On Tuesday, a mid-level foreign service officer named Peter Van Buren leveled some serious charges against the State Department, his employer of 23 years, at the website TomDispatch. State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, he claimed, was investigating him and threatening to fire him for disclosing classified information by linking to a publicly available WikiLeaks cable about U.S.-Libyan military trade from his personal blog back in August. The State Department, he argued, was singling him out as a scapegoat for the leaked diplomatic cables because Van Buren published a book critical about his reconstruction work in Iraq, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. The State Department has not responded to a Wired request for comment.
Van Buren asserts the State Department's action "chills free speech." But so far, perhaps emboldened by a suspicion that he'll soon be terminated, Van Buren's been lashing out at State pretty freely, exposing a rapidly deteriorating relationship with his longtime employer. In a blog post today, Van Buren publishes a scathing and satirical take on how State might issue press guidance for how to respond to his recent accusations and book on Iraq. One bullet point reads:
No comment (but leak to someone that Van Buren is a crazy man, years of bad behavior, should've been dropped a long time ago, really off the rails, Diplomatic Security has had their eye on him for years, he just made this up to get money for his meth habit, his mother poses for Crack Whore Magazine…)
Other posts include a sarcastic letter to State and a piece--with the headline "The State Department Does Not Want You to Read This" and a photo of Darth Vader--that details the case State is building against Van Buren. He's no less defiant on Twitter, refusing to honor State's request for redactions to his book.
While Van Buren may be ratcheting up his rhetoric against State over the last 24 hours, he's been criticizing the department and the U.S. government pretty much ever since he launched his personal blog in April as a supplement to We Meant Well. In one of his first posts, entitled "Bureaucratic Chlamydia," Van Buren described the "half-assed nature" in which the State Department prepared "people like me to live and work in a war zone." A month later, Van Buren noted that while the State Department was spending millions to end web censorship overseas, it was censoring TomDispatch, the site he contributed to, in its own offices because TomDispatch ran content from WikiLeaks. Van Buren's taken his criticism outside the blog as well. In a piece for TomDispatch in June, for example, he questioned State's long-term plans for Iraq:
Changing the occupying force from an exhausted U.S. Army that labored away for years at a low-grade version of diplomacy (drinking endless cups of Iraqi tea) to a newly militarized Department of State will not free us from the cul-de-sac we find ourselves in. While nothing will erase the stain of the invasion, were we to really leave when we promised to leave, the U.S. might have a passing shot at launching a new narrative in a Middle East already on edge over the Arab Spring.
Van Buren claims that while the Bureau of Diplomatic Security told him recently that "every blog post, every Facebook post, and every Tweet by every State Department employee" must "be pre-cleared by the Department prior to 'publication,'" he doubts the bureau "has the staff or the interest to monitor the hundreds of blogs, thousands of posts, and millions of tweets by Foreign Service personnel." Instead, he thinks State is picking on him because of his book, which he claims State "signed off on under internal clearance procedures some 13 months ago."
Others, however, saw this confrontation coming a mile away. Back in April, a fellow State Department employee wrote at the blog The Afghan Plan that Van Buren "writes a bitingly sharp-edged blog" that "is so blazingly honest that I'm shocked the hatchet hasn't come down from above yet. He says a lot of the things that a lot of us think but don't say, which is usually hara-kiri in the State blog world." Five months later, that observation seems rather prescient.