• My Latest Interview with Security at State Department

    April 12, 2012

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Iraq

    So we’ll just throw it into the ever-growing stinky coincidence pile that the same day another of my articles appears on TomDispatch (and Salon, Huffington Post, The Nation, etc.), I get called into another interrogation session with the State Department’s Stasi, Diplomatic Security. I say Stasi just to invoke an image; these guys succeed at “security” only in the Alice in Wonderland written by George Orwell land they live in.

    Today’s session lasted two and a half hours and involved two contractor investigators, my lawyer and me. Figure a couple of hundred bucks in Government salaries alone, plus the time for the goons to type it all up. Your tax dollars at work.

    Two key issues emerged right up front, serious accusations that a) I divulged US government “policies and procedures” and b) I failed to report contacts with foreigners. Both accusations where made apparently by some fellows in my telework office, so-called colleagues in Consular Affairs (State Department friends who wrote in last week all over collegiality take note).

    Naked Policy

    The first accusation, divulging US government policy and procedure, was apparently based on this blog post from December 2011, some 13 weeks ago. Take a quick look.

    Not sure where the divulging is in there? Neither was I until it was divined that it must have been this smoking gun paragraph:

    While I don’t know the specifics behind that announcement, the usual play inside any Embassy is a) A threat is identified; b) The Political or Economic section wants to downplay it to keep good relations with the host government; c) The Consular section frets that Americans need to be warned; d) Much dithering is snapped when the security office announces the threat already circulating informally inside the Embassy community in an internal memo which e) Triggers the “no double standard rule” and forces/allows the Consular section to go public. It is not a process that takes place casually, so probably bad stuff is a’ brewin’ in the old Green Zone for it to get to this point. 

    Huh? So is the State Department now admitting that disagreements between the Political Section and the Consular Section at an Embassy are “policy and procedure”? Now back in my day such push and pull was part of the informal process, but I must have missed the memo where it was codified into an actual policy or procedure. I really need to check my work email more often.

    Foreign Affairs

    The second big issue today was those foreign contacts. People with security clearances are supposed to report certain foreign contacts, say if a beautiful Soviet spy named Natasha slides up to you at a bar somewhere and offers to trade ‘licks for some secrets. Fair enough. In my case the evidence was hidden in this blog post. Again, take a peek, and then come back here.

    Find it? Apparently the evidence against me was this statement from that blog post:

    One question from the audience stood out.

    A student asked who in the State Department had spoken to me about the contents of my book, the errors and mismanagement I wrote about. The answer of course was no one. Not a single person in the entire State Department has asked me about what I saw and chronicled. Kind of a poor showing for an organization that purports to represent free speech abroad and dissent within in its own ranks.

    On the other hand, since the publication of this book, my commentary has appeared in the New York Times, Le Monde, The Guardian, Huffington Post, Mother Jones, Foreign Policy, Rolling Stone, TomDispatch.com and elsewhere. I have been interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air and All Things Considered, as well as Democracy Now. I have spoken with with journalists from the UK, Russia, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Japan, and at several major universities, the National Press Center twice and with Army units deploying for Afghanistan. I have appeared on camera in two documentaries and am now working with Academy Award nominated documentary filmmaker James Spione (Incident in New Baghdad). My book is also assigned reading in a course taught at George Washington University.

    Now leaving aside the freedom of the press and the freedom of association that does allow Americans to speak with journalists, exactly who said the journalists representing those foreign news sources were foreigners? Does everyone who works for a Dutch newspaper have to be Dutch? How about at CNN, or CBS, are all those employees automatically American? They did not ask me about the “American” news sources but I’ll spill the beans and tell you (shh…) that one of the reporters I talked to from an “American” newspaper was a… Canadian! She talked all American, but broke down under my own questioning and admitted being a foreigner. I knew it right away when she refused a warm Budweiser.

    I am really hoping that Diplomatic Security was not asking me to name all the reporters I’ve talked to under this flimsy excuse.

    The point here is that I have no idea what nationality everyone is that I speak with, swap emails with or interact with on Twitter and Facebook, or in conversation on the bus for that matter. And neither do the colleagues who thought this was the smoking gun and told Security. I do know that I spoke with lots of people about a book available to anyone, approved by the State Department in autumn 2010 and I neither had any classified info to disclose nor did I/could I have disclosed anything. To accuse me of unreported foreign contacts because of that blog post is comical, if it wasn’t seriously what your government did today.

    Now It Is Personal

    Then it got personal. I’ve worked for State for 24 years, been married to the same lovely woman for 25 years. Yet today the fact that that woman was born abroad (in Japan, still a US buddy that we have not bombed in some 70 years) became “Did I ever have a relationship with a foreign national?” Yes, yes I did, for 25 delightful years and counting, including all my overseas assignments where my dear wife joined me on State Department orders.

    Luckily they did not know that my dog is also a foreigner. She was a rescue we saved in Hong Kong. Bitch is 100% Chicom canine.

    So What’s the Big Deal?

    So there went a couple of hours of my life. I’ve wasted more time in line for Space Mountain, so what’s the big deal?

    The deal is this comrades: When an organization such as the State Department wants to deep six an employee for no allowable reason (i.e., rude blogging), they turn the case over to Security. Knowing that their own human resources regulations won’t work, never mind the sticky Constitution, the State Department in the specific and the Government in general are hiding behind security, where even accusations can become fatal, where facts can be hidden from Freedom of Information Act requests and even court-ordered discovery, and thus manipulated to a desired end. What is called an investigation morphs into an indictment, where the goal is to keep fishing until something, anything, comes up.

    Worse than that (the Stasi, and Diplomatic Security, can at least hide behind the old “just doing my job, I don’t make the rules” sissy excuse) is how once the institution labels you a target, people inside turn on you with crazy accusations (see above). Diplomatic Security fanned out into every office I worked in since returning to the US in 2006 and asked for dirt. They did the same with my neighbors. The investigator today had my credit report in front of him. He asked me questions about what medical provider I see and was very interested in the names and dosages of any prescription medications I take.

    Am I a threat to anyone’s security? I guess that’s up to the “experts,” but I don’t think so. I have not had need for and have not accessed the State Department classified network since 2005. My work has been all in the unclassified realm. In Iraq, embedded with the US military, I was entrusted with operational info that, had it been disclosed, could have quite literally killed soldiers, never mind some dumb ass memo from 2006 already on Wikileaks. The Army had no apparent concern with me having that info, so we are left wondering what State is afraid of here.

    Just to remind, the charges against me by the State Department are all related to this blog, nothing more. 100% of the evidence is right here for your viewing pleasure, my crimes conducted in full view.

    I get it, they are afraid. They want me destroyed, and they apparently have no limit to how much money and time can be devoted to just that. Since I lead a boring life, with no international intrigue to speak of, they have their work cut out for them. However, by playing the McCarthy card and turning any accusation into a hammering point, then serving as judge of their own dirty handiwork, State assures itself of the win. It is just a matter of time.

    Nothing New at the State Department

    John Paton Davies in a new autobiography called China Hand tells of his own termination from the State Department. Davies was an acknowledged expert on China, one of a generation of brilliant scholars and diplomats known collectively as the “China Hands” during WWII. Davies predicted that Mao would win the Chinese Civil War and advocated better relations with Communist China to counter Soviet influence. Davies, of course, was prescient in his advice, though being right did not save him. Instead, for his views counter to popular policy that saw all Communist countries as a caliphate, Davies faced nine Diplomatic Security investigations between 1948 and 1954, all of which failed to produce any evidence of wrongdoing. Nevertheless, in 1954, under political pressure from Senator Joe McCarthy, the gutless Secretary of State John Foster Dulles asked Davies to resign. Davies refused, and Dulles terminated him, claiming he had “demonstrated a lack of judgment, discretion and reliability.”

    Out with the Garbage

    I certainly do not place myself anywhere near where men like Davies reside in history so save your emailed rage, and the whistleblowers I have come to know also occupy various niches. What we do share is being thrown away by the government we served because that government was scared of us.

    A government seeking to hide from its own people acts that way, suppressing dissent first to preserve order and good discipline, and then soon down the slope to simply preserve its own power.

    We’re all out of a job and out of government, that is a fact. It is up to you to judge what that means and whether your interests as the people are best served by our terminations.



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

  • Recent Comments

    • Eric Smith said...

      1

      I just read about you in Salon. It’s people like the Diplomatic Security operatives of the State Dept. that make me ashamed to be an American. It’s people like you, who have the courage to be honest and fight for what’s right, who make me proud.

      Keep up the good work. Your book just went on my B&N wish list.

      04/12/12 3:35 PM | Comment Link

    • Donald F. Truax said...

      2

      Love U :)

      (((3)))

      04/12/12 3:45 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      3

      I see another book in the making.

      btw- “Enemy of the State” is already taken.

      04/12/12 4:29 PM | Comment Link

    • pcall said...

      4

      I too read the piece on Salon. This is just nuts! We do absolutely nothing to hold accountable those who illegally spied on us or authorized torture yet the full weight of the government comes crashing down upon whistleblowers. What a shame that most Americans get their news from the corporate media because they will never hear about any of this unless the government dictates it to them.

      04/12/12 8:32 PM | Comment Link

    • Thomas P. said...

      5

      I’m submitting this with the full knowledge you won’t have the guts to post it. I worked with you in Iraq. You’re the same egotistical, spineless wart of a man. When I check this site in the next week and see that this comment hasn’t been posted, it will prove again that nothing has changed.

      “WWWWHHHHHhhhhhhaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!! I’m Peter Van Buren. I ruined my own career. Rather than accept responsibility for my blatant disregard of State security policies, I’m going to blame Diplomatic Security for doing its job. Whhhhaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!”

      You’re still a complete TOOL. Everyone who reads your blog and STILL POSSESSES A SECURITY CLEARANCE sees right through your pitiful attempt at defamation.

      Suck it, Van Buren.

      04/12/12 11:45 PM | Comment Link

    • Administrator said...

      6

      Can’t say you made an impression; I don’t remember you. The anonymous email is a nice touch. I put my name on my opinions.

      Anyway, there is nothing on this blog or in my book that is classified. Nice hearing from you again nonetheless– drop by for a drink when they get your meds worked out.

      04/13/12 12:23 AM | Comment Link

    • MattieB said...

      7

      Just fyi, I STILL POSSESS A SECURITY CLEARANCE but don’t think PVB is making any sort of “pitiful attempt at defamation.” So here’s one exception to the above blanket rant.

      DS on a random fishing expedition, prompted by whispered reports from spiteful “colleagues,” is actually not all that unusual. Ask anyone sane in DS, and there are plenty of reasonable and decent people in that bureau. People see it a lot, and are usually too frightened for their own careers and clearances to say anything.

      Nice dog, by the way, thanks for rescuing her.

      04/13/12 12:40 AM | Comment Link

    • Administrator said...

      8

      A guy in Hong Kong was in the process of drowning a box of puppies one-by-one when we made him stop and grabbed this one. Ironically, a guy who works for Diplomatic Security rescued another puppy from the same litter.

      Under the circumstances we don’t know her heritage, but she seems to have Rottweiler, Doberman, Shepard and a little something else in her.

      Very cute and somewhat obedient, but dumber than a rock. Interestingly, seven years later, she is still terrified of water. Go figure.

      04/13/12 12:48 AM | Comment Link

    • Patrick Meighan said...

      9

      Peter,

      I have never met you and have no personal connection to DS, except that my uncle (Robert Meighan) has happened to’ve worked for USAID for, I dunno, 40 years.

      Anyway, I want to thank you for your courage and for telling your fellow citizens (like me!) what’s occurring in our names, with our tax dollars. In theory, that’s information we’re supposed to have in order to make wise electoral choices. It’d be nice if the actual practice more closely matched the theory.

      Thanks again,

      Patrick Meighan
      Culver City, CA

      04/13/12 1:18 AM | Comment Link

    • Bob Soper said...

      10

      regarding the Thomas P. troll who posted comment #5: maybe he’s one of the political operatives (as opposed to career diplomats) packed into the foreign service (and other government jobs) when the Cheney-Rove-Bush administration realized that the GOP was going to get clobbered on 2008.

      So many right-wing moles still fester in critical positions throughout our government– and Obama’s done a less-than-adequate job of rooting them out.

      04/13/12 2:21 AM | Comment Link

    • Michael said...

      11

      The Department has published its No Double Standard policy and procedures on the interweb for years: http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/86560.pdf. Hope I don’t get in trouble for sending you a link to the Department’s own website.

      04/13/12 4:40 AM | Comment Link

    • David Hart said...

      12

      Hi Peter…

      Just bought your book a couple days ago, now on my Kindle…I have laughed, cried, screamed out loud, etc. at the situations mentioned in the book. You are a great storyteller, and this is one of the most humorous, irritating, and frustrating books I have ever read…and I read A LOT. Thanks for having the courage to write it and see it through to print form. Hope to finish it this weekend, and glad to have found your blog. Keep at it…you are priceless!

      04/13/12 6:16 AM | Comment Link

    • Joe said...

      13

      Came here via Salon.com bought the book on principle before coming here to comment, after reading a few posts I am really looking forward to the book.

      First they came for the communists,
      and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

      Then they came for the trade unionists,
      and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

      Then they came for the Jews,
      and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

      Then they came for me
      and there was no one left to speak out for me.

      Martin Niemöller

      04/13/12 7:30 AM | Comment Link

    • Pamela said...

      14

      Thank you so much for your service to your country. We are experiencing dark times. When honesty, competence, and integrity are punished, there is something deeply wrong.

      Model state employees in democracies argue for transparency. Anyone who argues otherwise, should consider living under authoritarian regimes — which this country, frankly, is becoming quite rapidly.

      04/13/12 1:58 PM | Comment Link

    • xsmudude said...

      15

      “involved two contractor investigators”

      I’m sorry, what? “Contract investigators”?

      As in not real government employees?

      You should have referred them to a stand-in for yourself. Maybe some panhandler you pay 500-times the going rate for substandard performance. Keep everything on an equal footing.

      04/13/12 6:35 PM | Comment Link

    • jhoover said...

      16

      Looks State Department’s Stasi, Diplomatic Security like you to call them “those geniuses up at higher headquarters” as this guy doing…

      This is Highway 1, in the bazaar area of the main settlement of Hutal. Think of the road as the I-40 of Afghanistan, and the bazaar as their free-flowing farmer’s market. This is where the Afghans come to buy their clothes, food, cell phones, and sell their vegetables, eggs, and poppy. This area is very close to our base, so our soldiers can, and do, make foot patrols through here and talk with the shop owners. Go about ten clicks north or south, though, and it’s different.

      Since our goal is to reduce tensions between the groups, and build some sort of peaceful co-existence (if not to integrate them under a common governance umbrella), we have to reach out to those in the north and south. We do this in a variety of ways. Some ways work better than others, some backfire, some are successful but in ways we don’t expect, and some have no effect whatsoever. Basically, we have a variety of tools given to us from higher headquarters, and we put them into action as best we can and see what happens. And sometimes, we have to wonder just what those geniuses up at higher headquarters were thinking when they dreamed up some of these schemes …
      http://storypaintings.blogspot.co.nz/

      04/13/12 9:26 PM | Comment Link

    • Dissenters’ Digest for April 8-14 « MSPB Watch said...

      17

      […] Project, who is covering for Glenn Greenwald on Salon.com. Van Buren separately discusses a recent interrogation by Diplomatic Security. The State Department is moving to fire Van Buren for critical blogging of […]

      04/14/12 11:01 PM | Comment Link

    • Carroll B. Merriman said...

      18

      Thanks for this article! It’s a great starting point for this topic!

      04/18/12 6:57 PM | Comment Link

    • Dissenters’ Digest for April 8-14 « Dissenters' Digest said...

      19

      […] Project, who is covering for Glenn Greenwald on Salon.com. Van Buren separately discusses a recent interrogation by Diplomatic Security. The State Department is moving to fire Van Buren for critical blogging of […]

      01/16/13 6:03 AM | Comment Link

    • Dissenters’ Digest for April 2012 « Dissenters' Digest said...

      20

      […] Project, who is covering for Glenn Greenwald on Salon.com. Van Buren separately discusses a recent interrogation by Diplomatic Security. The State Department is moving to fire Van Buren for critical blogging of […]

      01/16/13 6:42 AM | Comment Link

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