The State Department is moving to fire Peter Van Buren, who we have profiled extensively as the man who exposed the fatal weaknesses in our so-called counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq and who has been an ardent critic of the U.S war and diplomatic policies in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The foreign service officer and author of We Meant Well: How I Helped to Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, was suspended last year, his diplomatic passport and security clearances stripped as he became a “hall walker” and then a home-bound paper pusher while the agency did their “investigation” of his purported transgressions (supposedly, disclosing classified documents when he linked to two Wikileaked documents on his critical personal blog, and allegedly revealing classified information in his book, which Van Buren denies). He expressed sadness and surprise in a statement emailed today to Antiwar.com:
It saddens me to see a once-great institution, our first cabinet agency, the Department of State, reduced to crude retaliation against one of its own employees for writing a book and a blog. Despite all the huff-puff from State about “regulations,” this is all about free, critical speech that the organization does not like and seeks to squash. When they couldn’t stop my writing, they seek to punish me. Instead of rebutting what I say, they seek to attack me as a person. I always planned on retiring in September, so all this effort is about cutting my career short by only a few months. If that does not show the retaliatory intent of State, I don’t know what does.Actually, maybe this does. I filed my complaint for retaliation as a whistleblower with the Office of the Special Counsel early in January 2012, about which the State Department was officially put on notice at that time. After sitting on their own report of investigation for three months, it was only days after the Office of the Special Counsel referred my complaint to its investigatory and prosecutorial section, that the Department issued the termination notice. Very curious timing.That the State Dept advocates for the rights of bloggers and authors and journalists in countries the US is in conflict with (Syria, Iran) while opposing those same rights for its own employees, turning its internal security apparatus loose on those employees (me!), is a very powerful story. Clinton in fact said “No individual should be prosecuted for exercising the right to freedom of opinion and expression” about a blogger in Vietnam.This case illustrates the crude use of security as a tool within government to silence dissent. Per their own Report of Investigation, Diplomatic Security at State monitored my email, interrogated me, used computer forensic tools, placed me on a Secret Service Watch list, charged with me with impeding an investigation when I refused to implicate myself in a Federal crime and compiled examples of my work online, all because of a simple blog. I am not arguing that Security can’t do these things– they did them– but arguing that such draconian, Stasi-like use of the tools of security over an employee blog demonstrates the dark intent of the State Department when confronted with dissent. Really, a three month investigation involving dozens of employees? Diplomatic Security even sent an agent to try and interview my neighbor yesterday. That is a sad comment on our America.If I did not tell you about the waste and mismanagement of billions of your tax dollars in Iraq, who would? Who could, besides someone who saw it? I know now that the State Department Office of Inspector General (OIG) opened a case– against me for linking to a document elsewhere on line –after my book came out, refusing to investigate instead the waste I wrote about. The oath I took when I joined the State Department was to the Constitution– to you all, really, and not to a particular Secretary of State, or administration, or government policy. That is why I speak out.That government employees are Citizens first, enjoying their First Amendment rights irrespective of their employer’s beliefs, is long established—see Pickering v. Board of Education, (http://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/391/563) among other cases. I, like all Citizens, do not give up my basic rights at the State Department doorway and I intend to fight for that.