By William Fisher
A diplomatic advocacy organization charged today (Oct. 15) that the a powerful State Department office and the Department's Inspector General are protecting Blackwater and other private security contractors by creating a "pattern of deceit involving direct collusion" to conceal a wide variety of problems from Congressional and American taxpayer oversight.
The organization, Concerned Foreign Service Officers (CFSO), said the State Department's Office of Diplomatic Security (DS) - which supervises Blackwater and other contractors - believes that "the laws and regulations of the United States need not apply to those who are entrusted to enforce those laws or to protect American diplomats."
"It is foolish to imagine that DS would hold contractors such as Blackwater to a higher standard than it holds its own agents. Until a culture of greater transparency, accountability and propriety is developed within DS, placing contractors under tighter DS control will not prevent further abuses. It will simply make it easier for the State Department to conceal those abuses from the American people and from Congress," the organization said in a statement.
A spokesman for the group, who spoke to Truthout on condition of anonymity, added that the State Department's Inspector General, Howard J. Krongard, has "routinely deferred to DS regarding what and who to investigate." Referring to the head of DS, Assistant Secretary of State Richard Griffin, the CFSO spokesman added that the Office of the Inspector General believes that "whatever Griff wants, Griff gets."
Griffin, who leads a powerful global force of 32,000 special agents, engineers, couriers, security specialists, and others who make up State's security and law enforcement arm, was appointed by President Bush in June 2005. His law enforcement background includes service as Deputy Director at the US Secret Service, where he was responsible for planning and directing all investigative, protective, and administrative programs. He began his career with the Secret Service in 1971 as an agent in the Chicago office. Subsequent positions included Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Presidential Protective Division, Special Agent in Charge in Los Angeles, Deputy Assistant Director in the Office of Investigations, and Assistant Director for Protective Operations.
Krongard, appointed as the State Department Inspector General by President George W. Bush in May 2005, has been under intense fire from key members of Congress, led by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), who earlier this month dispatched a 13-page letter to the Inspector General, accusing him of "repeatedly blocking investigations into contracting fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan, including construction of the US Embassy in Baghdad, and censoring reports that might prove politically embarrassing to the Bush administration."
Waxman's letter said, "One consistent element in these allegations is that you believe your foremost mission is to support the Bush administration.'' He added that the allegations were based on the testimony of seven current and former officials on Krongard's staff, including two former senior officials who allowed their names to be used, and private e-mail exchanges obtained by the committee. The letter said the allegations concerned all three major divisions of Krongard's office -- investigations, audits and inspections.
Krongard has called Waxman's allegations "replete with inaccuracies." He said he has tried to assist other agencies without overlapping with other investigations.
A graduate of Harvard law school, Krongard has a long history of associations with establishment organizations and law firms.
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which Waxman chairs, is expected to hold a hearing into the conduct of the Inspector General, and it is now generally thought that Blackwater is likely to become a central focus of the inquiry.
Meanwhile, Blackwater has come under attack from a variety of human rights and citizens' action groups.
Amnesty International said, "allegations of contractor involvement in serious human rights violations - including participation by contractors in the torture at Abu Ghraib - have emerged, yet Bush administration officials have made virtually no effort to hold contractors accountable or compensate victims."
The organization added that the US Justice Department "has largely failed in its obligation to prosecute US contractors for serious human rights violations, and worse, it appears to have taken steps to undermine access to justice."
It pointed out more than three years after the establishment of a Task Force by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, "the Task Force has not brought a single indictment against a contractor for abuse of detainees," according to Amnesty.
Another advocacy group, Working Assets / Act for Change, charged that "the September 16, 2007 lethal shootings of Iraqi civilians by Blackwater employees points out once again the need for accountability of contractors operating in conflict zones."
The organization declared that "Bush administration officials have made virtually no effort to hold contractors accountable or compensate victims. Indeed, the State Department seems to be doing its best to protect, not investigate, Blackwater."
"Blackwater employees who, after reportedly firing shots that killed at least 11 Iraqis, might never face criminal charges because loopholes in US law mean that civilian contractors are practically free to treat Iraq and Afghanistan like the Wild West," according to Will Easton, Manager of Act For Change. Com / Working Assets.
Various legislative proposals designed to reign in private security contractors are gaining momentum in Congress. Representative David Price's (D-NC) Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA) Expansion and Enforcement Act of 2007 clarifies US jurisdiction to prosecute contractors of all US agencies operating near a conflict area, establishes an FBI unit to investigate incidents of use of force by contractors, and requires the Department of Justice to report on how it is handling cases of contractor crime.
The bill was passsed in the House on October 4 with a 389-30 vote. Senator Barack Obama then introduced companion legislation in the Senate, the Security Contractor Accountability Act of 2007 (S. 2147).
But not all observers agree with the view that Blackwater and similar contractors are out of control. One conservative news source, Newsmax, defended the company.
It said, "Blackwater's major 'sin' has nothing to do with Iraq, and everything to do with U.S. politics. Congressional Democrats have made the firm, and its founder Erik Prince, the punching bag for their anti-Bush campaign."
Newsmax went on to write, "One reason Washington insiders say (Blackwater founder and CEO Erik) Prince and company are being targeted is his unapologetic support for the GOP and conservative causes."
Prince, a former Navy Seal, worked as a White House intern under President George H.W. Bush. Prince and his family have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican candidates and other conservative and religious causes, according to The New York Times. He reportedly gave more than $500,000 to Focus on the Family from July 2003 to July 2006.
Inspectors General are appointed by the president and confirmed by the senate. The IG's mission is to independently investigate and make corrective recommendations regarding waste, fraud and improper conduct within their respective departments and agencies. IGs serve in all major government department departments, and smaller agencies, as well as in the military.
While the IG Act of 1978 requires that IGs be selected based upon their qualifications and not political affiliation, IGs are considered political appointees and are often selected in part because of their political relationships and party affiliation.