Saturday, October 08, 2011

How the State Department intimidates its own employees

A recent post by Peter Van Buren on how he has been harassed for posting a link from his personal blog to a Wikileaks site on the web should alarm everyone.  There are still, and always will be, ways of intimidating individuals without breaking the law, and the treatment of this State Department official is frightening.  This kind of behavior, I can believe, might have taken place during the George W Bush administration when the whole country was punchy about every twitch that could be regarded as a threat to the country.  But, no, this took place only recently, by officials in the Obama administration, which we had all hoped would avoid such knee-jerk reactions.  Consider the following:

Van Buren was told that by posting a link to a WikiLeaks document already available elsewhere on the Web he had essentially disclosed “classified material.”

This was reason to be formally asked if he had “donated any money ... to a forward military base in Iraq.”

Had he “’transferred’ classified information” in any other way?

Mr Van Buren assumed that there was a subtext to this interrogation:  Someone objected to what he had to say in a forthcoming book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.  Whatever the reason it was un-American.

Van Buren is a State Department employee with 23 years of experience, and in this interview he was told that for the act of simply linking to another website he could lose his security clearance, which for him would of course mean the termination of a career.  The agents questioning him even stated that he was subject to criminal prosecution.  Indeed by merely revealing that he was being thus interrogated he could be charged with “interfering with a Government investigation.” A report of the interrogation on his blog would be considered “Law Enforcement Sensitive”.  

Hmm.  This is a free society, right?  Not Syria, not Saudi Arabia, not Bahrain, not Iran or North Korea.  We think an open society is a good thing.  We like the idea of a society in which people are free to use the internet.  It’s OK even to link to other sites the web -- because of course they are  already there.  

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