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.