State Department Pulls Top Secret Security Clearance From Diplomat Who Linked To Publicly Available Info

from the head-in-the-sand dept

A few weeks ago, we wrote about the obviously vindictive investigation of long term State Department diplomat Peter Van Buren. Van Buren, who recently published a book that was critical of the US’s efforts in Iraq (which he was a part of), wrote a blog post on his own website that merely linked to a leaked State Department cable on the Wikileaks site.

As we’ve noted many times, such info is clearly public now. But the US has a “head in the sand” approach to such things, and pretends that even though anyone with internet access can easily see this document, that it’s still really “classified.” So it began an “investigation” of Van Buren, which has now resulted in his top secret security clearance being yanked. And, demonstrating what a cowardly, childish and petty action this is, they didn’t even fully revoke his clearance — a move that could be appealed. Instead, they put it on an indefinite “temporary suspension,” which can’t be appealed.

So, uh, now what? It’s not like he revealed anything that he got because of that clearance. He can still sift through the leaked Wikileaks documents like anyone else in the world and point stuff out. What good does the State Department think it has done here, other than making themselves look like completely vindictive idiots who take pointless actions against those who criticize them? This doesn’t help protect classified info (at all). If anything, it draws a lot more attention as to what’s in that document, and it makes our State Department look foolish. I want a State Department that deals in reality. Punishing someone for linking to public info is a move that is from an organization that lives in a fantasy world. That’s scary.

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Comments on “State Department Pulls Top Secret Security Clearance From Diplomat Who Linked To Publicly Available Info”

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51 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

He Broke the Rules

In short, He broke the rules, and he’s suffering.

Even if it doesn’t make sense, when you get a clearance, you have to follow the rules. He was told very clearly not to visit the site, yet he did, and made it even more blatant that he visited it by linking to the material in a public. Sure, you might be able to someone sent him the link and he didn’t click on it, therefore he didn’t technically break the rules. However, there ain’t no burden of proof for clearances, if there’s questions there are questions.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: He Broke the Rules

And the less than flattering book he wrote about his time there could play no part in this what so ever.

Pretending that these cables are not out in public and are still somehow secret is stupid and highlights the complete failure of the Government to comprehend the idea of how the internet works.

While he might have broken the “rule” they went out of their way to punish him in ways to inflict more damage than the situation needed. It makes them appear petty and vindictive, and while the law is supposed to be a punishment aren’t stupid laws supposed to be challenged?

S (user link) says:

Re: Re: He Broke the Rules

I’m going nuclear here; Godwin’s law applies:

Even if it doesn’t make sense, when you get a clearance, you have to follow the rules.

So you’re saying that even if you disagree with rules, on moral or ethical grounds, or on the grounds that they’re fucking insane, you’re obligated to follow them?

So I guess that all those “war crimes” they accused pretty much everyone in the Nazi organisation of committing were in actuality . . . perfectly okay!

Because they were just following the rules; following orders!

Don’t worry; with any luck when someone orders you to cut a baby’s head off, someone with a soul will be around to stop you when you blindly proceed because you’re “following the rules”.

Scott says:

Re: Re: He Broke the Rules

When you are given access to classified information by the government, you agree to many pages of legalese telling what you can and cannot do with the information. The penalties for violating the agreements are stated.

He is not being punished for speaking against the government. He is being punished for intentionally violating a binding contract with the government.

Scott says:

Re: He Broke the Rules

Yes he did. Public broadcast of classified information does not declassify the information. If someone with clearance reacts to information in public, their reaction can further reveal sources, etc.

The main difference between classified data and what you see on the news is that the classified files include sources and analysis regarding reliability of those sources.

I support wikileaks publishing whistleblower information, but individuals who leak classified information should be convicted and buried so deep that they need sunlight piped to them.

Brendan (profile) says:

Re: Re: He Broke the Rules

1. Yes, broadcast DOES declassify the information. It is now public information. Any member of the public without any clearance at all can freely access it. Therefore, it is public info. Therefore, it is not classified any longer. Just because a file or folder somewhere has a red stamp that says “CLASSIFIED” does not make it true.

2. He did not reveal/publish the info (which I agree would be a punishable offense), he merely linked to what was published elsewhere.

If a classified document was leaked and printed in the NY Times, would it be a similar offense to hand somebody a copy of the paper that day? Ridiculous to suggest.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Who's head is in the sand?

“his actions show he is not trustworthy”

So you trust the people who follow silly rules more than you trust the people who point out that the rules are silly? Try reading up about some real traitors, sometime. They followed all the silly rules and never offered any criticism. Funny that. Discussion of policy failures makes someone untrustworthy? Wow. This is the land of the free and the home of the brave we are talking about, right?

Sure, he should have realized that there would be corporate psychopaths who would retaliate against him for any criticism. Having your State Department run by corporate psychopaths is not actually a good thing. Isn’t it funny how the Secretary of State seems to be unwilling to defend Mr Van Buren. Could she be the cause of the problem? Americans, do you want your State Department to actually work or not?

SC says:

Re: Re: Who's head is in the sand?

AC, violating public trust makes him untrustworthy. Secretary of State is not defending him because his actions are indefensible. He violated his security clearance agreement (a binding contract) for all the world to see.

He could have written his opinions of the government and its actions all day long every day for the rest of his life, but he posted classified information and incriminated him self in multiple ways.

Funny thing is, suspending his clearance is a slap on the wrist. What he did is treason, and since we are at war, the maximum punishment is the death penalty.

So, since we can be assured that his punishment was determined either by or with the knowledge of both the Secretary of State and the Oval Office, that they have considered just how far to punish him.

Most likely outcome is that he will be ostracized, forced out of government and treated as a pariah. He’ll probably find a cushy life on the lecture circuit.

B Pickel (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Who's head is in the sand?

Wait, didn?t he “link” to an exposed classified document? is that the same as “posting” classified information?
from what I?m understanding he didn’t make the document available, just the same as Google is not held responsible for making the document available by also linking to the document.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Who's head is in the sand?

He violated a silly rule which says that linking to a now-public but-still-classified document is illegal. From the bureaucracy’s point of view, he was correctly punished for violating that rule. However, the whole point of this story is that the rule is silly. You have missed the crucial thing.

Was he guilty of “violating public trust”? Yes, if you foolishly believe in the silly rule. No, if you recognize the silly rule as actually silly. The persons who are violating their public trust are the ones who are preserving a silly rule. Having and defending silly rules damages the effectiveness of your State Department. Do you want your State Department to work or not?

Anonymous Coward says:

Need to know

Those who have clearance have been trained in the notion of need to know. Security among cleared individuals isn’t by access, it’s by personal assessment of one’s need to know the information. “Head in the sand” is not an accurate analogy of the situation, and leads to a biased understanding of how people with clearance should act. Just like you object to the notion of digital ‘piracy’ being equated to ‘stealing’, this juxtaposition is equally unsuited.

Anonymous Coward says:

Invoking the godwin rule

I hate to do this, but it is absolutely true that sometimes organizations or even whole countries turn into “an organization that lives in a fantasy world.”

This can only lead to their doom. And it will come as a shock to them when it does.

The Nazis believed their own propaganda a firm belief in their own superiority and inevitable victory. So did the Japanese in WWII and so did the Americans in Vietnam. The stubborn embrace of one’s own propaganda blinds us to the truth and we lose the ability to be effective. The condition, once embraced is usually irrecoverable.

Scott says:

Re: Invoking the godwin rule

It’s not about the leaked documents, it’s about him violating his security clearance at least 3 times by visiting the site, posting publicly about the documents, and directing others to the site.

What propaganda is the government holding stubbornly to in this case? You are over generalizing in your rhetoric.

Trust me, the Americans in Vietnam knew the truth of the nasty mess they were in. It was the REMFs and the politicians making military decisions that were not rooted in reality.

If you mean to say that US Gov’t leadership should look at the world as it is and not as they would have it be…then I agree with you. But no amount of logic or truth will dissuade you from your paranoid disestablishmentarianism.

kenichi tanaka says:

This Diplomat is a moron. First and foremost, does he even watch the news or heard about the Wikileaks controversy? Unless he’s been living in a cave for the past 20 years, he should have known to stay far away from the Wikileaks website.

The Obama Administration has been cracking down ever since Wikileaks received that classified material from that lieutenant who sent Wikileaks those classified documents.

He deserves to have his security clearance yanked because he works for the government and he’s involved with the Wikileaks website.

darryl says:

Of course the security clasification does not change.

Mike, do you have a clue about anything ???

do you honestly think that just because a classisified document has been made available to the public (by illegal means), that means that that document somehow automatically becomes “unclassified” ??

It is an offence (federal offence) to read a document that is classisified, regardless of how you acquired that document.

If you find a document on the street that is marked officially “SECRET” then if you pick it up and read it you have committed an offense, if you do anything with it except return it to the correct authorities, it is an offense.

EVEN IF YOU HAVE THE HIGHEST LEVEL OF SECURITY CLEARANCE the government and issue (Top Secret – Special access – Crypto) does not mean you are exempt from that law.

If you have a top level security clearance, and you reveal any information you gained from that clearance to someone who does not hold the clearance OR even SOMEONE WITH the SAME clearance, and they do not NEED TO KNOW that information it is an equal offense.

If you have a top level security clearance and you are found to have looked at documents that you DO NOT NEED TO KNOW you have commited the same offense as if you did not have a clearance at all.

If you have in your possession documents that are classisified, and you have not even looked at them, and they are off you’re “need to know” list you have committed a crime.

This guy should have more than his security clearance removed, he should do prison time.

What you are trying to say mike, that if it were diamonds and not secrets, once they have been stolen then you are free to sell them for a profit.

If you know the law, once something is stolen, it remains “stolen property” and it is an offience to profit from that property.

Same with copyright, just because you copied a song, does not mean you have automatically voided the copyright of that song.

I am sure you understand this Mike, well at least I hope you do.

It appears you dont thought !!!!!

Even stating that you hold a security clearance is an offense.

Also if you hold a security clearance you are held to a higher standard of behaviour.

The same crime for a person without a clearance will be punished much less than a person with a clearance (dependent on the nature of the crime).

Then once you are no longer working in that secure environment you are still bound by the law’s of security.

Even now, If I were to apply for a visa to visit certain countries (there is a list of them) I would be refused, or called to explain why I wanted to travel to those places.

You give up quite alot to be allowed access to secret information, it is secret for a reason, and you have a responsibility to the secrecy of that information.

Scott says:

Re: Of course the security clasification does not change.

What Darryl said is correct.

Also, when wikileaks happened, there was a warning delivered directly to cleared communities to not access the site because it violates their clearance.

This State Department Official suffers from a belief common among government officials and military officers, that becomes more common with increasing rank, that the rules do not apply as much to them. The truth is that they should be held to an even higher standard because they have an increased access to more sensitive information (more need to know) and if they do make a public statement, their position and the level of trust given to them by the government lends increased credence to their statement.

In other words, if a worker drone says something about a leaked document it’s an opinion, but if a senior official says something, it’s a position.

Rocco Maglio (profile) says:

There is a rational for the governments stance

There is a rational for the governments stance. It might be weak, but it is there. The rational is that he is validating the information that has been leaked was classified. The only person who could do this would be someone who had access to the classified information. The rest of us would have no idea if information was a fake or the real thing. Someone who had seen the real thing could identify which information was really classified and which information was made up and claimed to be classified.

William Mozdzierz (profile) says:

Security Clearance Revoked

The State Department did the same thing to me in November, 2009. I worked for a supervisor who broke the law and I reported him. When my clearance was up for review, he told the interviewer that I was “cavorting with Russian spies.” The next thing I know I am living in the woods with no job and no money. Losing your security clearance in this economy is tantamount to a death sentence. I have applied for about 300 jobs and have not had a single offer. Good luck, brother.

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