nor Custom Stale Her Infinite ... Management Advice

H/T to the History News Network for linking to this entertaining review of the leadership secrets of Cleopatra VIII, "a papyrus primer for modern-day Washington."

I'd always thought Cleopatra was basically a drama queen, all about the perfumed royal barge and the asp. But it turns out she was as ruthless as Tony Soprano and as Machiavellian as Henry Kissinger on his best day. Who knew?

Priced to Move - The Unabomber's Montana Retreat

Property No. 18-1011 is on the block, and the asking price has been reduced to the low, low, sum of $69,500.

Own a piece of infamous US history! This 1.4 acre property located in Lincoln, Montana was once owned by the Unabomber. A lot of history goes with this location. Close to the Bob Marshall and Scape Goat Wilderness Areas, as well as the Blackfoot and Missouri Rivers where you can enjoy great fishing and hunting. This is a one of a kind property and is obviously very secluded. Power and water not on the property but are available. Don`t miss this one! Call John at 406-899-8723. $69,500.

"Obviously very secluded" indeed, although not secluded enough for the previous owner, which is why he now resides in a nice building that does have heat and indoor plumbing.

The link has several photos of the property. The only interesting one is of a tree in which someone left the graffito "FBI." That's a keeper.

What's next on the auction block? Charlie Manson's old bong and Beatles albums?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

My Christmas Shopping Just Got Easier

The "Genuine Belgian Damp Rag" Tea Towel is available here.

"I don't want to be rude but, really, you have the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk and the question I want to ask is: Who are you?" - UK Independence Party Leader Nigel Farage, 24th February 2010.

Here's an encore presentation of that memorable verbal smack-down:

Wiki-Warm Up (611 Down, 249,389 to Go)

Unredacted points out the depressing fact that:

It’s day five of the wikileaks cable dump and (as of this writing) 611 cables have been released (less than half of one percent of the total 250,000).

To be precise, 611 cables is only .00244 percent of the total. At that rate, it will take EIGHT YEARS to get to the end.

On the brighter side, Unredacted also asked the fascinating question:

Imagine if Prince William [a reference to 08 BISHKEK 1095] and Joe Biden were ever in a room together.

Surely, that fated meeting must have already happened somewhere. Two of the greatest blowhards on the world scene today simply have to have encountered each other at some reception or conference or other function. The poor note taker at that marathon gabfest probably came down with severe tendinitis in his or her pen hand. Would somebody please leak that cable? I'd love to read it the next time I have a free week.

In another post, Unredacted linked to the telephone conversation in which President Nixon was informed by Al Haig of the Pentagon Papers leak. Nixon's reaction was to fire people:

I’d just start right at the top and fire some people. I mean whoever – whatever department it came out of I’d fire the top guy.

Unredacted goes on to say that "In Obama’s case, it would be the top gal, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton." However, that is incorrect, since Hillary is not guilty in this mess. These cables, like the Pentagon Papers, were leaked out of the Defense Department.

Hillary said as much at her press conference yesterday in Manama:

Asked how such a huge leak could have occurred and why no alarm bells went off when a low-level intelligence analyst allegedly downloaded 250,000 classified diplomatic cables, Clinton replied: "The decision was made in the Bush administration to add the diplomatic cables to the Defense Department's special network that was created for that purpose."

While she defended the move as defensible at the time, she emphasized that these policies were being rolled back in the wake of the WikiLeaks crisis, perhaps for good.

"The process was undertaken in order to do a better job of what's called ‘connecting the dots,' because after 9/11, one of the principle criticisms of the government was that the information was stovepiped, that the Defense Department knew things that the State Department didn't know, that the White House didn't know," Clinton explained. "So it was understandable for the Bush administration to say, ‘We need to end the stovepiping and figure out how to have greater situational awareness and sharing of information.'"

Without identifying anyone by name, she then said that it was in the Defense Department, not the State Department, where the leak occurred.

I think firing some senior people would be an excellent response to this disaster, but let's aim before we fire.