• Nipple Question to the State Department

    May 17, 2012 // Comments Off on Nipple Question to the State Department

    might be mineIn a statement to the Washington Post, State Department spokesman Mark C. Toner said the censored Foreign Service blog that addressed one breast cancer survivor’s story “has been restored” on the State Department’s recruitment page. “It had been taken down as part of a periodic effort by a contractor to review and freshen the blog links on the site.”

    Does this mean I’m still getting fired for my blog? My story was also in the Washington Post but I am being punished, not rewarded, for the interview I gave.

    It sure seems the primary difference between the blogs you endorse and mine is simply the content; judging based on what I write is why the ACLU admonished the Department for violating my first amendment rights. The current “Nipple-gate” story just enforces that.

    Can I haz my job pleaz?

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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State

    State Department Moves to Fire Me

    March 17, 2012 // 3 Comments »

    The following story appeared in the Washington Post:

    Peter Van Buren, a foreign service officer who wrote an unflattering book about his year leading two reconstruction teams in Iraq, was stripped of his security clearance, banned from State Department headquarters for a time and transferred to a telework job that consists of copying Internet addresses into a file.

    Now the State Department is moving to fire him based on eight charges, ranging from linking on his blog to documents on the whistleblowing site WikiLeaks to disclosing classified information.

    In 24 years as a diplomat, Van Buren was posted around the world and speaks four languages. He called the termination notice he received Friday the coup de grace in a series of blows he received since his book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People was published last fall.

    With his book, based on a year he spent in the Iraqi desert in 2009-2010, and an unauthorized blog he started in 2011 that frequently skewers American foreign policy, Van Buren has tested the First Amendment almost daily.

    He and his attorneys maintain that his right to free speech has been trampled, and they say he is a victim of retaliation for whistleblowing— not only because his account of the reconstruction effort alleges unqualified staff, corruption and billions of dollars in wasted programs.

    A State Department spokesman said the diplomat’s claims of retaliation are “without merit.”

    “There are protections within the government for freedom of expression and for whistleblowers,” spokesman Mark C. Toner said. “The State Department has followed process and acted in accordance with the law.”

    Van Buren’s termination letter came within days of a decision by the Office of Special Counsel, an independent agency that investigates government wrongdoing and complaints of retaliation by those who report it, to look into his case.

    “It’s hard for me to objectively look at this as anything other than revenge and vindictiveness,” Van Buren said from his house in Falls Church.

    Jesselyn Radack, National Security and Human Rights director for the Government Accountability Project, which represents Van Buren, said: “It’s awfully curious timing, given the Office of Special Counsel complaint.”

    He’s one of few federal employees —and maybe the only one at the State Department—who wrote a book about life on the job while still on the job.

    Van Buren can appeal his termination to a five-member grievance board at the agency. “It’s the beginning of a process,” Toner said. “He’ll have ample opportunity to defend himself.”

    He was charged with eight violations of State Department policy. They include linking in his blog to documents on WikiLeaks; failing to clear each blog posting with his bosses; displaying a “lack of candor” during interviews with diplomatic security officers; leaking allegedly sensitive and classified information in his book; and using “bad judgement’ by criticizing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then-presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann on his blog.

    Van Buren disputes some of the charges, and says others were within his First Amendment rights.

    Van Buren submitted his book manuscript to State Department officials for review in the fall of 2010. He heard nothing after 30 days, when the rules require reviews to be completed. When he heard nothing, he said, he assumed the book had been approved.

    Shortly before it was due out last fall, the State Department wrote to the publisher and objected to three brief passages in the book officials claimed contained classified information. Van Buren says the information is widely known— such as the Central Intelligence Agency’s financial support for Iraqi intelligence agencies.

    In an Oct. 21 blog post headlined “Hillary Clinton Disgraces America,” Van Buren called a “disgrace” a comment the Secretary of State made to a journalist after the death of Moammar Gaddafi. “We came, we saw, he died,” Clinton tells a CBS News reporter in a video clip he posted on his blog, showing her laughing.

    Van Buren made references to Clinton’s private parts that he later removed from the posting. According to a report by the State Department, the agency put him on a watch list for the Secret Service and identified him to Clinton’s own security details as a potential threat.

    “I’m a chubby 52-year-old,” Van Buren said. “I’ve never threatened anybody in my life. It’s a cheap shot.”

    He called Bachmann a “Republican crazy person” in a blog post three days after the Clinton posting for saying Iraqis should reimburse the American government for its costs to “liberate” them.

    The charges against him are based on a 25-page investigation of Van Buren that the State Department concluded last December. He said he was not aware of the probe until the report was provided to him with his termination notice.

    Last fall, he announced plans to retire next year. He said he plans to challenge his termination.

    (Note: For those interested and/or concerned, I am still technically employed by the State Department, for now, as my lawyers and I fight back against what is crude retaliation and blatant disregard for the First Amendment. For the record, the State Department’s statement that they “followed process and acted in accordance with the law” ranks with the more hilarious things ever said within Foggy Bottom. Also, unicorns fly out of my ears.

    For the record, as the Washington Post claims, I must admit that I am a bit chubby but I am trying to lose some weight, maybe via stress.)

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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State

    Interview: My Oath is to the Constitution, not Hillary

    March 16, 2012 // 6 Comments »

    WUSA, channel 9 in Washington DC, ran an interview with me, detailing the reasons why I wrote about Iraq at the risk of my career, and shedding light on the State Department’s dirty tricks in retaliation. Twitter version: those people really can’t take a joke. Nor can they tolerate dissent.

    Here’s the interview:

    (If the video does not appear above, please follow this link to watch it)

    WUSA also ran this excerpt from our interview. Note that it is only since I filed a complaint with the Office of the Special Counsel detailing the State Department’s retaliation toward me that State has started to comment on the record. Before the complaint, Foggy Bottom was all about “no comment.” Now, with the complaint closing in on their misdeeds, they suddenly are on the record, albeit denying any wrong doing:

    FALLS CHURCH, Va. (WUSA) – Veteran Foreign Service Officer Peter Van Buren sits in his suburban Virginia home, assigned by his superiors at the State Department to online busy work while he fights the Department decision to fire him in a case that he says violates whistleblower protections that are guaranteed to federal workers who point out government wrong-doing.

    “Nine months ago, I wrote a book about my experiences in Iraq called We Meant Well. It exposed tremendous waste and mismanagement in the reconstruction of Iraq. The State Department is very unhappy about that, embarrassed about that, and has taken retaliatory steps against me, trying to kick me out, throw me out of the State Department and make it all go away,” Van Buren told 9News Now.

    “I came to Iraq and realized that the discrepancy between what we say we were doing and what we were doing at the risk of peoples lives, including my own, and billions of taxpayer dollars, was too wide to stand silent. The waste of lives, the waste of money was so extreme and the lies that were being told in Washington were so egregious that I decided to risk my career and speak out,” he said.

    The government believes Van Buren improperly disclosed classified information.

    “As far as permission is concerned, The State Department, in fact, approved my book in October of 2010 for publication, I suspect accidently or negligently, but they approved it nonetheless,” he said.

    The tension between Van Buren and his employer grew worse when he started to promote the book.

    “I started the blog at the publisher’s suggestion as a way to promote the book. I tried to find out first what a blog was, and then started writing it. However, as I started working on the blog, a world that was unavailable to me before opened up to me. Other people who had risked their careers as whistleblowers began contacting me, information became available to me, and I realized there was an audience that was willing to listen to some of the remarks that I had about what had happened in Iraq, and the blog grew to the popularity that it has now, and as it grew, the State Department got angrier and angrier at me, ” he said.

    On his blog, Van Buren is harshly critical of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, his boss.

    “Absolutely. I criticized the Secretary of State. I criticized the president and I’ve criticized other members of the State Department and the Administration, and I did that because when I signed up 24 years ago, my oath was to the constitution, not to Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or anyone else. I’ve served under Republicans and I’ve served under Democrats, but my oath has always been to the constitution, and therefore it shouldn’t matter,” Van Buren said.

    In some postings, Van Buren has been insulting to Republicans liike former Republican presidential candidate Michelle Bachman, calling her insane. In other postings, Van Buren
    is so vile that his comments can not be repeated here. Those include references to Mrs. Clinton’s anatomy and sexual practices.

    “Absolutely, and those statements are protected by the first Amendment. The First Amendment doesn’t have any cutouts for offensive or words you don’t like.

    “My statements were made to show my disgust at the Secretary of State’s chortling over the death of Muammar Gaddafi. He was a lousy human being, no question about that, but to laugh about his death was undiplomatic,” Van Buren said.

    And why was it necessary to be so profane?

    “It’s necessary sometimes to cause people to pay attention. There’s so much noise out there, so much flim flam, so much huff puff, that occasionally it’s necessary to say ‘Wait a minute, you need to look at this’.

    “In addition, I’ve tried by hard to separate my statements from any official statements by the State Department or by the US Government, and I suspect my use of occasional profanity, sometimes vile terms, and oftentimes sarcasm, does set it aside from anything that is official,” he said.

    In private business, he concedes, those are firing offenses.

    “Fair enough, but I don’t work in private business, I work for the government. I work for you, the people, and I have an obligation to tell you what goes on inside your government. If I didn’t tell you what happened in Iraq who would, who could?

    “People inside the government are different. You don’t have a choice. You can go to McDonalds or you can go to Burger King. If you don’t like one company, you can shop at another, but if we don’t tell you, the people who work inside the government what’s going on, then you, the people don’t know,” he said.

    “The thing that disturbs me most is the gap between what the State Department says publicly and what they’re doing to me privately.

    “The Secretary of State has stood up for the rights of bloggers in Syria and Iran and China and Viet Nam while at the same time saying I, as an American citizen, don’t have my First Amendment rights because I work in her building,” he said.

    “Due to privacy considerations, we cannot comment on Mr. Van Buren’s specific case, or that of any other employee, except to say that the claims of retaliation in this case are without merit. With respect to his filing a special complaint with the Office of Special Counsel, there are protections within the government for freedom of expression and for whistleblowers.

    “Though we cannot speak to this case specifically, I can tell you that the State Department has followed process and acted in accordance with the law. All employees have the right to present their positions before a final decision is made by the independent Foreign Service Grievance Board, ” said Mark Toner, a Deputy Spokesman at the State Department.

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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State