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Silent State: Washington’s Campaign Against Whistle-Blowers

Posted on Feb 9, 2012
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By Peter Van Buren, TomDispatch

(Page 3)

All of this has taken place in such a way that I cannot challenge it (except by writing and speaking about it in public—at additional risk). The State Department has standard disciplinary procedures that it could have invoked against me, but those leave room for public challenges and, in some cases, would allow me to force documents into the open that State would rather not share with you.

Hall Walkers: Ghosts in the Machine

Before “telework” existed as an option that allowed undesirable employees to be sent home and into a kind of benign house arrest, people like me at State were called “hall walkers.” They were the ones whom the Department no longer wanted as employees, but who could not be fired due to lack of evidence. So they would have their security clearances suspended without recourse, be removed from their assignments, and yet told that, to get paid, they needed to be physically present in the main State building eight hours a day.

Since they were not assigned to an office, State was wholly unconcerned about how they occupied themselves during those long empty days. And though as a “teleworker” I am not one, the hall walkers are still with us.


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The main State building is enormous, with literally miles and miles of corridors, and the hall walker might wander them, kill time at the library, have a long lunch, stop in to chat with former colleagues still willing to be seen in his or her company. Even in the first FSO training course called A-100, young diplomats are advised that the most ignominious end to a career is not failing at your job, but being thrown into the purgatory of hall walking—still on the payroll but no longer a member of the tribe. Disowned, shunned, exiled in the ancient Greek tradition.

Hall walking is a far cry from being dragged through a trial or spending two years in solitary, but it exists on the same continuum. No one at State will say how many employees still exist in the shadow world of hall walking, but at least dozens is a reasonable guess.

I am told as well that State Department officials are increasingly moving to suspend security clearances for acts wholly outside the realm of security, like blogging they find offensive. One State Department Human Resources employee confided to me that this has, in fact, become the go-to strategy for winnowing out unwanted employees in the too-hard-to-fire category, a sad evolution, given the sorry history of the State Department in the McCarthy era.

Fighting Back

For a government employee being punished extra-legally by an agency ignoring its own rules, there is still one recourse: the Office of the Special Counsel. Created in 1979, it was to be an ombudsman meant to keep an eye on governmental nastiness and ensure the implementation of the Whistleblower Protection Act. Empowered, among other things, to investigate and “make right” instances of federal retaliation against legitimate whistleblowers, the office was sidelined through several administrations.

Under George W. Bush, it was embroiled in scandal when its head, Special Counsel Scott Bloch, instead purged its staff of lawyers who disagreed with him and announced that he would not follow up on cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation. Last summer, Bloch pleaded guilty to deleting evidence from his computer while under investigation for retaliating against his own staff.

At a moment when government extra-legal retaliation against whistleblowers and leakers is on the rise, call it ironic, but the Office of the Special Counsel has seen a rebirth under its current head, Obama appointee Carolyn Lerner. As the Washington Post recently described her, Lerner has “gone to the mat and tried to expand the boundaries of the law’s protections for whistleblowers. She has lifted long-sagging morale at an agency that, instead of behaving as an independent watchdog, has treaded water for much of its existence.”

Specifically, Lerner reassigned staff members to review a backlog of cases against whistleblowers facing reprisals, including “veterans’ hospital staff members reporting poor lab procedures [and] air traffic controllers claiming flight-pattern dangers.” She has enforced a 60-day limit on responses from federal agencies. The Office seems to have re-embraced its mission. “She’s a pit bull,” says Tom Devine, legal director of the Government Accountability Project, which defends whistleblowers.

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vector56's avatar

By vector56, February 12, 2012 at 5:23 pm Link to this comment

Without informed “citizens who step up and take responsibility for their government Whistle-blowers are just whistling in the dark!

Like Sacco and Vanzetti, Bradly Manning and the other 6 Whistle Blowers Obama has doomed the Left will just watch at a safe distance as Gazelles watch lions devour their comrade.

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By berniem, February 11, 2012 at 4:10 pm Link to this comment

Is there something new here? Our own government, namely “elected” officials, the political flacks and appointees around them, as well as the military, all so nicely bought and owned by the corporate fascist economic system, are the true terrorists confronting our freedoms and way of life and the security state is solely for the protection of the ruling establishment. The Bill of Rights and the Constitution no longer are worth the parchment they’re written on because there is no system of enforcing their provisions as designed to protect us from our own despots and tyrants. Voting means nothing and those who run for office must pass muster with the corrupt establishment to even get on the ballot. If elected they quickly join the game or are jettisoned at the pleasure of one or another power group which is not comprised of the voters but the monied interests that truly run things. Elections are meaningless with results predetermined by those who work at Diebold. FREE BRADLEY MANNING!!!!!

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By gerard, February 11, 2012 at 3:10 pm Link to this comment

Quote-Unquqote:  “[Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of the Department of State, the Department of Defense, or any other entity of the U.S. government. The Department of State most certainly does not approve, endorse, or authorize this article.]”
  Tags like this one definitely, though they are aimed at pacification (I suppose), nevertheless sew seeds of distrust far and wide. They threaten by casting shadows of possible illegitimacy and/or unreliability whereas, as a matter of fact, this article contains accounts of personal experiences and opinions related to retaliation without proven evidence of illegal behavior.
  What is at stake here of course is that citizens are guaranteed the right of free speech by the Constitution whereas governments are not guaranteed the right of secrecy by the Constitution except in the most stringently regulated matters of State
  Ironically, although the State is also quaranteed the right of free speech, it refuses to use it by withholding information from the public, yet uses its right to withhold information to punish those who use their right to speak freely.
  What, therefore, would prevent the State from becoming completely impervious by declaring all of its processes as “secret” and preventing citizens from knowing anything at all?
  Obviously, democracy presumes and demands a just balance between freedom and license, and that balance serves us, the nation, better if it errs on the side of openness because secrecy offers shelter from discovery of error and encouragement to covering up crimes.
  Correct me if I’m wrong here.

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By Jay Lindberg, February 11, 2012 at 10:28 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)


You should try exposing corruption in the War on
Drugs some time.  I called it in the trenches and
this is what it looked like from my book,  “DRUG WAR
ECONOMICS”  If anyone is interested in a copy of the
book, send me an email. I’ll send you a copy as a PDF

Thought For the Day

If you are old enough to be lied to, you are old
enough to know the truth. (2000)

In the trenches is just what it says. These are the
battles being fought in the streets to make this
country a safer place for us all.

When you go after corruption in society and
government, you are hunting illegitimate power.
Citizenship doesn’t get much more dangerous than
this. Dr. Rosema, Geoffrey Hill and Judge Mclaughlin
were terminated with prejudice in San Bernardino
County last year.


A year ago, Dr. Rosema was killed in front of his
house, Tyisha Miller style, with law enforcement guns
blazing. The local media kept the fact he worked in
the Coroner’s Office (Motive)and investigating
corruption (motive) in that office out of the press.
The San Bernardino Sun and the Press Enterprise did
not pull the trigger of the officers that
assassinated him but the killing could not have
happened without their cooperation.

Some of the bullets that ripped through his body,
belonged to them.

The logistics of this killing tells me this. Someone
in the press had to be notified before the killing
and agreed to keep the motive for the shooting out of
the local newspapers. I seriously doubt this one is
covered under the First Amendment.

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By kazy, February 10, 2012 at 9:08 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It occurred to me after examining the response that our government has on whistleblowers, it makes our government LOOK GUILTY of the charges.

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By kazy, February 10, 2012 at 8:52 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This was a harrowing story to read - and very frightening to know how much we’ve become a “Big Brother” government. It is not hyperbole to say we are behaving like a totalitarian regime. This is horrifying. Maybe we were always like this but now with the Internet people are actually exercising their Constitutional rights only to find out we really don’t have those rights when it comes to challenging Big Brother.

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By BeReal, February 10, 2012 at 7:25 pm Link to this comment

You sir, are one of the few and I honor your integrity! I have filled the same role more than once, though not in government, and have run into the same response. I look forward to more of us waking up from the somnambulism we have been manipulated into!

To the rest who are still sleeping .. read up on the Milgram Experiment ... it is most telling!

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By Aarky, February 10, 2012 at 6:46 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Just one of the instances of waste and stupidity that Van Buren wrote about, “How Yout Tax Dollars Financed
Reconstruction Madness in Iraq”.

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By gerard, February 10, 2012 at 11:06 am Link to this comment

One obvious inconsistency about “whistle-blowing” is that it’s a one-way street:  The government never blows the whistle on itself; only on conscientious citizens who have the guts to speak up. But if the government had the guts to blow its own whistles on its crimes and errors, citizens wouldn’t have to do it!

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By LVC, February 9, 2012 at 9:20 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I see this pictured “Whistle Blower” tag every time I see a train (nearly every day in
the Pacific NW). There is usually a whistle, date and small message. Watch the
ends of cars of a train next time you are stopped at a crossing.

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By Writeonwater, February 9, 2012 at 8:01 pm Link to this comment

There is something quite disturbing in this article. I commend Mr Van Buren for writing it. This particular statement…

“an agency ignoring its own rules,”

I believe the word expediency is the one that white washes the consequences he puts so clearly. This is having its counterpart in the law. In California a high court just “changed the rules” in terms of mortgage law. What had been a mater of State law has now been changed to fed law. The banks are the ones who win in this case. In a word they are immune from consequences.

When legal expectations become suborned to what appears to be, at best caprice and at worst something which Hesiod addressed when he said around the 7-8 Century BC…

…Judges lull’d by thee
The sentence gave and stamp’d the false decree:
Oh fools! who know not in their selfish soul
How far the half is better than the whole:

The Whistle-blower policy of Obama’s is one of the biggest stains he cannot hide.

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