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.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:
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.
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.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:
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)
. . . .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?