This week, the State Department moved to fire former Foreign Service officer Peter Van Buren, who published a book detailing the alleged waste and abuse he witnessed in Iraq. When POGO interviewed Van Buren back in January, the State Department had suspended his security clearance indefinitely, but he was still on payroll.
State based its actions on eight charges against Van Buren outlined in a 25-page investigation, according to The Washington Post. Among many other allegations in the report, which POGO has obtained, State accused Van Buren of “posting three hyperlinks to the WikiLeaks.org website” and refusing “to answer certain questions in a compelled [State Department] administrative interview.”
Van Buren alleges that State retaliated against him for whistleblowing actions like publishing a book, doing interviews with the media—including POGO—and putting information on his personal blog.
“It saddens me to see a once-great institution, the Department of State, reduced to crude retaliation against one of its own employees for writing a blog,” Van Buren told POGO. “If I did not tell you about the waste and mismanagement of billions of your tax dollars in Iraq, who would?”
In Van Buren’s book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, he gave specific examples of ways the U.S. mission in Iraq was allegedly derailed by bureaucratic waste and contractor fraud—and argued that the U.S. still hasn’t learned any lessons.
Van Buren told POGO that he filed a complaint for retaliation as a whistleblower with the Office of Special Counsel in January 2012, but the State Department issued his termination notice only days after the OSC decided to investigate the case in March—despite the fact that the State Department’s own investigation had been finished for months.
Jesselyn Radack, national security and human rights director for the Government Accountability Project (GAP), which is representing Van Buren, wrote: “The proposed removal of Van Buren is transparently retaliatory and intended to send a chilling message to foreign service officers considering blowing the whistle on waste, fraud, and abuse at the State Department.”
The State Department is maintaining that Van Buren’s retaliation claims are without merit. Spokesman Mark C. Toner told The Washington Post: “The State Department has followed process and acted in accordance with the law.”
Given the fact that waste, fraud and abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq has been well-documented by the Commission on Wartime Contracting, it seems misguided that the State Department is emphasizing throwing its manpower into investigating a whistleblower—rather than his actual claims.
Dana Liebelson is POGO's Beth Daley Impact Fellow.