Halliburton and Pentagon put up roadblocks to slow down Iraq-funds auditor. Libby used similar delaying tactic on Plamegate.
Another attempt by the Bush regime to throw investigators off the scent is collapsing. This oil-for-slush part of the ever-widening scandal hits U.S. CEO Dick Cheney right where he lives: inside Halliburton’s bulging vault.
The press isn’t fully onto the scope of this overall, monumental scandal yet, reporting bits and pieces but not tying them together. Like last year’s tsunami and this year’s Indo-Pak quake, it’s so big that putting a name to it is difficult. Maybe we ought to just call it Profligate, in honor of the wastrels of lives and money who are running our constitutional democracy into the ground.
To be fully informed on the oil-for-slush segment of the scandal — I’ve used that phrase to describe a narrower part of the Iraq “reconstruction” skullduggery — you have to rely on such watchdogs as Halliburton Watch, which thoroughly charts our country’s progress (or Halliburton’s — same difference) through the dismal swamp of this vast field of muck, not only in the Persian Gulf but in the Gulf of Mexico.
One can only hope that those responsible will eventually step on their own dicks, or least in some quicksand. But it will take more puzzle pieces to solve this misery. The latest piece was provided yesterday by an unexpected source, the New York Times, which broke the news that the U.S. needs to repay $208 million to the Iraqi government stemming from work done by Halliburton’s KBR subsidiary. The story, by James Glanz, has gotten wide play.
Today’s follow-up story by the Washington Post‘s Colum Lynch is buried inside, but doesn’t matter, if you’ve got a computer (and you do have one, because you wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t). Lynch’s piece has mo’ better context, as you’ll see from its three first paragraphs, especially the third:
A U.N.-established international auditing board called on the United States to repay Iraq $208 million in disputed fees for Kellogg, Brown & Root, a Halliburton subsidiary that received nearly $1.4 billion in contracts without having to compete for the delivery of fuel and the repair of Iraq’s oil infrastructure.
The board’s finding adds to the criticism of the United States’ handling of the postwar reconstruction of Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion of the oil-rich country in March 2003. The role of Halliburton — the company run by Richard B. Cheney before he became George W. Bush‘s running mate in the 2000 presidential campaign — in Iraq’s reconstruction has fueled charges of political favoritism.
The International Advisory and Monitoring Board [IAMB] commissioned its latest report into the U.S.-led coalition’s use of noncompetitive bidding in December, after Pentagon officials refused for months to furnish the board with copies of the Pentagon’s internal audits into Kellogg, Brown & Root’s activities. Copies of five audits eventually given to the board were so heavily redacted, to omit what Pentagon officials characterized as proprietary information, that they could not be used.
That kind of psychotic redaction is what us observers with mental problems call a sure sign that the Bush regime is on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Lynch’s story was given little play by his editors, but it is far better than his rival Glanz’s piece that was trumpeted by the Times. That’s because Lynch gets to the point of the Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal’s stalling tactics.
We already have a pretty good idea that Scooter Libby’s indictment for lying about Plamegate was well worth it to the Bush regime: He stalled that probe long enough for the cabal to get Bush re-elected.
By telling Fitzgerald back in 2003 that he learned of Valerie Plame‘s identity and occupation from reporters, Libby forced Fitzgerald to waste a year hassling them, instead of focusing on the real source of the leak of her name: people inside the Bush regime.
I’d call this a delaying tactic, but Tom DeLay is re-defining that term by using a combination of stalls, dodges, feints, judges, and plain ol’ attack campaigning to fight off prosecutor Ronnie Earle in his segment of this monumental, interrelated scandal.
Digression: You think I’m some sort of conspiracy theorist for saying that Plamegate, Wampumgate, DeLay, Harriet-Got-The-Gate, and the Iraq Debacle are all of a piece? For just one example that many of us who espouse that theory are not entirely crazy, check out the smart November 3 story by the AP’s John Solomon, which shows that Jack Abramoff, a major campaign funder of Bush and DeLay, easily spread his tentacles not only into the White House but even inside the White House’s Cabinet:
Investigators have unearthed e-mails showing Rep. Tom DeLay’s office tried to help lobbyist Jack Abramoff get a high-level Bush administration meeting for Indian clients, an effort that succeeded after the tribes began making a quarter-million dollars in donations.
Tribal money went both to a group founded by Interior Secretary Gale Norton, the Cabinet secretary Abramoff was trying to meet, as well as to DeLay’s personal charity.
Back to Halliburton: As I was saying, Lynch’s story gets at the nub of tactics and other dodges that smell very much like the stall befouled by Cheney, Libby, and that humpty Karl Rove in the Plamegate caper. From the Lynch story:
The U.N. board [IAMB], which was established in May 2003 by the U.N. Security Council to monitor the use of Iraq’s oil revenue by the U.S.-led coalition, struck a compromise in December with the United States. The deal required the appointment of an independent auditor to examine 24 contracts valued at more than $1.9 billion between June 2003 and June 2004. The contracts, which were funded largely through Iraqi oil revenue, were administered by the Army Corps of Engineers.
The firm KPMG was hired to do the audit, which included Kellogg, Brown & Root’s $1.4 billion deal. However, KPMG, which also is employed by KBR, recused itself from auditing KBR’s contract, citing a conflict of interest. KPMG’s audit of the 23 other contracts uncovered problems, including instances in which there was insufficient evidence to “justify noncompetitive” contracts and “discrepancies” in the billed amounts.
The Pentagon then selected a U.S. government agency, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, to conduct the KBR audit. The audit agency is headed by Stuart W. Bowen Jr., who reports to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The agency said the decision to hire KBR was “appropriately justified” because the firm had prepared a classified plan for the reconstruction of Iraq’s oil industry and had a cadre of individuals with the security clearance necessary to work on the program.
And that circular logic is exactly why we need to go all the way back to Cheney’s “energy task force” scandal, which is how Halliburton’s KBR got the damned contract in the first place. Well, we think so, but Cheney would never let the American public see the records of those meetings early in Bush’s first term, when Enron and Halliburton were the corporate citizens who held honored spots at the feeding trough.
Both the Times and Post have much more work to do to tie things together. For example, Glanz’s big scoop was based on Bowen’s September 30 report. But the Times story was devoid of any mention of even more recent reports by the independent-minded Bowen. For that, you have to go to SIGIR, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. Click on Bowen’s October 24 report, which carries the deadly dull title “Management of Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund Programs.”
In it, Bowen uses formal, non-threatening language, but the odor of the Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal’s stall is unpleasantly familiar. These are the facts:
Quarterly reports are required under the law passed by Congress in November 2003 authorizing the spending of $18.6 billion to rebuild Iraq. Part of that law, Section 2207, requires that those reports be compiled by the State Department, Pentagon, and USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development). Bowen was assigned the task of auditing those reports. But he turned out to be more independent than the cabal counted on.
Bloomberg News’s Tony Capaccio gave an example of that in an October 30 story that was unjustifiably ignored by most of the other media (including me, until now). Capaccio wrote that Bowen said in his October 30 quarterly report to Congress the U.S. planned poorly for rebuilding Iraq. Instead of just regurgitating Bowen’s comments, which were contained in a 114-page, highly detailed report, Capaccio obviously read the damn thing and, the day it was released, he not only wrote a story about it, but put Bowen’s comments in perspective:
Bowen’s assessment marks the first time a sitting inspector general — in this case a former White House deputy assistant to President George W. Bush — has formally criticized the prewar planning process. Most of the authoritative criticism to date has come from retired military or diplomatic officers or academics who worked in the reconstruction effort.
Most earlier critiques focused on the Pentagon’s failure to adequately plan for the search for weapons of mass destruction, anticipate a resilient insurgency or follow many of the reconstruction plans laid out by State Department studies.
Bowen’s critique adds another dimension: the failure to adequately assemble the personnel needed to jumpstart the reconstruction and manage the U.S. money paying for it.
Back to Bowen’s October 24 report: Despite its dry language, it shows that there’s been nothing but footdragging and stalling by the cabal:
[State, the Pentagon, and USAID] have been required, since January 2004, to report cost-complete information for their Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund projects in quarterly reports to the Congress. However these organizations did not begin providing reasonably comprehensive cost-to-complete date to IRMO [Iraq Reconstruction Management Office] until recently.
Uh-huh. And Bowen’s report continues:
Since January 2005, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction has raised concerns about the lack of accurate cost-to-complete data. The State Department shared this concern and deployed an interagency assessment team to Baghdad in March 2005 to address the information shortfall.
Oh, yes, I’m sure Rice was very concerned about an “information shortfall.” Bowen notes that the “assessment team’s work resulted in an action-plan.” He continues:
That plan, however, was not efficiently tracked until recently, after a second assessment team traveled to Iraq in August to re-energize the data collection effort.
Bowen’s office still doesn’t have all its information. Good foot-dragging by the cabal.
And that tactic may work, because by law, Bowen has limited authority. He can do criminal investigation, but as Bowen’s site itself notes in one of its “SIGIR Newsroom 101” Q&As:
What powers and corrective measures are at the IG’s disposal?
Following an investigation, the SIGIR will inform the Secretary of State or the Secretary of Defense of significant problems, abuses and deficiencies and recommend, and follow the progress of, corrective actions and implementation measures.
That means Rice and Rumsfeld will decide what to do with his findings. Good.
Bowen is also authorized to “notify the Department of Justice and seek prosecutive opinion whenever evidence of a Federal crime is found.”
That means regime stooge Alberto Gonzales, the attorney general. Plusgood.
Bowen’s term as special inspector general is officially authorized to expire 10 months after 80 percent of the reconstruction funds — “IRRF,” in bureaucratese — have been spent. Currently, according to the SIGIR website, that would mean his probe will stop in September 2006. But the catch is this:
The determination of the obligation of 80% of the IRRF is to be made by the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense.