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Silent State: Washington’s Campaign Against Whistle-Blowers

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

(Page 4)

There are other signs of resistance in Washington to the urge to cloak the government in silence. For example, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) launched an investigation into the Food and Drug Administration’s secret email monitoring of scientists warning that unsafe medical devices were being approved over their objections. Whistleblowers, said Grassley, often are treated “like skunks at a picnic.”

The Senator demanded that FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg disclose who authorized the monitoring, how many employees were targeted, and whether the agency obtained passwords to personal email accounts, allowing communications on private computers to be intercepted. He also wants to know whether the agency’s two-year surveillance campaign is still ongoing.

In another recent case, the Office of the Special Counsel formally asked the Air Force to take harsher disciplinary action against supervisors at the Dover mortuary who had tried to fire two whistleblowers who raised accusations about the mishandling of soldiers’ remains.

The Government Accountability Project has filed a complaint on my behalf with the Office of the Special Counsel demanding that the State Department cease its retaliatory personnel practices against me. The Department is particularly vulnerable, given its drumbeat of support for the rights of bloggers and other dissidents in the Middle East and China. State has already been forced to readmit me to the building and return my access badge.  I remain an optimist, believing that my complaint will succeed and that, someday, I will return to work at a State Department where employees can talk openly about the bad as well as the good.


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It Matters

Americans, who elect and pay for their government in Washington, deserve to know exactly what it does there—and elsewhere around the world—with their dollars. As in my case in Iraq, such information often is only available if some insider, shocked or disturbed by what he or she has seen, decides to speak out, either directly, in front of Congress, or through a journalist.

The Obama administration, which arrived in Washington promoting “sunshine” in government, turned out to be committed to silence and the censoring of less-than-positive news about its workings. While it has pursued no prosecutions against CIA torturers, senior leaders responsible for Abu Ghraib or other war crimes, or anyone connected with the illegal surveillance of American citizens, it has gone after whistleblowers and leakers with ever increasing fierceness, both in court and inside the halls of various government agencies.

There is a barely visible but still significant war raging between a government obsessed with secrecy and whistleblowers seeking to expose waste, fraud, and wrongdoing. Right now, it is a largely one-sided struggle and the jobs of those of us who are experiencing retaliation are the least of what’s at stake.

Think of those victims of retaliatory personnel practices and imprisoned whistleblowers as the canaries in the deep mineshaft of federal Washington, clear evidence of a government that serves its people poorly and has no interest in being held accountable for that fact. This administration fears the noise of democracy, preferring the silence of compliance.

Peter Van Buren, a 23-year veteran foreign service officer at the State Department, spent a year in Iraq as team leader for two State Department Provincial Reconstruction Teams. Now in Washington and a TomDispatch regular, he writes about Iraq and the Middle East at his blog, We Meant Well. His book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (The American Empire Project, Metropolitan Books), has recently been published. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Van Buren discusses what it means to be a governmental whistle-blower, click here, or download it to your iPod here.

[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.]

©2012 Peter Van Buren

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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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