State Dept. Punishes Employee For Linking to WikiLeaks

October 20, 2011

Peter Van Buren, a career foreign service officer, said yesterday that the State Department has suspended his top secret security clearance indefinitely because of a post on his personal blog from which he linked to diplomatic cables published on WikiLeaks.

Van Buren said he believed the move was in retaliation for his recently published book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.

“I’m fairly close to retirement [from government work] and this is a way of not allowing me to retire with a security clearance,” he told Wired‘s Kim Zetter. “It’s like having a big scarlet ‘loser’ painted on my forehead.”

The indefinite suspension, Van Buren says, means that he cannot challenge the decision in the courts, as he would be able to had the department revoked his clearance.

Back in December, after WikiLeaks’ publication of more than 250,000 diplomatic cables, the State Department reminded employees that they were not allowed to view the documents unless they had the proper security clearance. (The New York Times memorably described the order as “a classic case of shutting the barn door after the horse has left.”)  The Pentagon also issued a directive saying that viewing classified documents from unclassified computers would create “a security violation.”

Recently released figures show that more than 4.2 million people hold security clearances, a figure that is nearly the entire population of Washington D.C. As Top Secret America‘s Dana Priest has reported, the clearances can be very lucrative for those who move into the private sector after retiring from government service.

Coincidentally, when Van Buren served in Iraq in 2009-10, his office at Forward Operating Base Hammer was located across the hall from the office where Bradley Manning worked.  Manning is the Army intelligence analyst accused of leaking more than half a million classified documents to WikiLeaks.

“I don’t think I ever met the guy,” Van Buren told Wired. “The last time I had access to U.S. government secrets was on the Army system that Bradley Manning used.”

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