• Letter to the State Department

    May 31, 2012 // 3 Comments »

    The following is a letter I sent to the Director General of the Department of State, the head Human Resources person and the individual who will likely be firing me sometime soon. It refers to a State Department message (“cable”) she sent out reminding staff of the protections they have available to them as whistleblowers. That cable is reproduced in full, below.

    There has been no response to my letter from the State Department, ‘natch.



    Dear Director General Thomas-Greenfield:

    Thank you very much for sending today’s cable, below, reminding all employees of the role of the Office of the Special Counsel (OSC) in protecting Federal whistleblowers. I hope that seeing it go out under your name as Director General signifies your personal commitment to upholding the protections required by law.

    As such, I wish to remind you that I filed my written response to your Proposal to Terminate me for actions that in large part fall under the terms laid out in your cable.

    That my work does indeed qualify me as a whistleblower is without question; in fact, the Project for Government Oversight (POGO) called me an “important national whistleblower”. My book and blog have and continue to call attention to gross waste and mismanagement in the Iraq Reconstruction process, as well as other programs.

    As for retaliatory personnel practices, as you are aware the Department terminated me, defacto, in October 2011. By that time I had had my security clearance “temporarily” suspended (despite three DS interrogations, a computer forensic analysis and a second, full field investigation, my clearance status is still “temporary” and no decision has been issued some eight months later), was thrown out of my assigned job after a year of successful work, never given an EER for that work and then involuntarily curtailed without my knowledge or participation, and was physically banned from the building for several months with HR unlawfully retaining physical possession of my ID card (no reason given). A Fax from a Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in Public Diplomacy to my publisher falsely accused me of a Federal crime of publishing classified information. Along the way I was placed on US Secret Service and Diplomatic Security watch lists as a potential danger to the Secretary of State. Later, I was made to sign an unprecedented and likely illegal Compliance Letter as a requirement just to continue work and forcibly assigned to a meaningless telework slot that in no way meets the acceptable standard for a Foreign Service Officer with 24 years of experience.

    After completing its investigation in December the Department took no action against me for some three months. Instead the Department waited until my retaliation complaint, filed with the Office of the Special Counsel (OSC), moved to the discovery phase to propose termination. The Department has offered no explanation for why it waited months to propose termination. The timing suggests that this is an attempt to derail the OSC investigation and deny me that third-party review of the Department’s action over the last year. Even as this separation proceeds, the Department is dragging its feet to impede the OSC investigation.

    Most ironic of all, given your cable, my representative attempted to negotiate a settlement with the Department. The negotiations failed because I would not yield to the Department’s key demand– to drop my complaint filed with the Office of the Special Counsel (OSC). That the Department made dropping the OSC complaint the cornerstone of its negotiating strategy makes clear that this proposal is all about derailing this third-party examination of the Department’s personnel practices.

    I look forward to meeting with you in the near future to discuss these issues further.

    Respectfully,
    Peter Van Buren
    Consul
    US Department of State



    The Cable
    UNCLASSIFIED STATE 00047512
    VZCZCXYZ0000
    RR RUEHWEB
    DE RUEHC #7512 1311656
    ZNR UUUUU ZZH
    R 101652Z MAY 12
    FM SECSTATE WASHINGTON DC
    TO RHMCSUU/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY WASHINGTON DC
    R 101652Z MAY 12
    FM SECSTATE WASHDC
    TO ALL DIPLOMATIC AND CONSULAR POSTS COLLECTIVE
    AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI 0000
    BT
    UNCLAS STATE 047512

    E.O. 13526: N/A
    TAGS: APER, AMGT
    SUBJECT: WHISTLEBLOWER PROTECTIONS AND PROHIBITED
    PERSONNEL PRACTICES IN THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT

    FOR ALL DEPARTMENT OF STATE EMPLOYEES FROM THE DIRECTOR GENERAL

    1. ACTION FOR MANAGEMENT SECTION CHIEFS-SEE PARA. 6.

    2. I STAND COMMITTED TO ENSURING THAT ALL DEPARTMENT OF
    STATE EMPLOYEES ARE AWARE OF, AND UNDERSTAND, THE
    PROHIBITED PERSONNEL PRACTICES AND WHISTLEBLOWER
    PROTECTIONS. PROHIBITED PERSONNEL PRACTICES (PPPS) ARE,
    BY STATUTE, FORBIDDEN IN THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. ONE OF
    THE MOST FREQUENTLY DISCUSSED PPPS IS THE PROHIBITION OF
    RETALIATING AGAINST WHISTLEBLOWERS. WHISTLEBLOWING
    INVOLVES THE ACT OF DISCLOSING INFORMATION THAT AN
    EMPLOYEE REASONABLY BELIEVES IS EVIDENCE OF A VIOLATION
    OF ANY LAW, RULE OR REGULATION; GROSS MISMANAGEMENT; A
    GROSS WASTE OF FUNDS; AN ABUSE OF AUTHORITY; OR A
    SUBSTANTIAL AND SPECIFIC DANGER TO PUBLIC HEALTH OR
    SAFETY. I FIRMLY BELIEVE THAT
    EMPLOYEES WHO ARE AWARE
    OF THESE PROTECTIONS WILL BE MORE CONFIDENT IN COMING
    FORWARD TO REPORT POSSIBLE VIOLATIONS.

    3. THE OFFICE OF SPECIAL COUNSEL (OSC) IS AN
    INDEPENDENT AGENCY THAT INVESTIGATES AND PROSECUTES
    ALLEGATIONS OF PPPS. BY LAW, FEDERAL EMPLOYEES MAY NOT,
    FOR EXAMPLE: DISCRIMINATE; COERCE THE POLITICAL ACTIVITY
    OF ANY PERSON; INFLUENCE ANY PERSON TO WITHDRAW FROM JOB
    COMPETITION; ENGAGE IN NEPOTISM; TAKE, OR THREATEN TO
    TAKE, A PERSONNEL ACTION BECAUSE OF THE EXERCISE OF A
    LAWFUL APPEAL, COMPLAINT, OR GRIEVANCE RIGHT; OR TAKE,
    OR THREATEN TO TAKE, A PERSONNEL ACTION BECAUSE OF
    WHISTLEBLOWING. FOR A COMPLETE LIST OF PPPS, YOU ARE
    ENCOURAGED TO VISIT OSC’S WEBSITE, HTTP://WWW.OSC.GOV,
    WHICH PROVIDES IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR RIGHTS
    AS A FEDERAL EMPLOYEE, PPPS, WHISTLEBLOWING, AND
    DISCLOSURE PROCEDURES. COMPLAINTS ALLEGING PROHIBITED
    PERSONNEL PRACTICES SHOULD BE DIRECTED TO THE OSC AT
    202-254-3640, OR FILED ON-LINE AT HTTP://WWW.OSC.GOV.

    4. THE WHISTLEBLOWER PROTECTION ACT OF 1989 WAS ENACTED
    TO STRENGTHEN PROTECTIONS FOR FEDERAL EMPLOYEES WHO
    BELIEVE THEY HAVE BEEN SUBJECTED TO UNJUSTIFIED
    PERSONNEL ACTIONS IN REPRISAL FOR THEIR WHISTLEBLOWING
    ACTIVITIES. THE OSC PROVIDES THE SECURE CHANNEL THROUGH
    WHICH CURRENT AND FORMER FEDERAL EMPLOYEES MAKE
    CONFIDENTIAL DISCLOSURES, INCLUDING VIOLATIONS OF LAW,
    RULE,
    OR REGULATION, MISMANAGEMENT, FRAUD, ABUSE OF
    AUTHORITY, OR A SUBSTANTIAL DANGER TO PUBLIC HEALTH OR
    SAFETY. ANY DEPARTMENT OF STATE EMPLOYEE WHO HAS REASON
    TO BELIEVE THAT THERE HAS BEEN MISCONDUCT, FRAUD, WASTE,
    OR ABUSE IS ENCOURAGED TO REPORT THESE MATTERS.
    DISCLOSURES SHOULD BE DIRECTED TO OSC PER PARA. 3 ABOVE,
    OR TO THE DEPARTMENT’S OFFICE OF THE INSPECTOR GENERAL
    (OIG).

    5. FEDERAL EMPLOYEES HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE FREE FROM
    PROHIBITED PERSONNEL PRACTICES, INCLUDING RETALIATION
    FOR WHISTLEBLOWING. I AM COMMITTED TO MAKING SURE THAT
    ALL EMPLOYEES ARE AWARE OF THEIR RIGHTS AS WELL AS THE
    SAFEGUARDS THAT ARE IN PLACE TO PROTECT THEM. BY
    VISITING THESE WEBSITE LINKS, YOU CAN FIND DETAILED
    INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR RIGHTS AS A FEDERAL EMPLOYEE.

    HTTP://WWW.OSC.GOV/YOURRIGHTSFEDERALEMPLOYEE.HTM

    OUTLINES YOUR “YOUR RIGHTS AS A FEDERAL EMPLOYEE.”

    HTTP://WWW.OSC.GOV/DOCUMENTS/PUBS/OSCROLE.PDF IS A
    PAMPHLET ENTITLED “THE ROLE OF THE U.S. OFFICE OF
    SPECIAL COUNSEL” AND CONTAINS VALUABLE INFORMATION FOR
    REPORTING PURPOSES. I ENCOURAGE EACH EMPLOYEE TO
    CAREFULLY READ THIS PAMPHLET.

    THIS INFORMATION IS ALSO ACCESSIBLE THROUGH THE STATE
    DEPARTMENT INTRANET AT:

    HTTP://INTRANET.HR.STATE.SBU/EMPLOYEERELATIONS/CONDUCTSU

    ITABILITYDISCIPLINE/PAGES/WHISTLEBLOWERPROTECTIONACT.ASPX

    6. MANAGEMENT
    OFFICERS AT OVERSEAS POSTS ARE REQUESTED
    TO PRINT THE DOWNLOADABLE POSTERS ABOUT PPP’S AND WPA
    PROTECTIONS FROM THE WEBSITE LINKS BELOW, AND TO POST
    THEM IN HIGHLY VISIBLE LOCATIONS IN ALL BUILDINGS
    THROUGHOUT THE MISSION WHERE DEPARTMENT OF STATE
    EMPLOYEES WORK.

    HTTP://WWW.OSC.GOV/PPPPOSTER.HTM PROVIDES A PRINTABLE
    POSTER ON PROHIBITED PERSONNEL PRACTICES.

    HTTP://WWW.OSC.GOV/WBDISCPOSTER.HTM PROVIDES A PRINTABLE
    POSTER ON WHISTLEBLOWING.

    HTTP://WWW.OSC.GOV/DOCUMENTS/PUBS/POST_WBR.PDF PROVIDES
    A PRINTABLE POSTER ON WHISTLEBLOWER
    RETALIATION.

    7. IF YOU HAVE ANY COMMENTS OR QUESTIONS, PLEASE
    CONTACT HR/ER OR ME AT ANY TIME.

    8. MINIMIZED CONSIDERED.
    CLINTON
    BT
    #7512

    NNNN
    UNCLASSIFIED STATE 00047512



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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!

    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Iraq

    Brush-Back Pitch: Special Counsel Takes on FDA over Email

    February 16, 2012 // Comments Off

    The war between the Government, which claims it is free to do whatever it wants, and its own employees, who continue to insist their duty is to the People, not to their bosses, rages. Here’s another skirmish.

    The Food and Drug Administration secretly monitored the private e-mail accounts of six of its own scientists and doctors who had warned Congress and the White House that medical devices they were reviewing were approved or pushed toward approval despite safety concerns. Among the communications, made on agency computers, were e-mails the employees wrote to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), which reviews disclosures about government wrongdoing and retaliation against those who report it (Full disclosure: The Government Accountability Project has filed a complaint with the OSC on my behalf against my employer, the Department of State, claiming State’s actions against me are retaliation for the book I wrote critical of their actions n Iraq).

    On Wednesday, attorneys for the employees and two prominent Republican lawmakers asked the special counsel to investigate whether the employees’ communications with the office, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the inspector general that oversees FDA operations were protected under federal whistleblower laws. The attorneys and lawmakers say the e-mails were confidential and should not have been intercepted.

    The idea is that certain communications are de facto private, even if made on a government or company computer. The message, not the tool used, controls.

    “The confidentiality of these communications was broken,” said Stephen M. Kohn of the National Whistleblowers Center, whose firm is representing the plaintiffs. “As part of their official duties, they have the right to disclose confidential concerns. Employees throughout the government can work on these matters on paid time.”

    The FDA tried but failed to have criminal charges brought against the whistleblowers for disclosing sensitive business information. The agency fired or harrassed the others.

    Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner warned against government monitoring of email communications with her office.

    One hopes that the State Department is following the FDA case and not monitoring its own employees’ emails to their lawyers, the OSC or Congress, especially this time of year when Congress has budget requests in front of it. State’s monitoring of its own employees’ emails as a retaliatory tactic also flies in the face of all the barking Hillary does about internet freedom in China and Iran. Perhaps if the State Department had an Inspector General to review such matters internally things would be better. Awkward!



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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!

    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Iraq

    Daily Kos: Fear the Noise of Democracy

    February 2, 2012 // Comments Off

    The Daily Kos runs an article today comparing shamefully the tactics used in Korea to stifle bloggers that offend the government there with tactics used by the US State Department to accomplish the same goals.

    South Korea brought the recent charges under its National Security Law – which bans “acts that benefit the enemy” but fails to specify what those acts are. Apparently, tweeting satirical images, as a blogger there recently did, counts as “acts that benefit the enemy.”

    “This is not a national security case; it’s a sad case of the South Korean authorities complete failure to understand sarcasm,” said Sam Zarifi, Asia-Pacific director of the human rights group Amnesty International. Of course, this week, the State Department proved it was equally unable to understand sarcasm, ordering me to remove the State Department Seal from a satirical blog I posted.

    The article concludes by scolding Mrs. Clinton’s Department of State:


    Stifling speech is the stuff of dictatorships, not democracies. If the U.S. is to be a leader in democracy, the State Department should take the lead and encourage free speech, even critical speech.

    Our government, like the one in Korea, fears the noise of democracy and instead prefers the silence of compliance.

    Read the entire piece on the Daily Kos.



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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!

    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Iraq

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