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Author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People and whistleblower Peter Van Buren discussed the State Department's retaliatory actions on NPR Sunday. From the NPR story:

The halls of the State Department are haunted, not by actual ghosts, but by people who might as well be ghosts. They're called hallwalkers, people who blew the whistle, people who angered someone powerful, people who for one reason or another can't be fired.

But they can be stripped of their security clearances, their desks and their duties and left to walk aimlessly up and down the halls of that massive building. Sometimes they're required to show up at the building to get paid. Sometimes they're allowed to telecommute from home.

The State Department's anti-free speech retaliation included stripping Van Buren of his security clearance, a forced transfer to a telework position after weeks of paid administrative leave, and banning him from entering State Department facilities. Van Buren explained:  
There are procedures in the State Department to fire someone or to discipline someone. There are rules that the State Department claims are broken. But rather than pursue those avenues, which would have allowed me to defend myself, the State Department instead followed a different path where they used bureaucratic tools, unofficial ways of doing business that pushed me out of the village, sent me into the wilderness.
Van Buren's book exposed massive reconstruction fraud in Iraq, such as handing out sheep and bees to Iraqi widows and a "Potemkin chick factory:"
Remembering back to the early days in Russia where the money was squandered and so they built a stage set to impress the empress. With future visitors, we evolved a sliding scale of chickens, depending on the relative importance.

If you were a big-shot reporter from a television network, you'd see 50 or 60 chickens slaughtered for your pleasure. If you were a print journalist from a known newspaper, 10 or 20. With respect from NPR, maybe four or five chickens.

My organization, the Government Accountability Project, has filed a whistleblowing reprisal complaint with the Office of Special Counsel on Van Buren's behalf, and my colleague, Jesselyn Radack, described his situation on Kos last month:

A month before the publication of his book, Mr. Van Buren began to experience a series of adverse personnel actions, which are ongoing today.

The State Department tried a variety of different tactics to censor Mr. Van Buren's book and prevent him from promoting it.  After vague references to ethics rules failed, it tried threats of criminal action.  After those failed, it started coming down on his blogs (which had been posted since April 2011 without criticism) and LIVE media appearances, saying they needed to be pre-cleared. . . . There are many incarnations of the State Department's increasingly-restrictive policies regarding linking--not leaking--to WikiLeaks documents, with which they tried to jack up Van Buren.  But now he is getting his own personal "compliance letters" that say things like:


 You must comply fully with applicable policies and regulations regarding official clearance of public speeches, writings and teaching materials, including blogs, tweets and other communications via social media, on matters of official concern, whether prepared in an official or private capacity.
(Emphasis added)
Van Buren's book went through the pre-publication review process, and the State Department approved it by default by letting its own 30-day review period expire. That has not stopped the State Department from retaliating against him, despite promoting free speech abroad. Van Buren said it best:
. . . .when I go home and turn on the news and listen to the Secretary of State claiming that the rights of bloggers in China need to be respected, that journalists in Syria have a right to speak back to their government, that people in Vietnam who use Twitter and freedom fighters around the world who want to organize through Facebook all have rights to these things, that the Internet is a force for good and freedom, and at the same time, the same Secretary of State's organization is seeking to oust me, to destroy me, to push me out of it, I realize that that level of hypocrisy needs to be answered. And I find that, yes, it is worth it, it was worth it, and it will be worth it to answer that level of hypocrisy and demand from that Secretary of State, Madam, why is your institution not allowing me the same rights that you're bleating about for bloggers around the world? Why not here at home?
The State Department responded to the NPR story with:
The State Department values the opinions of its employees and encourages expression of differing viewpoints and is committed to fairness in the workplace.
A decent sound bite for an agency constantly touting the First Amendment around the globe, but hard to believe considering the agency's treatment of Van Buren. Maybe the State Department just forgot the asterisk flagging Van Buren as the exception?  

Van Buren isn't the only one asking "why not at home" lately. Radack writes today about ABC journalist Jake Tapper posing a similar question to White House Secretary Jay Carney last week about the Obama administration's record-breaking number of Espionage Act prosecutions brought against so-called "leakers," who are usually whistleblowers. Tapper asked:

So the truth should come out abroad; it shouldn’t come out here?

Originally posted to Kathleen McClellan on Mon Feb 27, 2012 at 06:43 AM PST.

Also republished by Whistleblowers Round Table.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I read Van Buren's story (9+ / 0-)

    in his post on the commondreams web site earlier this month and was really bothered by it.  I am glad to hear that you are taking up his case.

    In Washington, Fear the Silence, Not the Noise
    The Campaign Against Whistleblowers in Washington
    I find it disgusting when our govt officials talk about freedom, human rights, freedom of expression and even scolding other countries about it while those things are being eroded every day here in the U.S. with their assistance.  I do wonder how they can say these things with a straight face.

    "Justice is a commodity"

    by joanneleon on Mon Feb 27, 2012 at 07:03:05 AM PST

  •  thanks for reporting on this and for your work... (3+ / 0-)

    in filing the reprisal complaint.

    what is the state of the complaint and is there anything that the public can do at this point to help bring about appropriate action?

    i'm part of the 99% - america's largest minority

    by joe shikspack on Mon Feb 27, 2012 at 07:46:21 AM PST

  •  Without commenting directly on Mr. Van Buren's (4+ / 0-)

    case, of which I know little, I can speak from personal experience that the existence of hallwalkers in the State Dept. is a longstanding "tradition" there.  Unlike most civilian agencies, a substantial proportion of the employees of the State Department are not Civil Service, but rather Foreign Service employees.  In addition to having a different pay schedule (the FS schedule, rather than the GS schedule), Foreign Service employees have rank in person rather than rank in position.  That means that their personal rank  (including pay and emoluments) is not directly linked to the position they are occupying.  Instead, like the uniformed military, their pay etc is based on their personal rank, and they usually occupy billets at their personal rank, although there are plenty of cases of people "stretching" to a billet which is one rank above or below thier personal rank.  

    When someone becomes "disfavored", there are billets to which they are might be banished, usually doing work which is not considered "career enhancing".  These might include making  declassifying decisions (although, such a billet is hardly likely to be handed to a whistlelblower).  In any case, such positions are short term, and usually involve the hallwalker having to rewturn to the Truman building to walk the halls searching for a new short term billet (if a longer term position is not available).  Eventually, the hallwalker's eligibility to find a new position runs out, and they must leave, usually through retirement.

    The reasons for being a hallwalker vary, but, inevitably, they involve having become in some way "disfavored'.  Being a whistleblower is one way one can (but, not necessarily does) become a hallwalker.  Another is through having incurred political enmity from the elected officials, whtether deserved or not.  An example ot the latter would have been April Glaspie, George H.W. Bush's Ambasador to Iraq at the time of the Kuwait invasion, whose demarche to Saddam Hussein immediately before that tinvasion was considered mealy mouthed by some who sought to make her a scapegoat nfor purely political reasons.

    Ultimately, the only thing that matters with respect to preserving choice is who will be nominating the next Supreme Court Justices.

    by Its the Supreme Court Stupid on Mon Feb 27, 2012 at 07:46:44 AM PST

    •  "Laterally arabesquing" seasoned public servants (4+ / 0-)

      to the proverbial stacking-paper-cups is not only classic whsitleblower retaliation, but a ridiculous waste of taxpayer dollars and a waste of talent.

      And if people only recognized how far they've taken it in Peter's case--prohibiting him from using any social media (blogs, Tweets, Facebook updates) on his private computer during personal time--then maybe they'd wake up to what a repressive country we've become.

      My book, TRAITOR: THE WHISTLEBLOWER & THE "AMERICAN TALIBAN," is Amazon's #1 Best Seller in Human Rights Books for February 2012.

      by Jesselyn Radack on Mon Feb 27, 2012 at 08:19:30 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  What's happening here? What it is, isn't (0+ / 0-)

    exactly clear....

    There are two diaries up about government retaliation against whistleblowers right now, today.

    I hope this is the beginning of transparency and truly open government. It may however be a sign of the times.

    No matter what institution, employing secrets and blatantly or subtly "encouraging" everyone to stay silent, brings opportunities for misdeeds and corruption.

    Our confidence in government is at a very low ebb; our confidence in financial and economic institutions is at a low ebb; our confidence in medicine and science is at a low ebb.

    We fear they can be bought or work around safeguards. This is the ship that must be turned.

    When we believe in helping each other and sharing the load; when we believe government is our vehicle for helping each other; when we know we can count on our banks and financial institutions; then we will be more secure.

    Science is hell bent on consensus. Dr. Michael Crichton said “Let’s be clear: The work of science has nothing to do with consensus... which is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right,”

    by Regina in a Sears Kit House on Mon Feb 27, 2012 at 09:35:31 AM PST

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