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WAS TOP STATE DEPARTMENT RESIGNATION A POLITICAL MOVE TO PROTECT HIGHER-UPS?

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Diplomatic sources believe that the State Department official charged with managing private security firms such as Blackwater and other contractors in Iraq and elsewhere overseas was ‘thrown under the bus’ by the Bush Administration seeking a ‘sacrificial lamb’ to protect the more politically powerful people who supervised his office.

Richard Griffin, State’s Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and Director of the Office of Foreign Missions (DS), resigned abruptly on October 24 in the face of a gathering firestorm of criticism regarding the management and oversight of the ‘private armies’ charged with protecting US diplomats, Iraqi government officials, and visiting VIPs including members of the House and Senate.

A State Department source, who spoke on condition of anonymity ”because of the sensitivity” of the issue, said Griffin’s resignation was calculated to provide cover for several politically better-connected higher-ups who were responsible for the overall management and oversight of contractors who provide security services and others engaged in major construction projects such as the massive new American Embassy in Baghdad.

The protected officials were identified as Griffin’s boss, Henrietta H. Fore, Undersecretary for Management, and State’s Inspector General, Howard J. Krongard.

The House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform, led by feisty California Democrat Henry Waxman, has been conducting ongoing investigations into Blackwater and other private security contractors, as well as reportedly large-scale problems in the construction of the Baghdad embassy.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice testified before the Committee last week, largely evading questions about the activities of Blackwater, while acknowledging shortcomings in the supervision of the Embassy construction project but claiming that it was the State Department itself that identified and moved to correct the problems.

Krongard is already under attack by Waxman, but Fore has thus far managed to keep a relatively low profile. However, according to a State Department source, “The Waxman investigation into (the Office of the Inspector General) would have implicated Fore and Griffin pretty quickly. Of the three -- Krongard, Fore, and Griffin, Griffin has the least political clout and support. So we think that he was sacrificed early in a public gesture in order to placate the Waxman committee and keep them away from Fore, who has the most clout.”

Appointed by President Bush in August 2005 as Under Secretary for Management, Fore is responsible for the State Department’s people, resources, facilities, technology and security, and is principal advisor on management issues. Among many other management and administrative functions, she leads the Department’s diplomatic security and overseas buildings operations – the two offices most directly implicated in the Blackwater and Embassy construction issues.

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Fore is also State’s White House liaison and its representative on the President's Management Council. In the wake of a sex scandal that forced the resignation of Randall Tobias as Director of US Foreign Assistance, in May she was named to fill that post as well as becoming Acting Administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

According to Waxman, government officials have accused Krongard of repeatedly blocking investigations into contracting fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan, including construction of the new Embassy in Baghdad, and censoring reports that might prove politically embarrassing to the Bush administration.

The State Department source said, “Krongard’s guilt is that he helped cover up what Fore and Griffin did. Of the three, Griffin is the weakest link, so he gets to be the scapegoat for the other two.”

The organization that represents America’s diplomats, the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) has called on Inspector General Krongard to “surrender day-to-day control of State’s vital Office of Inspector General pending the resolution of grave allegations of malfeasance leveled against him by numerous current and former career government officials.”

AFSA urged the Bush Administration to make it a top priority to obtain additional staffing resources for diplomacy. In Iraq alone, some 270 Foreign Service positions remain unfilled. State has also requested funds to hire an additional 100 DS Special Agents.
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But the State Department source says Griffin is more than a mere scapegoat. The Bureau Griffin headed hired Blackwater and other private security firms including DynCorp and Triple Canopy, “ostensibly trained them, supervised them, and then failed to hold them accountable for errors. In fact, it appears that the DS Bureau actually covered up for Blackwater in several cases.”

One diplomat said, “While construction of the Embassy is supervised by another State office, Griffin’s office was also involved. It is responsible for supervising the construction of, and certifying, physical security features, such as bomb resistant walls, protective barriers, and so forth. In order for OBO to accept the building contractors' work, DS has to certify that the work on these features meets or exceeds their security standards. One complaint is that a wall, ostensibly certified by DS as meeting their standards (which should have been impervious to a rocket attack) was breached by a launched grenade (smaller than a rocket), which obviously meant that it should never have been certified as ‘safe’.” The Office of the Inspector General (IG) and Griffin’s office are accused of attempting to cover up this fact.

A diplomatic advocacy group, Concerned Foreign Service Officers (CFSO), said that Griffin and his deputy “fostered the kind of ‘we are above the law - accountable to no-one’ environment which gave carte blanche to Blackwater and others to act as they saw fit.”

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http://billfisher.blogspot.com
William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and elsewhere for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration and now (more...)
 

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