“How I Helped Lose Hearts and Minds” Author Under Fire

The Net is abuzz today with the irony, that Peter Van Buren,  a 23-year foreign service officer with the U.S Department of State, may be the only department personnel to be fired over the WikiLeaks’ scandal. Van Buren, who just published the book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of Iraqi People this week, relayed in a powerful column at Tom Dispatch this morning how he was called in, interrogated and accused of disclosing classified material. His crime? Embedding links to WikiLeaked cables in a post on his personal blog.

Van Buren, who has been featured here on Antiwar.com and on Antiwar Radio, has written an explosive book about his time on a provincial reconstruction team (PRT) in Iraq. It is at turns cringeworthy in its descriptions of how we patronized, condescended to, misunderstood and neglected ordinary Iraqis, and outrageous in the amount of money we threw at them and the Iraqi government over there, only to have the vast majority of those taxpayer dollars lost down a rabbit hole. Van Buren is funny, acerbic, truthful and very sensitive — which is probably why he felt the need to risk everything to write this book in the first place.

The State Department is going after the messenger, but we need to keep a laser focus on the message: that our post-invasion efforts to “reconstruct” Iraq in the name of “counterinsurgency” has been a gigantic failure, the proportions of which we will still be measuring for years to come.

I interviewed Van Buren last week and will feature the latest developments in his story in an upcoming column here at Antiwar.com.

Here’s an excerpt from his Tom Dispatch piece today:

The agents demanded to know who might be helping me with my blog (“Name names!”), if I had donated any money from my upcoming book on my wacky year-long State Department assignment to a forward military base in Iraq, and if so to which charities, the details of my contract with my publisher, how much money (if any) I had been paid, and — by the way — whether I had otherwise “transferred” classified information.

Had I, they asked, looked at the WikiLeaks site at home on my own time on my own computer? Every blog post, every Facebook post, and every Tweet by every State Department employee, they told me, must be pre-cleared by the Department prior to “publication.” Then they called me back for a second 90-minute interview, stating that my refusal to answer questions would lead to my being fired, never mind the Fifth (or the First) Amendments.

Why me? It’s not like the Bureau of Diplomatic Security has the staff or the interest to monitor the hundreds of blogs, thousands of posts, and millions of tweets by Foreign Service personnel. The answer undoubtedly is my new book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.  Its unvarnished portrait of State’s efforts and the U.S. at work in Iraq has clearly angered someone, even though one part of State signed off on the book under internal clearance procedures some 13 months ago. I spent a year in Iraq leading a State Department Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) and sadly know exactly what I am talking about. DS monitoring my blog is like a small-town cop pulling over every African-American driver: vindictive, selective prosecution. “Ya’ll be careful in these parts, ‘hear, ‘cause we’re gonna set an example for your kind of people.”

Silly as it seems, such accusations carry a lot of weight if you work for the government. DS can unilaterally, and without any right of appeal or oversight, suspend your security clearance and for all intents and purposes end your career.