• April 1: Reflecting on My Image

    April 1, 2012 // 3 Comments »

    Diplomatic Security electronic monitoring foolishly recorded the following subject interaction April 1.

    Thank you for coming in Mr. Van Buren. Image Consultants, Inc. was founded to assist people in your situation, so you’ve come to the right place.

    To begin, we think that you’ve lost touch with your true narrative. You need to get back in touch with what your core story is all about. We understand the temptations—the Playgirl photo shoot was probably a fun tie-in to your blog pieces, but in the end things like that just hurt you. You can’t turn against the very people who read your blog. Yes, yes, I know God made you that way, but hanging it out in public isn’t where you want to be right now. Sometimes it is OK to not say everything that is in your head. Maybe, quite often it is OK. Try an avoid the obvious train wrecks, yes?

    I think however you do need to reconsider the State Department’s offer. After all, you’ve spent a good portion of your adult life there, and working for Alec Ross is not a bad career move at this stage. Yes, we know it would be as his “Special Assistant Valet” responsible primarily for dispensing hair gel, but a year or two isn’t that long in a hardship assignment like that, and look how well your last hardship tour turned out for you! We’ve heard he usually lets his assistants watch him review the Tweet drafts sent up to him by his writing staff, so that is a bonus.

    Now, looking ahead, we’ve run some numbers. Your book has sold well among your extended family, with some decent sales in the Ikea niche market. Apparently the cover art colors pairs well with their Speigleflugfluf collection and people have been buying multiple copies to decoratively fill up their shelves. Our research suggests if you can cut about 40 pages from the next edition you’ll increase sales to Ikea by 10-15%, assuming no color changes to the cover of course. Turns out it won’t matter which 40 pages you cut, so we’ll recommend taking out the parts that aren’t funny. That shouldn’t be too hard, yes?

    Looking ahead, let’s sift through some of the offers. I see you’ve taken our advice and stopped returning calls to Lindsey Lohan, good. Assuming you do not go with the Alec Ross gig, we feel the offer from Trader Joe’s is probably your best bet. They are ready to give up on the no blogging rule as long as you avoid talking about competitor’s prices and you do get the free Hawaiian shirt to wear at work plus the employee discount. That other offer—whistleblower at NBA games—seems sexy and cool but our polling says the $8 an hour you’ll make at Trader Joe’s will eclipse your book earnings after only two days. Kind of a sure thing.

    Anyway, I know you have to run to put in some telework OT, but think it over and we’ll talk more. We’ve got the Gingrich account coming in for a makeover any minute now…

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    Speaking Truth to Power

    March 22, 2012 // 4 Comments »

    (This article by William Astore originally appeared on Huffington Post)

    When you dare speak truth to power, the reality is that power already knows the truth, doesn’t want you to share it, and will punish you for your trouble.

    That’s the clear lesson from the State Department’s persecution of Peter Van Buren, who dared to tell the American people about the failures of Iraq reconstruction in his book We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (2011). His “crime” was his unflattering portrayal of misguided and mismanaged U.S. projects in Iraq, from American books translated into Arabic that were never read to a high-tech chicken factory that never worked to sewerage systems that grew worse rather than better despite infusions of machinery and countless millions of dollars.

    Van Buren deserves a commendation for his honesty. A true servant of the American people, his cautionary (and often wryly amusing) tale should teach us that so-called nation-building efforts are difficult to implement and even more difficult to sustain. Even more: the resource-intensive, high-tech approach of U.S. government officials and private contractors is rarely well-suited for places like Iraq and Afghanistan, whose resource- and knowledge-base is less well developed, at least by American standards. Approaches that work, Van Buren suggests, are those that are better tuned to engaging and empowering the locals within specific cultural settings, an approach rarely followed by American “experts” and corporations, eager as the latter were to make a buck while trying to show quick results.

    My own experience with winning the hearts and minds of Iraqis was limited but illustrative of Van Buren’s conclusions. Back in 2004, an American official in Iraq contacted the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, where I then worked, for help in translating a Peter, Paul and Mary song about tolerance. The idea was that Iraqi schoolchildren could be inculcated with a love of diversity, or at least a tolerance of the same, if they were taught the lyrics to this song. We engaged our Arabic translators, who quickly advised us that the lyrics to this touchy-feely American song would likely baffle Iraqi schoolchildren even when translated into Arabic. The American official at the other end of our conference call was very disappointed to hear that her bright idea to promote tolerance in Iraqi schools by translating feel-good anthems to diversity was a cultural non-starter.

    A great strength of Van Buren’s account is to show how we Americans delude ourselves into believing that our approach and our culture can be grafted successfully onto Iraqi and Afghan situations. Intentions may often be good but results are mixed at best because U.S. providers want to show rapid progress even as they’re encouraged to allocate resources as quickly as possible (often a formidable task, given the bureaucratic red tape involved). Can-do spirit is frustrated by the realities of contractor and indigenous greed, cultural differences, and the short-term mentality of American managers who rarely occupy the same position for more than a few months.

    Van Buren explains to us why the dedicated efforts of individuals like himself made so little difference in Iraq. His is a cautionary tale of waste, mismanagement, and hubris, one that should serve to discourage (or at least to inform) current efforts in Afghanistan.

    It’s not that our government doesn’t want to hear that message; the powerful already know how much we’ve bungled these “reconstruction” efforts. It’s that they don’t want you the American people to know how much they’ve bungled these efforts.

    Van Buren shines a light in places that many would prefer to remain dark. And that, sadly, is rarely rewarded, even less so today in an administration that’s determined to silence whistleblowers from all quarters.

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    On RT.com: War on Whistleblowers

    February 22, 2012 // 2 Comments »

    The House Subcommittee on Capital Markets and Government-Sponsored Enterprises passed a bill that severely weakens protection for corporate whistleblowers. The bill requires the whistleblower to confront the company in question first before going to a regulatory agency. Then the agency would notify the entity being accused of wrong-doing before any enforcement action is taken. Also it would legalize retaliation by the company against the whistle blowing employee. I joined RT.com to take a closer look at the rights of whistleblowers and how they’ve changed through the years.

    (Follow this link if the video is not embedded above).

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    Van Buren Gets Favorite Whistleblower Retaliation Career-Ender: Pulling Security Clearances

    October 21, 2011 // Comments Off on Van Buren Gets Favorite Whistleblower Retaliation Career-Ender: Pulling Security Clearances

    The Government Accountability Project has a new article up about my problems with my security clearance, suspended by the State Department in retaliation for a link on this blog to a document on a Wikileaks site.

    The author writes:

    Peter Van Buren is the latest casualty of this punitive trend. The government suspended his top-secret security clearance – which he has held for 23 years – over LINKING (not LEAKING) to a WikiLeaks document on his blog and . . . surprise, surprise . . . publishing a book critical of the government.

    As a whistleblower attorney, this has happened to numerous clients who have held security clearances for decades, are just a few years away from retirement, but dare to say something critical of the government. Not only do they lose their pension, but the loss of their security clearance renders them unemployed and unemployable in the intelligence community.

    Like with Thomas Drake, Bill Binney, Kirk Wiebe, Franz Gayl, and numerous GAP clients, these life-long public servants have had their security clearances suspended. Not necessarily revoked (because if its revoked, that can be challenged through federal court), but suspended, so that the action cannot be challenged.

    So these folks who have been in possession of security clearances for decades suddenly “raise serious security concerns” because they criticize the government.

    Read the whole article at the Government Accountability Project.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq