A Salonian Beclowning

by Joshua Foust on 11/30/2010 · 21 comments

Glenn Greenwald thinks I’m a bad person because I work as a defense contractor.

Then we have the Good Citizens who are furious that WikiLeaks has shown them what their Government is doing and, conversely, prevented the Government from keeping things from them. Joshua Foust — who says “he’s spent the vast majority of his adult life doing defense and intelligence consulting for the U.S. government” — has a private Twitter feed for various intelligence officials and reporters, behind which he’s been bravely railing against WikiLeaks defenders (including me) and hysterically blaming WikiLeaks disclosures for everything from Chinese cyber warfare to the next terrorist attack. Plenty of other people are reciting anti-WikiLeaks condemnations from the same script.

It’s hardly surprising that people like Foust who work for the Government and depend upon staying in its good graces are screeching all sorts of fear-mongering claims. That’s what the Government, its enablers and royal court hangers-on do: you wind them up and they insist that any restraints on, or exposure of, the U.S. Government will help the Terrorists get us, and subject us to other scary dangers. But what’s extraordinary is that these strident claims continue even after the U.S. Government’s prior “blood-on-their-hands” warnings have been exposed as wildly exaggerated. As the pro-Obama, pro-National Security State New York Times Editorial Page put it today with great understatement: “The claim by [] Clinton that the leaks threaten national security seems exaggerated.”

I redacted the part where he posts speculation about the nature of my employment because it isn’t relevant. On general principle, anyone who reads my work and thinks I am a “royal court hanger-on” for the government is writing from the deepest darkest depths of ignorance.

There is, of course, context to be had. Greenwald posted to his blog 6:31 am EST. Because I don’t read him—evidently I brought his wrath down upon my head when I described his writing as “a long shriek into the ether” (which still doesn’t seem inaccurate) because he accused Adrian Lamo of faking Asperger’s to get out of prison—I didn’t know he had written this post. He sent me an email at 9:23 am to ask if I would confirm his speculation about my employment. That’s bad form: from the start, Glenn was playing dirty and breaking normative rules that usually govern professional writers. In a response, I demurred, and pointed to several instances where I have written, in public, that I work as a defense contractor (this is just a small subset of these instances).

This summer, during the first release of Wikileaked secret documents, I flat out said, “I work for a DOD contractor, but they neither review nor censor what I say here.” Earlier this year, in a piece for the New York Times discussing the failed campaign to “win” Marjah, Helmand, I wrote, “I work as an analyst for a military contractor, but these views are my own.” And on this blog, in the “About” section, I say quite explicitly, “Nothing Joshua writes here in any way reflects upon his current, past, or future employers or their clients, nor is it in any way indicative of their views, policies, or ideas.”

In Greenwaldistan, that is evidence of improper disclosure and misleading my followers on Twitter.

That the rest of Greenwald’s argument is nonsensical—appealing to an New York Times editorial to claim there are no national security interests at stake is especially rich—is almost beside the point. He thinks the good luck that no one was murdered immediately after the first two leaks is evidence that there is no danger in leaking more—the equivalent of saying you shouldn’t wear a seat belt if you’ve never been in an accident.

Just so we’re clear: biggest difference between me and Glenn Greenwald on the issue of Wikileaks is not our views on classification, the military’s overreach, the perils of an imperial presidency, or the annoyances of a subservient media. I’m sure it would surprise him to know we agree on those things—and a few minutes of research would have told him that, as I’ve written about these very topics for The Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy, PBS, and the New York Times.

No, what distinguishes me and Glenn on the Wikileaks crisis is that I understand the value of classified information, and he does not. Glenn waves away concerns that “impeding diplomacy makes war more likely.” Rather than noting the abhorrence of such a thing, Glenn instead says that he thinks secrecy is a bigger threat than the breakdown of international diplomatic norms. To rephrase: Glenn Greenwald would rather make war more likely than suffer the U.S. government hold onto a few secret cables sent between embassies and DC.

I’m at a loss to explain how backward this is. Had Glenn ever developed a detailed understanding of the instruments of foreign policy—say, how ambassadors and embassies work, why things are classified, and so on—he could have guessed that the immediate reaction of the State Department to Wikileaks would be to make its data more classified, not less. Glenn’s (and Wikileaks!) love of transparency at all costs is making the problem of overclassification worse. By behaving so childishly and supporting such reckless endeavors, he is making the very problem he claims to hate significantly worse, maybe permanently. Glenn even admits, later on, that there is a proper place for classified material… but because he never took the time to figure out what that actually is, his very dismissive discussion of it lacks substance, evidence, and foundation.

It didn’t end there. My friends on Twitter leapt to my defense, and I’m grateful to them for that. But that’s where it gets weird. On Glenn Greenwald’s twitter feed, he first accused me of not disclosing my work as a defense contractor, then, when challenged, said he did no such thing. Soon, the issue wasn’t about how my ties to the defense industry make me an unthinking slave to promoting the megacorporations that run the intelligence industry, but rather that I have the temerity to make my Twitter feed private. Then, he admitted something I just don’t understand (warning, his link is VERY NSFW):

@Max_Fisher I read these quotes – http://is.gd/i0sGV – and watched his attack on WikiLeaks months ago on Bloggingheadsdless than a minute ago via web

In case you were tempted to click on that link: do not. It is a gay pornography blogpost, written in 2006, about things I had written on my old blog while I was a junior in college. It is, by any definition, completely random, the result of typing into Google “Joshua Foust is a little shit” (which that blogger calls me in the post) and excerpting from the first website that comes up. To rephrase: Glenn Greenwald thinks a blog whose author brags about how awesome it was to mainline chrystal meth while having unprotected anal sex (VERY NSFW) is a reliable indicator of how I think, what I know, and what I write about.

But really, Glenn’s entire concept of who I am, what I believe, what I write about, and how my job affects all of that is based on a bloggingheads I did with Spencer Ackerman a few months ago and a gay pornographer.

Now that I think about it, that’s probably as accurate a summary of Greenwald’s entire mode of operating, “research,” and advocacy as you could ever get. And with that, I declare my absolute boredom with the whole affair. It made for an amusing afternoon, but I’m really not interested in the morning after.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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upyernoz November 30, 2010 at 5:58 pm

the odd thing is that glenn greenwald is a lawyer. if anyone should understand that there are some benefits to confidentiality, and that publicizing every conversation would deter foreign officials from having frank discussions with u.s. diplomats, it would be a lawyer.

upyernoz November 30, 2010 at 5:59 pm

my point is that you don’t have to have “a detailed understanding of the instruments of foreign policy” to get why there is a need for confidentiality. there are plenty of examples from greenwald’s own profession that should make that obvious.

Brett November 30, 2010 at 6:59 pm

I agree. It’s possible that Greenwald has simply gotten more and more extreme as time has passed since he was an active lawyer.

John-Paul Pagano December 1, 2010 at 5:53 pm

You’re right that Greenwald must be aware of the ethical obligations of lawyers. Despite that and his relentless histrionics about transparency and hypocrisy, while defending the white-supremacist would-be murderer Matthew Hale in 2000 Greenwald was found to have made illegal secret recordings of his conversations with associates of his client.


upyernoz December 2, 2010 at 11:02 am

the “defending white supremacist” line that gets repeated a fair bit in this thread is pretty tiresome. who cares? as i said, he’s a lawyer. lawyers defend people who might not be nice. so what? (maybe i just see it that way because i am a lawyer too. any time i see these pokes based on who a lawyer might have represented, it doesn’t strengthen the critics point, it just makes them look weaker because they have to resort to such a weak and ignorant attack). and while the sock puppetry thing and illegal recording thing are more serious charges against greenwald, i don’t see why they are any more relevant to the topic in this post.

the issue as i see it is whether greenwald’s criticisms of foust hold up or not. can’t an issue just be judged on its merits? greenwald is apparently a controversial guy. whenever someone is critical about him, it seems to bring out all these other beefs about his character or whatever. i personally don’t see any reason to resort to that. greenwald’s criticisms of foust are off the mark and don’t hold up. that would be true even if none of those other things about greenwald were accurate. so why bring them up?

matttbastard November 30, 2010 at 6:02 pm

There are times when I think Greenwald should go back to defending white supremacists and leave the media criticism to the unbeclowned. His flailing, screeching “media ethics for thee, not me!” routine is getting very, very boring (and, at least superficially, somewhat analogous to Jon Stewart’s tiresome contention that he is not, in fact, a media figure, but merely a ‘umble comedian trying to make sense of it all).

Brett November 30, 2010 at 6:57 pm

That’s typical for Greenwald. The guy is a legal absolutist who is probably extremely uncomfortable with the various sorts of pragmatic stuff like “secrecy” and “espionage” that characterizes diplomacy and international affairs, and it shows. Sure, he’ll qualify with a one-line statement – after a long angry couple of paragraphs.

And when he gets seriously challenged, he gets evasive and nasty.

Christian November 30, 2010 at 7:26 pm

Joshua Foust has a “private Twitter feed for various intelligence officials and reporters”?

There must be a mistake. I’m following you on Twitter and all I see are links to freely available articles/reports on Afghanistan with very short commentary, plus a side of pop culture, culinary feats of excellence and your dog.

Could I please get access to your mega ultra top secret compartmentalized Illuminati twitter feed that you maintain for the top echelons of the intelligence community?

Joshua Foust November 30, 2010 at 8:15 pm

No. That’s only for various intelligence officials and reporters.

Boris Sizemore November 30, 2010 at 8:20 pm

Greenwald picked the exact wrong target for the blind “kill Assange” group thinkers and the Government “wrong is wrong is wrong” clan.

Joshua Foust is anything but a blind camp follower. If anyone has noticed the subservient press and failure of real reporting coming out of our excellent excellent press corpse(not corps) and Wolf “Stand by your man, What a devastating leak” Blitzer- it is Joshua Foust.

If Wikileaks does anything it is point out just how off our policy is and how our analysis is terrible. Josh Foust is foremost about this and bringing sanity to this effort.

I hope Greenwald takes a little time to study this nuance in what was in general a correct and logical piece about this “Pope Pius IV Inquistional- Bring Da Vinci In- Twilight Zone” response to Assange and Wiki Leaks none of which Josh Foust advocates or participates in.

Blaine November 30, 2010 at 11:11 pm

I posted in his comments when I saw his comment about you. Been reading your blog for years (or it seems like it’s been that long now lol) and I was somewhat surprised to see you of all people tagged as a “royal court hanger-on.” (On top of that, a basic search function would show you’ve disclosed your job qualifications numerous times to us readers).

Render December 1, 2010 at 2:27 am


It just never gets old…


Wouldn’t said Google search be effected by any uncleared cookies?


Shannon December 1, 2010 at 4:45 pm

Josh, I think you’ve come off as an “other” recently because you’ve been open about having access to information that we common folk can’t see. Like many people I’ve got problems with the DoD and I think you and I disagree fundamentally on many things Wikileaks, but I don’t discount your articles just because you work for the government.

I’m not familiar with Greenwald, but I think the piece you linked to is essentially just a slab of red meat for Slate’s very liberal readership. Why else would he bring in Sarah Palin? I wouldn’t sweat it.

Schwartz December 1, 2010 at 6:23 pm

Just a general comment as an historian and journalist who values what WikiLeaks does and as a long-time Registan reader who values what you guys do: the debate over the meaning and value of “Classified” is real, has important consequences (on lives!), and it mustn’t be shouted down, least of all personalized. Greenwald is way off the mark. Josh, bro, let it slide. Have the real conversation with those of us who are actually prepared to have it.

mark December 2, 2010 at 1:24 am

love the title of this post

Medium Hairstyles December 2, 2010 at 1:06 pm

Thanks for the articles..enjoy reading it!

Fnord December 3, 2010 at 11:31 am

Damn sad to see Greenwald acting like a little queen. I usually agree with him, and while Im still considering the Wikileaks issue I tend to think that its not so bad as Josh says. But this attack is just aimed at the wrong guy, and smacks of blogging-rage…

Heh, over here in Norway it looks like it may be the end for our dark lord Espen Barth-Eide who personally bought the JSF in order to get a job in the UN later. Fcker.

mike December 3, 2010 at 10:39 pm

Woodrow Wilson was supposedly the great champion of “Open Diplomacy”. But even he rejected it and privately encoded his own cables in schoolboy ciphers to his personal representative in Europe, Colonel House. It did not do him any good, they were all decrypted and read by the black chambers in Berlin, London, and Paris.

SK December 8, 2010 at 1:15 pm

You and Greenwald have a lot in common most importantly contempt for establishment. You both make your mark advocating against “sheep-ish” modes of thinking. GG probably overstepped here but the work he does (just like yours) deserves recognition.

popsiq December 9, 2010 at 10:57 pm

Let’s not be naive, this whole mess was caused by stupidity.

Diplomacy, or a large part of it, is finding and revealing confidentialities. But like all secrets they stop being that as soon as one is told.

After that it’s all a matter of restricting the knowledge base, which in this case was a) huge and b) not particularly secure.

STOOPID can really bite yer ass. Lesson learned? Until next time.

AU December 11, 2010 at 3:48 pm

I’m pretty sure that I got access to that private twitter feed as a random college student who didn’t even make it to the Afghanistan Journal event he RSVP’d for. Not really seeing the elitist conspiracy here.

…can I put this on my resume? Glenn Greenwald says I’m an intelligence official and/or reporter. That’s got to count for something.

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