The State Department is firing a 24-year veteran Foreign Service Officer, in part, because of his extracurricular blogging. And he's not happy about it. Peter Van Buren claims that he is the victim of "selective persecution," since lots of Foreign Service Officers blog in their free time in ways that seem to violate State Department policy. Take, for example, Jennifer Santiago, a former model, who is now an award-winning journalist and budding foreign service officer. Her blog is full of provocative pics and, he claims, revealing details about her assignments.
The State is currently in the process of firing Van Buren for various offenses, including posting classified information on his blog, and linking to Wikileaks. He's apparently guilty of "poor judgment and notoriously disgraceful conduct," which he says is fair enough, "at least if State applied the rules equitably."
Van Buren says Santiago seems to cross the propriety line too, posting details about her assignments, like the fact that her language program in Brazil is "just four blocks from the beach.... I'm convinced tropical weather is medicine for the body and the soul."
According to a State Department spokesman, if employees are writing on matters of official concern in a private capacity, they must get clearance and include a disclaimer. In The Foreign Affairs manual, Foreign Service workers must behave with "integrity, reliability, and prudence," which is why earlier this month, the department announced that officers may be punished if they cheat on their spouses. After all, there's nothing like a secret extramarital tryst to get you blackmailed.
Van Buren says Santiago's blog has no disclaimer, and probably wasn't authorized by the higher-ups. "Maybe if I hit the gym more often," the State Department would have let his blog slide, he smirks.
A whole host of foreign service officers keep blogs about their adventures abroad. There's the foreign officer in the Congo, who despite his "sugar on steroids" diet, is "probably going to live twice as long than most of the people here." Or the officer in Belize, blogging about his $250 win at a casino.
Of course, Van Buren has prodded the limits of the First Amendment more than most. He published a book critical of his tour in Iraq, which led State to strip him of his security clearance. And his blog is a tad more political than a handful of sexy pics.
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