Profile: Government Accountability Office (GAO)
Government Accountability Office (GAO) was a participant or observer in the following events:
C. Madison “Brick” Brewer gets the job of supervising a contract with Inslaw for the installation of the PROMIS database and search application (see March 1982). [US Congress, 9/10/1992; Wired News, 3/1993] According to a report by the House Judiciary Committee, Brewer gets the job from William P. Tyson of the Justice Department’s Executive Office for US Attorneys (EOUSA). [US Congress, 9/10/1992] However, according to Wired magazine, Brewer is appointed by EOUSA Director Laurence McWhorter, who had told a previous candidate for the position that he was “out to get Inslaw” (see Spring 1981). [Wired News, 3/1993] Brewer had originally been hired by the EOUSA in January. [US Congress, 9/10/1992] He once worked for Inslaw, but was allowed to resign when its founder William Hamilton found his performance inadequate (see 1976). [Wired News, 3/1993] Brewer will soon demonstrate his hostility to Inslaw, and the company will ask that he be replaced (see April 14, 1982, April 19, 1982, and Mid-April 1982).
Importance of Job - As the project manager, Brewer is involved in all major contract and technical decisions, including forming the department’s position on Inslaw’s claim that it should be paid for privately-funded enhancements it makes to PROMIS. Brewer also reports on progress on the contract to the department’s PROMIS Oversight Committee (see August 13, 1981 or Before).
Comment by Assistant Attorney General - Assistant Attorney General Lowell Jensen will later comment: “I would think that the better path of wisdom is not to do that [i.e. hire an allegedly fired employee to direct the contract of his former employer] if that’s possible to do. I think that it’s better to have these kinds of issues undertaken by people who don’t have questions raised about them one way or the other whether they are biased in favor of or against the people they deal with.” However, this thinking apparently does not impact the department’s decision to hire Brewer.
House Judiciary Committee Investigation - In the light of these circumstances, the House Judiciary Committee will call the appointment a “curious choice,” partly because Brewer tells it: “I was not a computer person. We talked about my role viewed as being liaison, the person who would make things happen, a coordinator. It was not contemplated that I would, by osmosis or otherwise, learn computer science.” After interviewing Justice Department staff, the committee will find that it is “unable to determine how Mr. Brewer came to be considered for the position.” The committee will also point out: “The potential conflict of interest was an unsatisfactory situation irrespective of his admittedly negative feelings about his forced resignation from the company. Had Mr. Brewer taken actions which could have been construed to unduly favor Inslaw throughout the life of the contract, similar questions of potential conflict could just as easily have arisen either from within the department or from outside competitors of the company.”
Findings of Government Accountability Office and Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations - The Government Accountability Office and Congress’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) will find that Brewer’s appointment as project manager creates an appearance of a conflict of interest that should have been avoided by the department. The PSI report will say, “The staff finds that the department exercised poor judgment in ignoring the potential for a conflict of interest in its hiring of the PROMIS project director [Brewer], and then, after receiving allegations of bias on his part, in failing to follow standard procedures to investigate them in a timely manner.”
Courts' Opinions - During the legal proceedings that stem from a dispute between Inslaw and the department, two courts will comment on the issue. George Bason, of the Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia, will say, “On the basis of the evidence taken as a whole, this court is convinced beyond any doubt that Brewer was consumed by hatred for and an intense desire for revenge against Mr. Hamilton and Inslaw, and acted throughout this matter in a thoroughly biased and unfairly prejudicial manner toward Inslaw.” William Bryant, of the District Court for the District of Columbia, will add, “The nature and circumstances of his separation from that employment are somewhat in dispute, but it is clear that Brewer was not happy in his job when he left it after being urged to do so by Hamilton.”
Brewer's Motivation - Inslaw attorney Harvey Sherzer will comment in court on one of the motivations apparently driving Brewer: “[H]e seemed to think there was something wrong with a contractor benefiting from a government contract.… The gist of what he seemed to be saying was that by performing this contract Inslaw and Mr. Hamilton, specifically, was making an effort to expand the company. And there seemed to be a negative inference toward Inslaw’s ability to use the base created by this contract to expand.” [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
Office of Professional Responsibility Conclusion - On the contrary, the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility will examine the matter and rule there is no conflict of interest. Brewer will later tell a federal court that everything he does regarding Inslaw is approved by Jensen. Jensen had previously supervised a product known as DALITE, which lost a major contract to Inslaw in the 1970s. [Wired News, 3/1993]
Entity Tags: Lowell Jensen, William Bryant, Office of Professional Responsibility, Laurence McWhorter, Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, US District Court for the District of Columbia, House Judiciary Committee, Harvey Sherzer, Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia, C. Madison “Brick” Brewer, Inslaw, Inc., Executive Office for US Attorneys (DOJ), George Bason, Government Accountability Office, Frank Mallgrave, William P. Tyson
Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS
The House Subcommittee on Economic and Commercial Law holds a hearing about the failure of Attorney General Richard Thornburgh to provide full access to all documents and records about the Inslaw case. At the hearing, Inslaw owner William Hamilton and its attorney Elliot Richardson air their complaints about an alleged criminal conspiracy in the Justice Department’s handling of a contract with Inslaw and its alleged theft of an enhanced version of the PROMIS application. Steven Ross, the general counsel to the clerk of the US House of Representatives, refutes the Justice Department’s rationale for withholding documents related to possible wrongdoing by its officials involved with the Inslaw contract. In addition, Government Accountability Office representatives describe deficiencies in the Justice Department’s Information Resources Management Office and its administration of data processing contracts.
Bason's Allegations - Judge George Bason, a bankruptcy judge who had found in favor of Inslaw in a dispute with the department (see September 28, 1987), testifies that he believes his failure to be reappointed as bankruptcy judge was the result of improper influence on the court selection process by the department because of his findings. Bason cites information provided to him by a reporter (see May 1988) and negative statements about him by departmental employees (see June 19, 1987 and June 1987 or Shortly After). After investigating these allegations, the committee will find: “The committee could not substantiate Judge Bason’s allegations. If the Department of Justice had influence over the process, it was subtle, to say the least.” Bason will point out that Norma Johnson, the judge who chaired the meeting at which he was not reappointed (see December 15, 1987), had previously worked with departmental official Stuart Schiffer, who was involved in the Inslaw case. However, the committee will comment that it has “no information that Judge Johnson talked to Mr. Schiffer about Inslaw, Judge Bason, or the bankruptcy judge selection process.”
Thornburgh's Reaction - Following this hearing, Thornburgh agrees to cooperate with the subcommittee, but then fails to provide it with several documents it wants. [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) releases a study of the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) called “Employee Misconduct: Justice Should Clearly Document Investigative Actions.” The report is drafted at the request of the House Government Information, Justice, and Agriculture Subcommittee. The GAO finds that:
OPR operates informally, does not routinely document key aspects of its investigations, and provides little background information in its case documentation;
OPR generally does not record the complete scope of and rationale behind its investigations, or of the decisions reached in the course of its investigations;
OPR’s conclusions that allegations are or are not substantiated are generally not explained;
In many instances, OPR does not pursue all available avenues of inquiry;
OPR counsel rely on an attorney’s judgment and informal consulting among attorneys within OPR as the basis for making decisions and reaching conclusions about specific investigations.
The GAO concludes that these failings expose the OPR and the department to a range of risks, such as if OPR’s informality led it to conclude an investigation prematurely, the department’s integrity could be compromised. In addition, if asked to defend an investigation against a charge that it was not aggressively pursued, OPR probably would not have sufficient documentation to do so. A review of the quality of an investigation based on the documentation would yield little information. Therefore, the GAO recommends that OPR:
Establish basic standards for conducting its investigations;
Establish case documentation standards;
Follow up more consistently on the results of misconduct investigations done by other units and what disciplinary actions, if any, are taken as a result of all misconduct investigations. [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
After Presidential Decision Directive 39 (PDD-39), issued in June 1995 (see June 21, 1995), requires key federal agencies to maintain well-exercised counterterrorist capabilities, the number of counterterrorism exercises being conducted increases significantly. According to a 1999 report by the General Accounting Office, whereas 32 counterterrorist exercises are held between June 1995 and June 1996, from June 1997 to June 1998, 116 such exercises are conducted. Some of the exercises held between June 1995 and June 1998 are “tabletop exercises,” where participants work through a scenario around a table or in a classroom and discuss how their agency might react; others are “field exercises,” where an agency’s leadership and operational units practice their skills in a realistic field setting. Four exercises during this period are “no-notice” exercises, where participants have no advance notice of the exercise. These four exercises are conducted by either the Department of Defense (DoD) or the Department of Energy. DoD leads 97 of the exercises—almost half of the total—held between June 1995 and June 1998. The Secret Service leads 46, the FBI 24, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) leads 16. Most of the exercises are conducted in the US and are based around the scenario of a domestic terrorist attack. Although intelligence agencies have determined that conventional explosives and firearms continue to be the weapons of choice for terrorists, the majority of exercises are based around scenarios involving weapons of mass destruction (WMD)—chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons or agents. More than two-thirds of the exercises have WMD scenarios, with the most common WMD being chemical agents, such as sarin. The other exercises have more traditional and more likely scenarios involving conventional weapons and explosives. [United States General Accounting Office, 6/25/1999 ; Washington Post, 10/2/2001]
The 19 hijackers apply and receive a total of 23 visas at five different posts from November 1997 through June 2001. Hani Hanjour, Khalid Almihdhar, Saeed Alghamdi and Ahmed Alnami, Saudi citizens, apply twice at Jeddah. Only Hanjour applies for a student visa, others for tourist/business visa. [United States General Accounting Office, 10/21/2002 ; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 7-45 ]
The fifteen Saudi hijackers apply for their visas in their home country. Four at the embassy in Riyadh: Hamza Alghamdi (10/17/2000), Mohand Alshehri (10/23/2000), Majed Moqed (11/20/2000) and Satam Al Suqami (11/21/2000). Eleven at the US consulate in Jeddah: Hani Hanjour (11/2/1997 and 9/25/2000), Khalid Almihdhar (4/7/1999 and 6/13/2001), Saeed Alghamdi (9/4/2000 and 6/12/2001), and Ahmed Alnami (10/28/2000 and 4/28/2001), Nawaf Alhazmi (4/3/1999), Ahmed Alghamdi (9/3/2000), Wail Alshehri (10/24/2000), Waleed M. Alshehri (10/24/2000), Abdulaziz Alomari (6/18/2001), Salem Alhazmi (6/20/2001), and Ahmed Alhaznawi (11/12/2000).
Fayez Ahmed Banihammad and Marwan Alshehhi apply in their home country, the United Arab Emirates, respectively at the US embassy in Abu Dhabi on 6/18/2001 and at consulate in Dubai on 1/18/2000.
Mohamed Atta (Egyptian) and Ziad Jarrah (Lebanese) apply, as third-country national applicants, at the US embassy in Berlin, respectively, on May 18 and 25, 2000.
Entity Tags: US Consulate, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Office, US Embassy in Abu Dhabi, US Embassy in Berlin, Ziad Jarrah, Wail Alshehri, US Embassy in Riyadh, Salem Alhazmi, Waleed Alshehri, Saeed Alghamdi, US Consulate, Dubai, United Arab Emirates Office, Mohand Alshehri, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Ahmed Alnami, Ahmed Alhaznawi, Ahmed Alghamdi, Abdulaziz Alomari, Nawaf Alhazmi, Government Accountability Office, Satam Al Suqami, Hani Hanjour, Marwan Alshehhi, Mohamed Atta, Majed Moqed, Khalid Almihdhar, Hamza Alghamdi
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
The General Accounting Office (GAO) issues a report examining problems affecting the performance of security screening staff at US airports. It warns: “The threat of attacks on aircraft by terrorists or others remains a persistent and growing concern for the United States. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the trend in terrorism against US targets is toward large-scale incidents designed for maximum destruction, terror, and media impact.” Though the GAO describes the performance of screeners in detecting dangerous objects like handguns as “unsatisfactory,” it makes no recommendations to revise current screening practices. [General Accounting Office, 6/2000, pp. 6-8, 20 ; Boston Globe, 9/20/2001]
A study conducted by the General Accounting Office (GAO) finds that the scientists and experts who sit on the Science Advisory Board panels which advise the EPA often have ties to the affected industries or other conflicts of interest. The study, requested by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (Calif.), says that EPA officials regularly fail to identify potential conflicts of interest when panel members are chosen and do not adequately disclose the existence of such conflicts to the public. Though it is prohibited for a federal employee to participate in any “particular matter” that could affect their financial interests, there is an exemption that permits special government employees to serve on advisory panels when the topic being studied directly affects the financial interests of their employer—as long as the employer is not “singularly affected.” [Washington Post, 7/16/2001]
ABC reporter Ted Koppel asks Vice President Dick Cheney about meetings with his “pals” from the oil and energy industries (see January 29, 2001 and April 17, 2001 and After). Koppel is referring to the attempts by Congress to be given the names of the participants in Cheney’s energy task force meetings. Cheney says: “I think it’s going to have to be resolved in court, and I think that’s probably appropriate. I think, in fact, that this is the first time the GAO [Government Accountability Office] has ever issued a so-called demand letter to a president/vice president. I’m a duly elected constitutional officer. The idea that any member of Congress can demand from me a list of everybody I meet with and what they say strikes me as—as inappropriate, and not in keeping with the Constitution.” Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will later write, “The vice president was deftly turning a request for records into a constitutional struggle between the legislative and executive branches.” Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), who issued the original requests before turning them over to the GAO, will put his demands for information on hold because of the 9/11 attacks and the war in Afghanistan, but the case will indeed end up in court (see February 22, 2002). [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 11-12]
National Ombudsman Robert Martin sends a memorandum to EPA Administrator Christie Whitman suggesting that the agency implement the recommendations in the General Accounting Office’s July 2001 report (see July 27, 2001). He advises against a proposal under consideration that would move his office to the Office of Inspector General (OIG). He argues that doing so would not increase the ombudsman’s independence and notes that the ombudsman’s mission is very different than the OIG’s. [Environmental Protection Agency, 11/26/2001 ; US Congress, 6/25/2002]
David Walker, comptroller of the General Accounting Office (GAO) and a Ronald Reagan appointee, files a lawsuit to compel Vice President Dick Cheney and his office to reveal the names of the private businessmen and organizational officials that his energy task force (see January 29, 2001) met with to craft the Bush administration’s energy policies (see May 8, 2001). This is the first time since its creation in 1920 that the GAO has been forced to file suit to compel another government agency to follow the law and cooperate with its requests. [Dean, 2004, pp. 78-79] In a statement, Walker writes: “This is the first time that GAO has filed suit against a federal official in connection with a records access issue. We take this step reluctantly. Nevertheless, given GAO’s responsibility to Congress and the American people, we have no other choice. Our repeated attempts to reach a reasonable accommodation on this matter have not been successful. Now that the matter has been submitted to the judicial branch, we are hopeful that the litigation will be resolved expeditiously. [General Accounting Office, 2/22/2002 ]
'Fundamental Questions' about Governmental 'Checks and Balances' - Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write in 2004: “This was, to say the least, a high-stakes lawsuit. It raised fundamental questions about the very nature of our system of checks and balances. If the GAO could not get the information it requested, then there was a black hole in the federal firmament—a no-man’s land where a president and vice president could go free from Congressional oversight.” By random selection, the case lands in the court of Judge John Bates, a career Justice Department lawyer who once worked for the Whitewater investigative team led by Kenneth Starr, and had just recently been appointed to the bench by President Bush. The choice of Bates will prove critical to the verdict of the case. [Dean, 2004, pp. 78-79]
Schlafly: Secrecy a 'Mistake' - Conservative commentator and activist Phyllis Schlafly will write in 2002: “[T]he public wants to know how our energy policy was developed. When information is kept secret, the natural inference is that there must be something the administration is very eager to hide. While private businesses and households can be selective about what they tell the world, the American people are not willing to accord the same privacy to public officials paid by the taxpayers. Regardless of the legal veil woven over the energy policy meetings, Cheney’s secrecy is a political mistake.” [Eagle Forum, 3/6/2002]
Entity Tags: Kenneth Starr, Phyllis Schlafly, US Department of Justice, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Dean, Government Accountability Office, Bush administration (43), David Walker, George W. Bush, Energy Task Force, John Bates
Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties
President Bush refuses to allow DHS chief Tom Ridge to testify before Congress regarding the agency’s efforts to protect the nation. Bush’s rationale is that Ridge was on the White House staff before the department was created. Bush tells reporters, “Well, he’s not—he doesn’t have to testify; he’s a part of my staff, and that’s part of the prerogative of the Executive Branch of government. And we hold that very dear.… I’m not going to let Congress erode the power of the Executive Branch. I have a duty to protect the Executive Branch from legislative encroachment. I mean, for example, when the GAO [Government Accountability Office] demands documents from us, we’re not going to give them to them. These were privileged conversations. These were conversations when people come into our offices and brief us. Can you imagine having to give up every single transcript of what is—advised me or the Vice President? Our advice wouldn’t be good and honest and open. And so I viewed that as an encroachment on the power of the Executive Branch. I have an obligation to make sure that the presidency remains robust and the Legislative Branch doesn’t end up running the Executive Branch.” [White House, 3/13/2002; Dean, 2004, pp. 180]
The General Accounting Office, the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, releases a report asserting that at least 13 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were never interviewed by US consular officials before being granted visas to enter the US. This contradicts previous assurances from the State Department that 12 of the hijackers had been interviewed. It also found that, for 15 hijackers whose applications could be found, none had filled in the documents properly. Records for four other hijackers (the four non-Saudis, i.e., Ziad Jarrah, Mohamed Atta, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, and Marwan Al Shehhi) could not be checked because they were accidentally destroyed. [National Review Online, 10/21/2002; United States General Accounting Office, 10/21/2002 ; Washington Post, 10/22/2002] The State Department maintains that visa procedures were properly followed. In December 2002, Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Pat Roberts (R-KS) state in a chapter of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry that “if State Department personnel had merely followed the law and not granted non-immigrant visas to 15 of the 19 hijackers in Saudi Arabia… 9/11 would not have happened.” [Associated Press, 12/19/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. pp. 653-673 ]
Entity Tags: Saeed Alghamdi, Salem Alhazmi, Satam Al Suqami, US Department of State, Pat Roberts, Waleed Alshehri, Wail Alshehri, Nawaf Alhazmi, Ziad Jarrah, Mohamed Atta, Mohand Alshehri, Government Accountability Office, Ahmed Alnami, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Abdulaziz Alomari, Marwan Alshehhi, Ahmed Alghamdi, Ahmed Alhaznawi, Hani Hanjour, Majed Moqed, Hamza Alghamdi, Khalid Almihdhar, Jon Kyl
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
District Court Judge John Bates rules against the General Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, in its attempt to force Vice President Cheney to disclose some of his Energy Task Force documents (see January 29, 2001 and May 16, 2001). The judge writes, “This case, in which neither a House of Congress nor any congressional committee has issued a subpoena for the disputed information or authorized this suit, is not the setting for such unprecedented judicial action.” [Associated Press, 12/9/2002] Bates is a Republican who worked as the deputy independent counsel to Kenneth Starr in the Whitewater investigation, and was appointed to the bench by President Bush in 2001. [Savage, 2007, pp. 112] The GAO later declines to appeal the ruling (see February 7, 2003). In a similar suit being filed by Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club, the Bush administration has successfully delayed deadlines forcing these documents to be turned over. [Associated Press, 12/6/2002] That case will eventually be decided in the administration’s favor (see May 10, 2005).
Cheney Pushes Back - Unfortunately, the ruling’s claim of no Congressional involvement is somewhat misleading. The original request for information came from two ranking House members, Henry Waxman (D-CA) of the Committee on Government Reform and John Conyers (D-MI) of the Energy and Commerce Committee (see April 19 - May 4, 2001). Waxman and Conyers followed standard procedure by writing to David Walker, head of the GAO, to request information about who was meeting with the task force and what the task force was doing (May 8, 2001. Instead of complying with the request, Cheney’s legal counsel, David Addington, replied that the task force was not subject to the Federal Advisory Committee Act, and therefore not bound by law to provide such information (see May 16 - 17, 2001). Addington later challenged the GAO’s authority, saying that it was trying “to intrude into the heart of Executive deliberations, including deliberations among the President, the Vice President, members of the President’s Cabinet, and the President’s immediate assistants, which the law protects to ensure the candor in Executive deliberation necessary to effective government.” The GAO was not asking for such information; former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write in 2004, “It was clear [Addington] was looking to pick a fight.”
Tug of War - The GAO advised Addington that it did indeed have the legal power to examine the deliberations of such entities as the task force, and provided Addington both the statutory law and the legislative history, which flatly contradicted Addington’s refusal. The GAO also noted that it was “not inquiring into the deliberative process but [was] focused on gathering factual information regarding the process of developing President Bush’s National Energy Policy.” The GAO even narrowed the scope of its original request, asking only for the names of those who had worked with the task force, and the dates (see July 31, 2001). But this provoked further resistance from Cheney and his office, with Cheney publicly stating on numerous occasions that the GAO was unlawfully trying to intrude into the deliberative process. Walker’s patience ran out in January 2002, and he notified the White House and Congress that the GAO was taking the administration to court (see February 22, 2002).
Hardball in Federal Court - Usually the case will be handled by lawyers from the Justice Department’s Civil Division. But this case is much more important to the White House to be left to the usual group of attorneys. Instead, this lawsuit is one of the very few to be handled by a special unit operating under the direct supervision of Deputy Solicitor General Paul Clement and Clement’s boss, Solicitor General Theodore Olson. Olson, the lawyer who spearheaded the team that successfully argued the December 2000 Bush v. Gore case that awarded George W. Bush the presidency. Dean later learns that this special team was created specifically to find and handle cases that they can take to the Supreme Court in order to rewrite existing law, mostly laws that restrict the power of the presidency (see January 21, 2001). Many career attorneys at the Justice Department will become so offended by the existence and the agenda of this special legal team that they will resign their positions. The administraton sent a strong signal to Judge Bates when it sent Olson, who has argued many times before the Supreme Court, to argue the government’s case in his court. Dean will write that Bates, a recent Bush appointee and a veteran of the Whitewater investigation, “got the message.” He knows this case is slated to go to the Supreme Court if it doesn’t go the way the White House wants.
Standing the Law On Its Head - According to Dean, Bates turns the entire body of statutory law overseeing the GAO and its powers to compel information from the executive branch on its head. He rules that the GAO lacks the “standing to sue,” saying that it doesn’t have enough of a legal stake in the controversy to have a role in trying to compel information. Bates, flying in the face of over eight decades of law and precedent, rules that, in essence, the GAO is merely an agent of Congress, and because neither the GAO nor Walker had suffered injury because of the task force’s refusal to comply with its request, the GAO has no legal recourse against the executive branch. Bates hangs much of his ruling on the fact that Congress has not yet subpoenaed the White House for the task force information. Thusly, Bates guts the entire structure of enforcement authority the GAO has as part of its statutory mandate. Bates does not go as far as the Justice Department wants, by not specifically ruling that the entire GAO statute is unconstitutional, but otherwise Bates’s ruling is a complete victory for the White House. [Dean, 2004, pp. 76-80] Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein later write that “Bates’s ruling creates a legislative Catch-22 for Democrats.” Because the GOP is the majority party, and because GOP Congressional leaders refuse to subpoena the White House on virtually any issue or conflict, no such subpoenas as Bates is mandating are likely to ever be granted by Republican committee chairmen. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 14] In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write that Bates’s ruling severely eroded the GAO’s “ability to threaten to file a lawsuit [and] damaged the congressional watchdog’s capability to persuade executive branch agencies to comply with its requests for information.… Bates had established a principle that, if left undisturbed, could change the attitudes of executive branch officials when the GAO asked for documents they did not want to disclose.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 112-113]
Entity Tags: John Dean, Lou Dubose, Paul Clement, Sierra Club, John Conyers, US Supreme Court, US Department of Justice, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Bates, Judicial Watch, Henry A. Waxman, Bush administration (43), Charlie Savage, David Walker, David S. Addington, Government Accountability Office, Energy Task Force, Jake Bernstein, Federal Advisory Committee Act
Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties
Following tests of the standard of security at US airports (see October 9, 2003), the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and a private company provide a series of classified briefings to the House Aviation Subcommittee, saying the security is currently lax, bureaucratic, and no better than it was 17 years ago. After the briefings, committee chairman John Mica (R-FL) says, “We have a system that doesn’t work.” Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR), who supported the federal takeover of airport security, says, “The inadequacies and loopholes in the system are phenomenal.” A 2006 book by investigative reporters Joe and Susan Trento will say that the new federal screeners are “much worse” than the old private ones. A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) official will say that the “private sector was held to a standard of somewhere between 80 to 90 percent” for weapons detection, but now at one airport “they ran eight [tests] and we missed four of them.” He will add, “But what is really alarming to me is that they said we’re above the national average so they recognize you for a job well done.” Another official will complain about the lack of testing in the federal system, saying that the new screeners even have difficultly recognizing explosives when they appear on a screen, “And when you run an actual [improvised explosive device], they don’t know what it is.” The Trentos will attribute some of the blame to the way the security staff are trained, noting, “the TSA certifies and tests itself and classifies the results as secret.” [Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. 172-4]
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports to Congress on the challenges facing the development of the Global Information Grid (GIG). GIG, sometimes referred to as the “war net,” is the military’s “Internet in the sky” (see February 25, 2004) that will give soldiers in the field unprecedented access to data, such as images, maps, and other types of actionable intelligence, via a very high-speed satellite link in real-time. In addition to a variety of management and operational challenges, GAO reports that most of the technologies needed to develop GIG are immature and that the Defense Department “is at risk of not delivering required capabilities within budgeted resources.” For example, “two key GIG related programs—JTRS and TSAT—are facing schedule and performance risks,… largely rooted in attempts to move these programs into product development without sufficient knowledge that their technologies can work as intended.” Additionally, reports GAO, the Pentagon’s Future Combat Systems program “is at significant risk, in part because more than 75 percent of its critical technologies were immature at the start and many will not be sufficiently mature until the production decision.” [General Accounting Office, 7/2004 ; New York Times, 11/13/2004]
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issues a report on the Pentagon’s “stop-loss” program (see November 2002). The GAO report says that the Pentagon’s “implementation of a key mobilization authority to involuntarily call up reserve component members and personnel policies greatly affects the numbers of reserve members available to fill requirements.” [PBS, 9/17/2004] Over 335,000 Guardsmen and Army reservists have been “involuntarily called to active duty since September 11, 2001,” the report finds, with no sign that such involuntary deployments will decrease any time soon. The GAO finds that such widespread forcible deployments were done with little consideration of the costs to the reservists and Guard personnel in their private lives—damage to jobs, families, and other aspects—as well as the negative impact such involuntary deployments are having on the military’s ability to recruit new personnel for Guard and reserve berths. [Government Accountability Office, 9/15/2004]
Stations such as Los Angeles’s KABC-TV routinely re-edit graphics to fit their own formatting. The graphic on the left was part of a VNR produced by a private firm; on the right is KABC’s edited graphic. [Source: PRWatch (.org)] (click image to enlarge)An investigation by the New York Times reveals that the government’s use of “video news releases,” or so-called “fake news” reports provided by the government and presented to television news viewers as real news (see March 15, 2004), has been used by far more government agencies than previously reported. The Times report finds that VNRs from the State Department, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the Agriculture Department are among the agencies providing VNRs to local television news broadcasters. Previous media reports focused largely on the VNRs provided by the Department of Health and Human Services to tout the Bush administration’s Medicare proposals. The Times finds that “at least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years.… Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government’s role in their production.… [T]he [Bush] administration’s efforts to generate positive news coverage have been considerably more pervasive than previously known. At the same time, records and interviews suggest widespread complicity or negligence by television stations, given industry ethics standards that discourage the broadcast of prepackaged news segments from any outside group without revealing the source.”
VNRs Presented as Actual News - While government VNRs are generally labeled as being government productions on the film canister or video label, the VNRs themselves are designed, the Times writes, “to fit seamlessly into the typical local news broadcast. In most cases, the ‘reporters’ are careful not to state in the segment that they work for the government. Their reports generally avoid overt ideological appeals. Instead, the government’s news-making apparatus has produced a quiet drumbeat of broadcasts describing a vigilant and compassionate administration.” The VNRs often feature highly choreographed “interviews” with senior administration officials, “in which questions are scripted and answers rehearsed. Critics, though, are excluded, as are any hints of mismanagement, waste or controversy.”
Benefits to All except News Consumers - The Times explains how VNRs benefit the Bush administration, private public relations firms, networks, and local broadcasters: “Local affiliates are spared the expense of digging up original material. Public relations firms secure government contracts worth millions of dollars. The major networks, which help distribute the releases, collect fees from the government agencies that produce segments and the affiliates that show them. The administration, meanwhile, gets out an unfiltered message, delivered in the guise of traditional reporting.” News viewers, however, receive propaganda messages masquerading as real, supposedly impartial news reports.
Ducking Responsibility - Administration officials deny any responsibility for the use of VNRs as “real” news. “Talk to the television stations that ran it without attribution,” says William Pierce, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services. “This is not our problem. We can’t be held responsible for their actions.” But the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has disagreed, calling the use of government-produced VNRs “covert propaganda” because news viewers do not know that the segments they are watching are government productions (see May 19, 2004). However, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Justice Department (see March 2005) have called the practice legal, and instructed executive branch agencies to merely ignore the GAO findings.
Creative Editing - The Times gives an example of how seamlessly government-produced propaganda can be transformed into seemingly real news segments. In one segment recently provided by the Agriculture Department, the agency’s narrator ends the segment by saying, “In Princess Anne, Maryland, I’m Pat O’Leary reporting for the US Department of Agriculture.” The segment is distributed by AgDay, a syndicated farm news program shown on some 160 stations; the segment is introduced as being by “AgDay’s Pat O’Leary.” The final sentence was edited to state: “In Princess Anne, Maryland, I’m Pat O’Leary reporting.” Final result: viewers are unaware that the AgDay segment is actually an Agriculture Department production. AgDay executive producer Brian Conrady defends the practice: “We can clip ‘Department of Agriculture’ at our choosing. The material we get from the [agency], if we choose to air it and how we choose to air it is our choice.” The public relations industry agrees with Conrady; many large PR firms produce VNRs both for government and corporate use, and the Public Relations Society of America gives an annual award, the Bronze Anvil, for the year’s best VNR.
Complicity by News Broadcasters - Several major television networks help distribute VNRs. Fox News has a contract with PR firm Medialink to distribute VNRs to 130 affiliates through its video feed service, Fox News Edge. CNN distributes VNRs to 750 stations in the US and Canada through its feed service, CNN Newsource. The Associated Press’s television news distributor does the same with its Global Video Wire. Fox News Edge director David Winstrom says: “We look at them and determine whether we want them to be on the feed. If I got one that said tobacco cures cancer or something like that, I would kill it.” TVA Productions, a VNR producer and distributor, says in a sales pitch to potential clients, “No TV news organization has the resources in labor, time or funds to cover every worthy story.” Almost “90 percent of TV newsrooms now rely on video news releases,” it claims. The reach can be enormous. Government-produced VNRs from the Office of National Drug Control Policy reached some 22 million households over 300 news stations. And news stations often re-record the voiceover of VNRs by their own reporters, adding to the illusion that their own reporters, and not government or PR employees, are doing the actual reporting.
Office of Broadcasting Services - The State Department’s Office of Broadcasting Services (OBS) employs around 30 editors and technicians, who before 2002 primarily distributed video from news conferences. But in early 2002, the OBS began working with close White House supervision to produce narrated feature reports promoting American policies and achievements in Afghanistan and Iraq, and supporting the Bush administration’s rationale for invading those countries. Between 2002 and now, the State Department has produced 59 such segments, which were distributed to hundreds of domestic and international television broadcasters. The State Department says that US laws prohibiting the domestic dissemination of propaganda don’t apply to the OBS. Besides, says State Department spokesman Richard Boucher: “Our goal is to put out facts and the truth. We’re not a propaganda agency.” State Department official Patricia Harrison told Congress last year that such “good news” segments are “powerful strategic tools” for influencing public opinion. The Times reports that “a review of the department’s segments reveals a body of work in sync with the political objectives set forth by the White House communications team after 9/11.” One June 2003 VNR produced by the OBS depicts US efforts to distribute food and water to the people of southern Iraq. The unidentified narrator condluded, “After living for decades in fear, they are now receiving assistance—and building trust—with their coalition liberators.” OBS produced several segments about the liberation of Afghan women; a January 2003 memo called the segments “prime example[s]” of how “White House-led efforts could facilitate strategic, proactive communications in the war on terror.” OBS typically distributes VNRs through international news organizations such as Reuters and the Associated Press, which then distribute them to major US networks, which in turn transmit them to local affiliates.
The Pentagon Channel and 'Hometown News' - In 2004, the Defense Department began providing The Pentagon Channel, formerly an in-house service, to cable and satellite operators in the US. The content is provided by Pentagon public relations specialists who produce “news reports” identical to those produced by local and national news broadcasters. And the content is free. The Pentagon Channel’s content is supplemented by the Army and Air Force Hometown News Service (HNS), a 40-man unit that produces VNRs for local broadcasters focusing on the accomplishments of “hometown” soldiers. Deputy director Larry Gilliam says of the service, “We’re the ‘good news’ people.” Their reports, tailored for specific local stations, reached 41 million households in 2004. But the service’s VNRs sometimes go beyond celebrating a hometown hero. Weeks after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, HNS released a VNR that lauded the training of military policemen at Missouri’s Fort Leonard Wood, where many of the MPs involved in the scandal were trained. “One of the most important lessons they learn is to treat prisoners strictly but fairly,” the “reporter” in the segment says. A trainer tells the narrator that MPs are taught to “treat others as they would want to be treated.” Gilliam says the MP report had nothing to do with the Pentagon’s desire to defend itself from accusations of mistreatment and prisoner abuse. “Are you saying that the Pentagon called down and said, ‘We need some good publicity?’” Gilliam asks the Times reporter. He answers his own question, “No, not at all.” [New York Times, 3/13/2005]
Congress Bans Use of Government VNRs - Two months after the Times article is published, Congress will ban the use of government VNRs for propaganda purposes (see May 2005).
Entity Tags: Brian Conrady, Transportation Security Administration, Richard A. Boucher, Reuters, Associated Press, US Department of Agriculture, US Department of Defense, US Department of Health and Human Services, AgDay, Army and Air Force Hometown News Service, William Pierce, US Department of Justice, US Department of State, Pentagon Channel, US Census Bureau, Pat O’Leary, David Winstrom, Fort Leonard Wood, Patricia Harrison, Bush administration (43), CNN, Fox News, Public Relations Society of America, Larry Gilliam, Office of Management and Budget, Office of National Drug Control Policy, Office of Broadcasting Services, Government Accountability Office, Medialink, New York Times
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
The Bush administration appoints veteran Bush adviser Karen Hughes as the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy. Her main job will be to craft an administration marketing and public relations policy that will reach out to the Islamic and Arab worlds, and to convince Muslims and Arabs that the US is indeed their friend (see August 2002). But Hughes is immediately granted six months of personal leave before facing Senate confirmation in the fall. And Hughes’s staff will include no Muslims. As a result, a high-level US official warns that “the gap between rhetoric and reality” will undermine the US’s credibility in its outreach program. Hughes’s deputy, Dina Powell, is not expected to take her position until at least May. The new initiative is at least partially sparked due to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report criticizing the administration for failing to develop a policy to improve the US image in the rest of the world. “[R]ecent polling data show that anti-Americanism is spreading and deepening around the world,” the report finds. “Such anti-American sentiments can increase foreign public support for terrorism directed at Americans, impact the cost and effectiveness of military operations, weaken the United States’ ability to align with other nations in pursuit of common policy objectives, and dampen foreign publics’ enthusiasm for US business services and products.” Another US official says the dearth of Muslims in the administration is worrisome. (Powell is Egyptian-American, but is a Christian, not a Muslim. The few officials of Arab descent in the Bush administration are, by and large, Christians.) “It’s very important for American Muslims to be involved, as they’re an important conduit to the wider Islamic world and they should be speaking out,” that official says. “But American Muslims generally feel they’re not included like other communities. We should be talking to them, as they have a lot of knowledge of the region.” Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says, “You can do Muslim outreach without Muslims and it doesn’t mean Dina Powell can’t be effective, but the administration has not made much effort to integrate Muslim Americans in this effort.” Carothers says many in the administration confuse public diplomacy with marketing. “There’s deep confusion within the administration about what public diplomacy means,” he says. “For some, it’s simply selling America’s image in the world. For others, it’s something deeper that has to do with creating a partnership between America and Muslim countries to replace the current antagonism.… The administration is convinced that if only the Muslim world understood us better they’d like us more, whereas many Muslims feel it’s precisely because they understand us that they’re unhappy.” [Washington Post, 4/18/2005; Rich, 2006, pp. 165]
In an 8-0 ruling, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals dismisses a lawsuit by the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch asking that the court require information to be disclosed from Vice President Cheney’s energy task force from 2001 (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). The US Supreme Court sent the case back to the appeals court (see April 27, 2004 and June 24, 2004). The appeals court ignores reports from the Government Accountability Office finding that energy executives and lobbyists took part in the task force deliberations (see After January 20, 2001, Mid-February, 2001, March 21, 2001, March 22, 2001, April 12, 2001, and April 17, 2001), and accepts the government’s contentions that the executive branch should not be forced to disclose information about its workings to either the legislative or judicial branches. Because no evidence was submitted that showed the energy executives or lobbyists cast votes or exercised veto power over task force decisions, the court rules, the task force is not obligated to comply with federal laws mandating that such governmental working groups reveal details of their deliberations. The executives and lobbyists are essentially no different than staff aides, the court finds. Cheney’s energy task force was not an advisory committee, and therefore “the government owed the plaintiffs no duty, let alone a clear and indisputable or compelling one,” says the court’s opinion. The court applies the Supreme Court’s standard of law as recommended in the case, a standard far more favorable to the executive branch than any previously applied in the case. Several of the appellate judges will later say that they took the Court ruling to mean that the judiciary should not be involved in a legal struggle with the executive branch. The ruling allows Cheney to keep the task force documents secret, and says that the task force is not bound by the Federal Advisory Committees Act (FACA). [Associated Press, 5/10/2005; Savage, 2007, pp. 176]
'Double Blow' - David Bookbinder, a lawyer for the Sierra Club, says, “The decision is not going to be helpful in assuring open and accountable government.” [Sierra Club, 5/15/2005] He says the ruling is a double blow: “As a policy matter, we see the Bush administration has succeeded in its efforts to keep secret how industry crafted the administration’s energy policy. As a legal matter, it’s a defeat for efforts to have open government and for the public to know how their elected officials are conducting business.” Judicial Watch official Chris Farrell will later say the ruling leaves the open-government laws “a hollow shell.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 176] The New York Times calls the decision “regrettable,” and observes, “The Bush administration hardly needs encouragement to deny public access to vital government information.” [New York Times, 5/15/2005]
Rejected Judicial Precedent - In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write: “The decision relied entirely upon the assertion of two Cheney aides that the lobbyists had not cast any votes, a claim no judge ever verified by looking at the records. The court’s ruling also dismissed arguments that ‘influential participation’ by outsiders made them de facto members of the task force whether or not they cast votes, rejecting the standard the courts had applied to the 1994 Clinton health care task force.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 176]
Congress passes a law requiring the Customs and Border Patrol to relocate its illegal immigrant checkpoints near Tucson, Arizona, every seven days in order to prevent smugglers from being able to avoid those checkpoints. President Bush signs the law, then issues a signing statement saying that the Border Patrol should view the “relocation provision as advisory rather than mandatory” because, in his view, only the president has the constitutional authority to decide how to deploy law enforcement officers. As a result of Bush’s signing statement, Border Patrol authorities disobey the law, and explain to investigators from the Government Accountability Office that the law is not mandatory, but “advisory.” White House spokesman Tony Fratto later says in response to the Border Patrol’s refusal to obey the law: “The signing statements certainly do and should have an impact. They are real.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 242-243; Boston Globe, 6/19/2007]
A White House document shows that oil company executives lied in recent Senate hearings when they denied meeting with Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001) in 2001. The document, obtained by the Washington Post, shows that officials from ExxonMobil, Conoco (before it merged with Phillips), Shell Oil, and British Petroleum met with the task force (see March 22, 2001). Last week, the CEOs of ExxonMobil, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips denied participating in the task force’s deliberations. Shell Oil’s CEO said his company did not participate “to my knowledge,” and the chief of BP America said he did not know. Though Chevron is not named in the White House document, that firm and others “gave detailed energy policy recommendations” to the task force, according to the Government Accountability Office. Cheney also met separately with John Browne, BP’s chief executive, in a meeting not included in the document. Environmentalists have long stated that they were almost entirely shut out of the deliberations, while corporate interests were heavily represented (see April 4, 2001). The Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that the government could keep the records of the task force secret (see June 24, 2004). Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) says, “The White House went to great lengths to keep these meetings secret, and now oil executives may be lying to Congress about their role in the Cheney task force.” Since the oil executives were not under oath—a decision by Senate Commerce Committee chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK) protested by committee Democrats—they cannot be charged with perjury. However, they can be fined or imprisoned for up to five years for making “any materially false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or representation” to Congress. After the Washington Post releases the document, former Conoco manager Alan Huffman confirms, “We met [with the task force] in the Executive Office Building, if I remember correctly.” A ConocoPhillips spokesman says that CEO James Mulva had been unaware of the meetings when he testified at the hearing. ExxonMobil says it stands by CEO Lee Raymond’s denials; James Rouse, an Exxon official named in the document (see Mid-February, 2001), denies meeting with the task force, calling the document “inaccurate.” [Washington Post, 11/16/2005]
Entity Tags: Frank R. Lautenberg, Ted Stevens, Chevron, British Petroleum, Alan Huffman, ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch/Shell, US Supreme Court, National Energy Policy Development Group, Government Accountability Office, James Mulva, ConocoPhillips, John Browne, Lee Raymond, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, James Rouse
Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record
A new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), an impartial investigative arm of Congress, claims the US effort to help foreign nations cut off terrorism funding has been frustrated by infighting among US agencies, a lack of funding, and leadership problems. The report says “the US government lacks an integrated strategy” to train foreign countries and give them technical assistance. Officials at the State and Treasury Departments cannot even agree on who is supposed to be in charge of the effort. In at least one case, the State Department refused to even allow a Treasury official to enter a certain foreign country. “Investigators found clear tensions between officials at State, Treasury, Justice, and other US government departments.” Remarkably, private contractors have sometimes been allowed to draft proposed laws for foreign countries to curb terrorist financing. The contractors’ work at times resulted in proposals with “substantial deficiencies.” Generally speaking, the New York Times notes that experts say that the Bush administration’s efforts with terrorist financing has been “spotty, with few clear dents in al-Qaeda’s ability to move money and finance terrorist attacks.” [New York Times, 11/29/2005]
The National Security Agency’s ‘Trailblazer’ program (see Late 1999), envisioned in 1999 as an overarching state-of-the-art data-mining system capable of sorting through millions of telephone and Internet communications and pluck out items relevant to national security and counterterrorism, is an abject failure, according to multiple sources and reports. The program has soaked up six years of effort and $1.2 billion in taxpayer dollars, with nothing to show except some schematic drawings and a few isolated technological and analytical gadgets, and little hope of much future progress. Matthew Aid, who has advised three federal commissions and panels investigating the 9/11 attacks, says that Trailblazer is “the biggest boondoggle going on now in the intelligence community.” Part of the problem is that over its six years of development, Trailblazer has passed through three separate NSA divisions, each with its own priorities and design goals. Its overseers have failed to exert the proper authority to clearly define the program’s goals and keep the project on track. In 2003, the NSA’s inspector general found that the program suffered from “inadequate management and oversight” of private contractors and overpayment for the work that was done. The lead private contractor for the project, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), has not provided the technical and managerial expertise necessary to create the system. While the Bush administration has touted the NSA wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005) as vital to protecting the nation from terrorism, it allows the agency to mismanage Trailblazer, in essence allowing the agency to go increasingly “deaf” as millions of items of unimportant information overwhelm the agency’s ability to sort out key bits of information, according to a government official. A Congressional investigation of intelligence failures surrounding the 9/11 attacks found that the NSA did not sift out “potentially vital” information that could have predicted or even prevented the attacks—a lapse that Trailblazer was intended to correct. Aid says that the problem is akin to searching for a needle in a haystack that doubles in size every few months. Intelligence experts say that the problem with Trailblazer is like deciding whether to keep a piece of mail or throw it out based only on what is on the outside of the envelope. Approximately 95% of the information gathered by the NSA is discarded without ever being translated from its original binary form; the remaining 5% is turned into plain text for human analysts to survey. Trailblazer was designed to sort through this information to identify patterns, keywords, and links to other data. The program would, in theory, translate all of the information into plain text or voice data, analyze the results to identify items of interest, store the results in an easily searchable database, and forward selected items to the appropriate analysts for follow-up. But after six years of work, there will still be no consensus among agency managers and experts as how to create a system to do this. Interestingly, another, less grandiose program, code-named Thinthread, appeared promising—a 2004 Pentagon report found that Thinthread could work better and be put to use more quickly than Trailblazer—but NSA managers disagreed with the Pentagon report and canceled Thinthread. Instead, Hayden pushed the agency to get Trailblazer up and running after the 9/11 attacks, cutting into time needed for review and corrections. Internal and external warnings that the program was going off-course were ignored; because of its secrecy and technological sophistication, neither Congress nor the NSA was able to effectively monitor the progress of the program’s development. And the agency lost track of much of the $1.2 billion that was allocated by Congress for the program. NSA Inspector General Joel Brenner blames the waste and inefficiency on “inadequate management and oversight.” As of 2006, the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, has not investigated Trailblazer simply because no one in Congress had asked it to. Because of the impact of the 9/11 attacks, and the war in Iraq, Congress has never seriously considered cutting back or reviewing any programs such as Trailblazer that might provide information on further terrorist attacks. [Baltimore Sun, 1/29/2006]
The Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress’s non-partisan research arm, issues a report criticizing the government’s sharing of counterterrorism information. Despite more than four years of legislation and executive orders, there has been little progress since 9/11 in sharing information among federal agencies and thousands of nonfederal partners. Deadlines set by both President Bush and Congress have repeatedly not been met. The responsibility for the task has also repeatedly shifted since 9/11—from the White House to the Office of Management and Budget, to the Department of Homeland Security, and to the Director of National Intelligence. In January 2006, the program manager in charge of improving information sharing between agencies resigned after complaining of inadequate budget and staffing. The GAO report notes that there is a lack of “government-wide policies and processes to help agencies integrate the myriad of ongoing efforts to improve the sharing of terrorism-related information…” For instance, there are at least 56 different secrecy classifications in use, with different agencies using different terms or sometimes the same terms with widely different meanings. State and local first responders claim they are often left in the dark or overwhelmed with identical information from multiple federal sources. [Washington Post, 4/19/2006]
The ranking members of the House Government Reform Committee and the Committee on Science, Energy, and Commerce ask the Government Accountability Office to investigate the impact that Bush’s proposed budget cuts (see Early February 2006) and the EPA library closures (see, e.g., August 15, 2006 and October 20, 2006 and After) will have on scientific research, regulatory quality, and enforcement capability. The letter cites the concerns of EPA scientists that the changes will “harm the agency’s ability to carry out its mission and will be especially damaging to EPA’s ability to enforce environmental laws.” It adds that EPA employees fear the library reorganization scheme may result in the “permanent” loss of access to many documents. [PEER, 8/21/2006; Gordon, Waxman, and Dingall, 9/19/2006 ]
According a report released by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), the US Department of Defense (DOD) often contracted directly with local Iraqi firms for less complex electrical reconstruction projects rather than using large design-build contracts. DOD officials estimate that the direct contracts with Iraqi firms were 20 to 50 percent more cost efficient than the larger design-build contracts. [US Government Accountability Office, 12/15/2006, pp. 9 ]
Rosa DeLauro. [Source: Washington Post]A group of Democrats in Congress, dismayed and angered by recent revelations of a secret Pentagon propaganda campaign to manipulate public opinion regarding Iraq (see April 20, 2008, Early 2002 and Beyond, and April 24, 2008), calls for explanations from the parties involved. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, asks Defense Secretary Robert Gates to investigate the program. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) writes to the heads of the five major television networks, asking each to provide more information about their practices for vetting and hiring so-called “independent military analysts” to provide commentary and opinion about Iraq and other US military operations and strategies. DeLauro writes, “When you put analysts on the air without fully disclosing their business interests, as well as relationships with high-level officials within the government, the public trust is betrayed.” [New York Times, 4/26/2008] Senator John Kerry (D-MA) calls on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct its own investigation. Kerry asks for “the names of all senior Pentagon officials involved in this effort, and the extent of that effort; [t]he extent of the contact between Pentagon officials and the military analysts in question regarding what was said by the analysts over the public airwaves”; what financial interests the analysts had “that were in some way linked to their analysis, including a list of federal contracts that are in any way linked to the companies that employ any of the analysts in question”; to what extent those financial interests were used by Pentagon officials “to promote misleading, inaccurate or false information through the media”; how much, if any, of those interests were disclosed to the media outlets and to the public; if the propaganda program is in any way illegal; what procedures ensure that the analysts aren’t using their access to further their own business interests; and what steps Congress and the Pentagon can take “to ensure that this type of effort is not repeated.” [Senator John Kerry, 4/28/2008]
Authors and columnists Diane Farsetta and Sheldon Rampton show that the Pentagon’s recently revealed covert propaganda program using “independent military analysts” to promulgate Pentagon viewpoints about Iraq and the war on terror (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) is “not only unethical but illegal.”
Congress Prohibitions Since 1951 - According to every appropriations bill passed by Congress since 1951, “No part of any appropriation contained in this or any other Act shall be used for publicity or propaganda purposes within the United States not heretofore authorized by the Congress.”
Congressional Research Service Finds Government-Funded Propaganda Illegal - A March 2005 report by the Congressional Research Service defines “publicity or propaganda” as either “self-aggrandizement by public officials… purely partisan activity… covert propaganda.” Farsetta and Rampton explain, “By covert propaganda, GAO [the Government Accountability Office] means information which originates from the government but is unattributed and made to appear as though it came from a third party.” The GAO has determined that government-funded video news releases (VNRs) are illegal when an agency such as the Defense Department fails “to identify itself as the source of a prepackaged news story [and thusly] misleads the viewing public by encouraging the viewing audience to believe that the broadcasting news organization developed the information. The prepackaged news stories are purposefully designed to be indistinguishable from news segments broadcast to the public. When the television viewing public does not know that the stories they watched on television news programs about the government were in fact prepared by the government, the stories are, in this sense, no longer purely factual—the essential fact of attribution is missing.” Farsetta and Rampton argue that the supposedly “independent” commentary by the complicit analysts is little different from the VNRs. The GAO has also noted, “The publicity or propaganda restriction helps to mark the boundary between an agency making information available to the public and agencies creating news reports unbeknownst to the receiving audience.”
Justice Department Finds Propaganda Cannot be Funded by Government - And in 2005, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) found that after the Bush administration had been caught paying pundits to write op-eds favorable of administration policies, “OLC determined in 1988 that a statutory prohibition on using appropriated funds for ‘publicity or propaganda’ precluded undisclosed agency funding of advocacy by third-party groups. We stated that ‘covert attempts to mold opinion through the undisclosed use of third parties’ would run afoul of restrictions on using appropriated funds for ‘propaganda.’” Farsetta and Rampton write: “The key passage here is the phrase, ‘covert attempts to mold opinion through the undisclosed use of third parties.’ As the [New York] Times report documented in detail, the Pentagon’s military analyst program did exactly that.” [PRWatch, 4/28/2008]
Pentagon Says Program Legal - Former Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita says the program is simply a “mirror image” of the Pentagon’s program of embedding journalists with combat units in the field, and Pentagon spokespersons insist that the program was merely to ensure that the US citizenry was well informed about the war. [New York Times, 4/21/2008]
The House passes an amendment to the 2009 Defense Authorization Bill; the amendment, written by Representative Paul Hodes (D-NH), will, if it becomes law, prohibit the Pentagon from engaging in propaganda programs like the one revealed by the New York Times (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). The amendment also requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to launch an investigation of the Pentagon’s propaganda program. Hodes says on the floor of the House: “In a free and democratic society, our government should never use the public airwaves to propagandize our citizens. Congress cannot allow an administration to manipulate the public with false propaganda on matters of war and our national security.… This amendment will ensure that no money authorized in this act will be used for a propaganda program, and require a report to Congress by both the Defense Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office on whether previous restrictions on propaganda have been violated. It’s time for the American people to finally know the truth.” [US House of Representatives, 5/22/2008]
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) presents its report on weapons accountability problems in Afghanistan to a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee. The congressionally ordered audit reveals that the US military did not track hundreds of thousands of weapons—over half of the total procured for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF)—between 2004 and 2008. The report expands on an earlier assessment produced by the Pentagon’s Inspector General (see October 24, 2008). The Washington Post quotes subcommittee chairman Rep. John F. Tierney (D-MA) as saying that the failures could lead to American soldiers being killed by insurgents using a weapon purchased by US taxpayers. “That’s what we risk if we were to have tens of thousands of weapons we provided washing around Afghanistan, off the books,” Tierney says in a written statement. [Washington Post, 2/12/2009] The audit finds that American military officials did not keep complete records on about 87,000 rifles, pistols, mortars, and other weapons the United States sent to Afghan soldiers and police, nor did they keep reliable records on 135,000 more weapons donated to Afghanistan by 21 countries. The GAO audit also finds:
Inventory controls were lacking for more than a third of the 242,000 light weapons donated to Afghan forces by the United States—a stockpile that includes thousands of AK-47 assault rifles as well as mortars, machine guns, and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
Until June 2008, the military did not even take the elementary step of recording the serial numbers of some 46,000 weapons the United States provided to the Afghans, making it impossible to track or identify any that might be in the wrong hands. Serial numbers for the 41,000 other weapons from the United States were recorded, but American military officials had no idea where those weapons were.
American trainers were not following their own rules, finding that weapons were issued to Afghans even when there were concerns about—or evidence of—poor security at weapons depots and corruption by Afghan officials.
Afghan security procedures were so inadequate that weapons supplied to Afghan forces were at “serious risk of theft or loss.” Many of the weapons were left in the care of Afghan-run military depots with a history of desertion, theft, and sub-par security systems that sometimes consist of a wooden door and a padlock. [Government Accountability Office, 2/12/2009 ]
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) releases a report that says the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq by the end of 2011 (see February 27, 2009) will be a “massive and expensive effort” that is likely to increase, rather than lower, Iraq-related spending for several years. The GAO report finds, “Although reducing troops would appear to lower costs,” withdrawals from previous conflicts have shown that costs often rise in the short term. The price of equipment repairs and replacements, along with closing or turning over 283 US military installations in Iraq, “will likely be significant,” the report finds. Even smaller bases will take up to two months to close, and the largest facilities, such as Balad Air Base, with 24,000 soldiers and support personnel, may take up to 18 months to shut down. The report also notes uncertainties surrounding civilian security, issues surrounding the US Embassy in Baghdad, and the Iraqi government’s ability to sustain basic services and infrastructure. Currently, the US Army plans on withdrawing eight of the 14 brigades deployed in Iraq by August 2010. All US forces are to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. [Washington Post, 3/25/2009]
A New York Times investigation finds that some munitions procured by the Pentagon for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are leaking to the Taliban and other insurgents for use against American troops. Arms and ordnance collected from dead insurgents are found to be identical to ammunition the United States and other allies have provided to Afghan government forces, according to an examination of ammunition markings and interviews with American officers and arms dealers conducted by the New York Times. Military officials, arms analysts, and dealers say that poor American and Afghan controls on the vast inventory of weapons and ammunition sent to Afghanistan—as well as outright corruption among Afghan forces—may have helped insurgents stay supplied. Furthermore, military officers say that American forces do not examine all captured weapons to trace how insurgents obtain them, nor do they seek to determine whether the Afghan government, directly or indirectly, is a significant Taliban supplier. An American unit from the 26th Infantry allows the New York Times to examine the weapons it had retrieved from a raid on Taliban fighters. Examination of the Taliban’s cartridges finds telling signs of diversion in which the ammunition bears markings from an American company which sells cartridges to Afghan soldiers and police officers through middlemen. Ammo from a Czech company which has donated surplus ammo to the Afghan government is also identified.
Afghan Government and Security Forces Blamed for Weapon Diversions - The New York Times cautions that given the large number of potential weapons sources, “the probability that the Taliban and the Pentagon were sharing identical supply sources [is] small.” James Bevan, a researcher specializing in ammunition for the Geneva-based research group, Small Arms Survey, says that the munitions have most likely slipped from Afghan state custody. Mr. Bevan, who has documented ammunition diversion in Kenya, Uganda, and Sudan, surmises that interpreters, soldiers, or police officers sell ammunition for profit or pass it along for other reasons, including support for the insurgency. The American military does not dispute the possibility that theft or corruption could be steering ammunition to insurgents, but it backs Mr. Bevan’s statement that illicit diversion of arms is the fault of Afghan security forces, particularly corruption within the police. Capt. James C. Howell, commander of the unit that captured the ammunition, says the findings are unsurprising but explains that this form of corruption is not the norm, citing poor discipline and oversight in the Afghan national security forces rather than deliberate diversion. Another officer, Brig. Gen. Anthony R. Ierardi, the deputy commander of the transition command, cautions that insurgent use of American-procured munitions is not widespread, noting that the captured ammunition sampling was small and that munitions might have leaked to the Taliban through less nefarious means.
United States Military Also to Blame - The United States military was recently criticized by the Government Accountability Office and the Pentagon’s Inspector General, which blamed the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan for failing to account for hundreds of thousands of weapons issued to the ANSF, warning that unaccounted for weapons were at great risk of being diverted to insurgents (see February 12, 2009) and (see October 24, 2008). [New York Times, 5/19/2009]
Entity Tags: Taliban, Small Arms Survey, James C. Howell, New York Times, Afghan National Security Forces, Afghan National Police, Afghan National Army, Anthony Ierardi, Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, Government Accountability Office, James Bevan, Office of the Inspector General (DoD)
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Alan Binder. [Source: PBS]TPMDC reporter Brian Beutler notes that many Congressional Republicans, led by but not limited to those who consider themselves “tea party” members (see April 30, 2011), are heeding the advice of a small number of unorthodox financial experts who go against the “common wisdom” that a possible credit default by the US would lead to potential catastrophe among national and global financial markets. The issue centers on Congressional Republicans’ insistence that they will not raise the US debt limit, or debt ceiling, unless the Obama administration gives them a wide array of draconian spending cuts; in the past, raising the US debt limit has been a routine matter, often handled with virtually no debate and little, if any, fanfare. Beutler says that the most influential of these advisors is Stanley Druckenmiller, who made billions managing hedge funds. Druckenmiller’s advice was that the US could weather several days of missed interest payments if the US debt ceiling were not immediately raised without serious consequences. House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), and Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) are all echoing Druckenmiller’s claims in media interviews and in Congress. Beutler writes that the newfound popularity of Druckenmiller’s claims “alarms everyone from industry insiders to Treasury officials to economists, conservative and liberal, to non-partisan analysts who say the consequences of the US missing even a single interest payment to a debt-holder would be catastrophic—even if it was followed immediately by a legislative course correction.” Former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Binder, now a Princeton economist, warns that if the US were to default on its debt even for a few days, the US dollar would crash in value, interest rates would spike, and the US economy would find itself spiraling into a full-blown recession. Binder writes: “For as long as anyone can remember, the full faith and credit of the United States has been as good as gold—no one has better credit. But if investors start to see default as part of US political gamesmanship, they will demand compensation for this novel risk. How much? Again, no one can know. But even if it’s as little as 10-20 basis points on the US government’s average borrowing cost, that’s an additional $10 billion to $20 billion in interest expenses every year. Seems like an expensive way to score a political point.” JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon agrees, telling PBS viewers: “Every single company with treasuries, every insurance fund, every—every requirement that—it will start snowballing. Automatic, you don’t pay your debt, there will be default by ratings agencies. All short-term financing will disappear. I would have hundreds of work streams working around the world protecting our company for that kind of event.” JPMorgan issued a statement after Dimon’s comment saying that even a brief default would trigger “a run on money market funds… that would leave businesses unable to meet their short-term obligations and teetering on the bring of bankruptcy.” JPMorgan compares the money-market run to the aftermath of the 2008 Lehman Bros collapse, which sent the US into a recession. Analyses and reports by the Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee and Government Accountability Office have warned of dire consequences following a default even of a day or two. Toomey and others insist that a credit default would simply make the Treasury Department find other ways to avoid missing interest payments, but, economists and financial leaders warn, the consequences of that would be enormous. Binder writes: “If we hit the borrowing wall traveling at full speed, the US government’s total outlays—a complex amalgam that includes everything from Social Security benefits to soldiers’ pay to interest on the national debt—will have to drop by about 40 percent immediately. That translates to roughly $1.5 trillion at annual rates, or about 10 percent of GDP. That’s an enormous fiscal contraction for any economy to withstand, never mind one in a sluggish recovery with 9 percent unemployment.” Druckenmiller and some Republicans believe that forcing a credit default would end up benefiting the country, as the Obama administration would give in to Republican demands for enormous spending cuts in return for Republicans’ agreement to raise the debt ceiling. Business Insider reporter Joe Weisenthal recently wrote: “Of course, a default by the world’s most stable nation would probably have impacts in ways nobody can imagine, but one thing seems to be clear. The notion—as some people suggest—that a default would somehow increase US credit-worthiness is absurd.” [Business Insider, 4/20/2011; New York Times, 4/26/2011; TPMDC, 5/20/2011]
Entity Tags: Government Accountability Office, Eric Cantor, US Department of the Treasury, Alan Binder, Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee, Stanley Druckenmiller, US Congress, Brian Beutler, JP Morgan Chase, Jamie Dimon, Paul Ryan, Pat Toomey, Joe Weisenthal, Obama administration
Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises
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