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Protecting Whistleblowers since 1977

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

Jesselyn Radack, October 20, 2011

According to a new intelligence community report to Congress, the number of people who held security clearances for access to classified information last year exceeded 4.2 million. A favorite new tactic of the government with which to retaliate against whistleblowers is to pull their security clearances. Ironically, it is pulling the clearances not of the newly-minted holders of such clearances, but of people who have proven their worthiness of such clearances by holding them for decades.

Peter Van Buren, a veteran State Department foreign service officer, 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.

In the case of Drake, Binney and Wiebe, among other "proper internal channels," they filed a Pentagon Inspector General complaint about massive fraud, waste, abuse and illegality at the National Security Agency (NSA), which the IG substantiated.

Franz Gayl, a Marine Corps science adviser, exposed the fact that the Corps failed to provide American troops in Iraq with MRAPs – Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles – in a timely manner. These vehicles better protect soldiers against improvised explosive devices and roadside bombs. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated that the deployment of MRAPs saved "thousands of lives." Nonetheless, for his whistleblowing, Gayl lost his security clearance.

Van Buren's crime? He wrote a book critical of U.S. reconstruction projects in Iraq, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. He also posted a link in a blog post about U.S. hypocrisy in its actions towards Muammar el-Qaddafi, who has reportedly just been killed. The link went to one of the 250,000 State Department cables published by WikiLeaks, which dealt with the sale of U.S. military parts to Qaddafi through a middleman – something about which the public clearly has a right to know.

So these folks who have been in possession of security clearances for decades suddenly "raise serious security concerns" because they criticize the government. Van Buren's current job doesn't even require a top-secret security clearance – it's just a scarlet A to potential future employers. As Van Buren says,

It's a way of bending the rules and hiding behind security to slap down an employee whose done something that they don't like.

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