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Protecting Whistleblowers since 1977

"We Meant Well" Author Peter Van Buren on Punishing the Whistleblowers

Jesselyn Radack, February 09, 2012

State Department whistleblower Peter Van Buren writes in TomDispatch today about the escalating retaliation taken against him since he wrote a book about massive reconstruction fraud in Iraq: We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.

Van Buren writes:

For the crime of writing this book and maintaining a blog that occasionally embarrasses, State Department officials destroyed my career, even as they confirm my thesis, and their own failure, by reducing the Baghdad Embassy to half its size in the face of Iraq's unraveling.

Even as the Secretary of State rails against suppression of free speech abroad, the State Department continues to retaliate and threaten Van Buren for a book written in his personal capacity on his personal time.

Van Buren detailed some of the retaliation, which tellingly began shortly before his book's publication:

Without allowing any rebuttal or defense, State suspended my security clearance, claiming my blogging was an example of “poor judgment,” transferred me from a substantive job into a meaningless telework position, threatened felony conviction over alleged disclosure of classified information, illegally banned me from entering the building where I supposedly work, and continues to try to harass and intimidate me.

“The State Department was aware of Mr. Van Buren’s book long prior to its release,” explains attorney Jessleyn Radack, who now represents me. “Yet instead of addressing the ample evidence of fraud, waste, and abuse in the book, State targeted the whistleblower. The State Department’s retaliatory actions are a transparent attempt to intimidate and silence an employee whose critique of fraudulent, wasteful, and mismanaged U.S. reconstruction efforts in Iraq embarrassed the agency.”

GAP has filed a reprisal complaint on Mr. Van Buren's behalf with the revamped Office of Special Counsel (OSC). Van Buren also described the much-needed reform at OSC:

At a moment when government extra-legal retaliation against whistleblowers and leakers is on the rise, call it ironic, but the Office of the Special Counsel has seen a rebirth under its current head, Obama appointee Carolyn Lerner. As the Washington Post recently described her, Lerner has “gone to the mat and tried to expand the boundaries of the law’s protections for whistleblowers. She has lifted long-sagging morale at an agency that, instead of behaving as an independent watchdog, has treaded water for much of its existence.”

Van Buren understands the need for whistleblowers and the larger significance when they are silenced:

Americans, who elect and pay for their government in Washington, deserve to know exactly what it does there -- and elsewhere around the world -- with their dollars. As in my case in Iraq, such information often is only available if some insider, shocked or disturbed by what he or she has seen, decides to speak out, either directly, in front of Congress, or through a journalist.

There is a barely visible but still significant war raging between a government obsessed with secrecy and whistleblowers seeking to expose waste, fraud, and wrongdoing. Right now, it is a largely one-sided struggle and the jobs of those of us who are experiencing retaliation are the least of what’s at stake.

And Van Buren understands - unfortunately firsthand – the unjust consequences that too often come with following one's conscience. If the State Department is to promote freedom of speech abroad, it should start with protecting speech – even dissenting speech – from its own employees.


Jesselyn Radack is National Security & Human Rights Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.