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State Department inspector general target of congressional probe

State Department inspector general target of congressional probe

A congressional committee has opened an investigation of the State Department's inspector general, alleging he blocked fraud investigations in Afghanistan and Iraq, including potential security lapses at the newly built U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
Also under scrutiny is whether Blackwater USA, the private security firm banned this week from working in Iraq for the alleged killing of eight civilians, was "illegally smuggling weapons into Iraq," according to a letter to IG Howard J. Krongard obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press.
The Democratic-led investigation accused Krongard of trying to protect the White House and the State Department, telling him in the letter, "your partisan political ties have led you to halt investigations, censor reports and refuse to cooperate with law enforcement agencies."
Based on charges from a number of current and former senior investigators who worked for Krongard, the letter from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee also questioned whether he adequately investigated illegal labor trafficking allegations involving the Kuwaiti company that was building the embassy in Baghdad. The letter was signed by the committee chairman, Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman.
Ralph McNamara, the former deputy assistant inspector general for investigations, said in an Associated Press interview Tuesday that he came forward with the allegations against his former boss because he worried that State Department employees would be at risk when working in the new embassy.
"A rocket _ an unexploded munition _ went through a portion of a cement ceiling there, and it was supposed to be an area able to withstand a direct hit from a missile that did explode," said McNamara. He said investigators wanted to look into charges that the walls were not built to the required thickness or concrete consistency, but they were blocked from pursuing it.
U.S. workers, he said, "were putting their lives on the line and assuming that the facility they were going into was going to provide them all the protection they needed, and that's not true. ... With all these allegations coming in, we need to make sure these folks were being protected."
Krongard, who has been in Afghanistan and is en route to Iraq, issued a statement Tuesday saying, "The allegations, as described to me and in certain media reports, are replete with inaccuracies including those made by persons with their own agendas."
He said he has tried to help other government agencies while taking care to avoid overlap and added, "I look forward to cooperating with the committee and receiving the opportunity to respond in full to these allegations."
Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said Defense Secretary Robert Gates had been informed of the Blackwater matter, and he asked his staff to brief him on the overall topic of security contracting in Iraq.
"He asked staff to get back to him on the basics: Do we rely on them? To what extent? And if so, what are the rules of engagement?" Morrell said, referring to the rules under which private security contractors are authorized to use deadly force in Iraq.
Besides outlining a host of allegations against Krongard, who took over the State Department post in May 2005, the letter raises new questions about Blackwater. Although the security company is not named in the letter, several senior administration officials confirmed that Blackwater is the firm mentioned as being suspected of smuggling weapons into Iraq illegally.
According to a letter, a federal prosecutor asked Krongard's investigators to assist in the probe of the security contractor, but Krongard sent an e-mail to a senior staff member directing the assistance to "stop IMMEDIATELY" and to wait until he spoke to the prosecutor.
After weeks of delay, Waxman's letter said, Krongard asked someone on his media relations staff _ not an investigator _ to help the federal prosecutors. "This unorthodox arrangement has reportedly impeded the investigation," Waxman said.
Krongard, however, said he made one of his "best investigators" available for the probe. Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell would not comment Tuesday.
Krongard, in testimony before the committee in July, dismissed allegations that foreign workers were mistreated in building the new embassy complex in Baghdad. But he acknowledged that some recruiters may have misled foreign workers about pay expectations and living conditions.
According to Waxman's 14-page letter, staff investigators said Krongard stalled an investigation into allegations that contractors building the Baghdad embassy did not adequately search for mines and other security hazards on the 104-acre compound, which included a number of tunnels.
The embassy, which will be the largest in the world, is expected to be finished this month, at a cost of nearly $600 million (euro432.7 million).
A central theme running through the letter is that Krongard prevented his investigators from cooperating with Justice Department probes and refused to send his staff to Iraq and Afghanistan to look into allegations of fraud and wasteful spending involving the more than $3.6 billion (euro2.6 billion) the State Department has spent on contracts in the two countries.
Waxman also said he has been told Krongard censored inspection reports and audits to remove information critical of the State Department.
The letter cited e-mails between staffers talking about their frustrations at not being allowed to help the Justice Department investigations.
In one exchange, former assistant inspector general for investigations John DeDona told Krongard's deputy, William Todd, that the IG agents believe they should only work on "penny-ante" cases and "not rock the boat with other more significant investigations."
DeDona eventually quit to take another federal job. McNamara was forced out, and took another federal job.
Waxman also requested communications with four key contractors: Blackwater; the First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting Co., which is involved in the embassy labor dispute; DynCorp International; and the Berger Group. DynCorp is another security contractor, and the Berger Group was a major contractor for the embassy project.
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Associated Press writers Larry Margasak and Matthew Lee contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-10-22 16:07 GMT+08:00