In the Belly of the Beast
Back in that windowless room for a second time, I faced the two DS agents clumsily trying to play semi-bad and altogether-bad cop. They once again reminded me of my obligation to protect classified information, and studiously ignored my response -- that I indeed do take that obligation seriously, enough in fact to distinguish between actual disclosure and a witch-hunt.
As they raised their voices and made uncomfortable eye contact just like it says to do in any Interrogation 101 manual, you could almost imagine the hundreds of thousands of unredacted cables physically spinning through the air around us, heading -- splat, splot, splat -- for the web. Despite the Hollywood-style theatrics and the grim surroundings, the interrogation-style was less police state or 1984-style nightmare than a Brazil-like dark comedy.
In the end, though, it's no joke. I've been a blogger since April, but my meeting with the DS agents somehow took place only a week before the publication date of my book. Days after my second interrogation, the Principal Deputy Secretary of State wrote my publisher demanding small redactions in my book -- already shipped to the bookstores -- to avoid "harm to U.S. security." One demand: to cut a vignette based on a scene from the movie version of Black Hawk Down.
The link to Wikileaks is still on my blog. The Bureau of Diplomatic Security declined my written offer to remove it, certainly an indication that however much my punishment mattered to them, the actual link mattered little. I may lose my job in State's attempt to turn us all into mini-Bradley Mannings and so make America safe.
These are not people steeped in, or particularly appreciative of, the finer points of irony. Still, would anyone claim that there isn't irony in the way the State Department regularly crusades for the rights of bloggers abroad in the face of all kinds of government oppression, crediting their voices for the Arab Spring, while going after one of its own bloggers at home for saying nothing that wasn't truthful?
Here's the best advice my friends in Diplomatic Security have to offer, as far as I can tell: slam the door after the cow has left the barn, then beat your wife as punishment. She didn't do anything wrong, but she deserved it, and don't you feel better now?
Peter Van Buren spent a year in Iraq as a State Department Foreign Service Officer serving as Team Leader for two Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs). Now in Washington, he writes about Iraq and the Middle East at his blog, We Meant Well. His new book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (The American Empire Project, Metropolitan Books), is published today. To listen to Timothy MacBain's latest Tomcast audio interview in which Van Buren discusses what it's like to be interrogated by the State Department click here, or download it to your iPod here.
[Note: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of the Department of State, the Department of Defense, or any other entity of the U.S. Government. It should be quite obvious that the Department of State has not approved, endorsed, or authorized this post.]
Copyright 2011 Peter Van Buren