Security Clearance Denial

State Department Official Protests Security Clearance Suspension

Writing a book criticizing the way your organization does its job and writing a critical blog post linking to a classified document on Wikileaks may seem like a good idea, but it has proven a good way to get your security clearance suspended for Peter Van Buren.

Van Buren, a State Department foreign service officer, recently published the book We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, all while still working in the human resources department at the Department of State, and holding a top secret security clearance. Van Buren has been critical of his employer in several interviews and blog postings, including an Aug. 25 post which linked to a 2009 Wikileaks released cable about the sale of military parts to Libyan president Muammar Qadaffi, who was killed this week…

Van Buren was notified that his top secret clearance had been suspended this week. State Department security officials said the suspension was due to failure to comply with rules and regulations and “writing and speaking on matters of official concern.” Van Buren appears most upset at the decision to suspend his clearance versus revoking it, saying:

“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 said. “It’s like having a big scarlet ‘loser’ painted on my forehead.”

Van Buren said the State Department is deliberately suspending his clearance, instead of revoking it, in order to place him in limbo and deny him the ability to appeal the decision.

The reality is that it’s not unusual for a security clearance to be suspended as a result of a pending investigation or possible security violation. Over the past several months officials have cited concern with some of the information included in Van Buren’s book, including a request for content to be redacted from the final print.

The Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office (DISCO) receives about 8,000 incident reports a year ranging from DUIs to bankruptcies and security violations, said ClearanceJobs contributor William Henderson, author of the Security Clearance Manual and a retired security investigator. Of those, it only temporarily suspends about 120 clearances a year pending investigation.

There’s no reported average length of time for a clearance issue to be resolved. Awaiting the results of a criminal court action can prolong a suspension, and is out of the control of DISCO authorities.

With an internal investigation into Van Buren’s conduct in-process, issuing a suspension of the security clearance, versus revoking it completely, would appear to be standard procedure. If the investigation drags on for several months, however, then Van Buren might have a complaint, noted Henderson.

State Department security clearance procedures – and personnel expectations – are not necessarily in line with the experiences of Department of Defense or other agency clearance holders. (Anyone who has spent time working in or with both agencies can attest that security clearance expectations are just the beginning of the ideological differences between the departments). A group called Concerned Foreign Service Officers was formed in 2005, and consists of current and former State Department employees who believe there are abuses in the security clearance process used to punish employees and circumvent labor laws and personnel practices.

Comment Archive

  1. Avatar

    If Van Buren is surprised that his TS was suspended after what he did, then he’s not very bright. It’s called “DON’T BITE THE HAND THAT FEEDS YOU.” At least, that is, until you no longer rely on that hand to feed you. Common sense!

  2. Avatar

    As an OPM investigator I once had to interview a guy who had his clearance suspended because he went to a news site about the story and it had an embedded video from wikileaks and he had it suspended. They do not play when it comes to this stuff.

  3. Avatar

    Van Buren’s 51 years old with 23 years of service at the State Department. They must have a really great retirement plan for him to be close to retiremet. FERS requires a minimum 30 years at age 56.

  4. Avatar

    Looks like State needs OPM to conduct their investigations. Stop being so stingy State, share the wealth.

  5. Avatar

    Also, how exactly does one retire with a security clearance?

  6. Avatar

    It is absolutely the norm for suspensions to last months, if not years, as State conducts their internal investigation. I’m on month seven now of my own suspension and am told that even with a positive decision, it will likely be months more before I can return. When you’re a civil service employee and they choose to suspend, rather than revoke your clearance, they effective have “fired” you without allowing you the opportunity to protest or fight it legally, because you’re no longer being paid. Of course, they still consider you an employee for the purpose of determining what “outside” employment is acceptable. So essentially, if you want to fight, you have to have the resources to be able to make it with no salary for at least a year. Who has the financial resources to do that? OPM absolutely should take over from DS – the whole process is designed purely to wait people out, force them to resign out of pure financial necessity and thereby bypass all the alleged protections federal employees are supposed to have in place.

  7. Avatar

    Where do I get one of them there retirement clearances? I will need access to my checks, the golf courses and the beach 🙂

  8. Avatar

    Does the State Department not have a review board for people to submit works prior to publication? I thought that was standard, particularly in agencies dealing with national security.

  9. Avatar

    State does have a process – not exactly a standing review board, but there is a process in place for obtaining permission to publish (or speak). I’d wager a guess that he either didn’t use it, or ignored what he was told. While I am concerned about the length of time and the attempts to subvert the normal, fair process (through suspension rather than revocation) I have to admit that I’m not very sympathetic to the details of this individual’s scenario. We’ve been reminded time after time after time that even visiting the Wikileaks site is a violation. Writing and speaking without permission as well as linking his blogs to the Wikileaks; he had to know this was likely to happen. DS will jump all over folks for much less.

  10. Avatar

    BW can’t retire yet. At least not for another week and a half.

  11. Avatar

    Git up Offutt

    Maybe not, but it will be long before you 🙂

  12. Avatar

    No having fun on this board! OPM wouldn’t like that. Don’t make OPM angry. You wouldn’t like it when they’re angry.

  13. Avatar

    OPM might get upset but they know without CACI, KGS & USIS they would crash and burn. OPM could not handle the case load.

  14. Avatar

    Investigator –


  15. Avatar

    Now you’ve made OPM angry.

  16. Avatar

    No offense Fed Investigator 🙂

  17. Avatar

    Hey Fed,

    Usually when someone ends or prefaces a comment with “No Offense” you know what that means. I wouldn’t take that from him 🙂

  18. Avatar

    No offense taken. It takes at least a six hour ESI before I’m offended.

  19. Avatar


    I can’t even instigate a good argument anymore. Everyone is way too tired.

  20. Avatar

    I’m getting worried. We haven’t had some wonky policy decision come down from on high in quite some time. Its like the calm before the storm.

  21. Avatar


    I just accepted a conditional job offer, pending a few weeks of paperwork. It’s been a good time, but the time has come for me to move-on as I am growing weary of this work after 7 years. It’s been a pleasure meeting you and having some great discussions. I have learned alot from everyone and I hope, with your blessings, I can drop in from time-to-time to chat. I respect what you guys do everyday and this includes the adjudicators on-board.

    William–appreciate the knowledge you have shared along the way.



  22. Avatar

    Congratulations BW. You are a smart man for getting out. I am looking quite regularly.

  23. Avatar

    Congrats BW!

    Share with us what you will be doing why don’t you? Some of us still have dreams of greener pastures.


  24. Avatar

    BW –

    Congrats! I am SO jealous! Good luck with the new gig.

  25. Avatar


    Live long and prosper. It’s been a pleasure exchanging ideas with a fellow personnel security professional.

    Semper Gumby – Bill

  26. Avatar


    I will as soon as it’s firm. Darn those urinalysis’ 🙂

  27. Avatar

    I’ll keep my fingers crossed that you pass the test.


  28. Avatar

    I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you for the US Government for revoking my security clearance. All because of a foreclosure which by the way is paid in full. I am now an unemployed Veteran who is soon going to declare bankruptcy and eventually lose my home and will be on the street by years end. It doesn’t pay to work for the US Government.