Daniel Schulman

Senior Editor

Based in DC, Dan covers politics and national security. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe Magazine, the Village Voice, the Columbia Journalism Review, and other publications. He is the author of a forthcoming biography of the Koch family, Sons of Wichita, which will be published in May by the Hachette Book Group. Email him at dschulman (at) motherjones.com.

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Another Embassy Guard Scandal?

| Fri Mar. 26, 2010 8:42 AM PDT

Surely last September's scandal involving the bacchanalian hijinks of ArmorGroup’s vodka-butt-shot-taking guards taught the State Department—and specifically its diplomatic security division—a major lesson about the perils of loose oversight, right? Perhaps not, according to a recent review of Triple Canopy’s $438 million contract to guard the US embassy in Baghdad conducted by the State Department’s Inspector General.

No, Triple Canopy personnel were not spending their off duty hours gallivanting around with coconut bikinis covering their privates and subjecting each other to lewd hazing rituals. But the IG’s report [PDF], dated March 10 and first obtained by the Project on Government Oversight, does raise the question of whether anyone might have been the wiser if they had been. Among other areas where oversight was MIA, the IG’s office reported that the "Embassy is not properly overseeing" Camp Olympia, where Triple Canopy’s guards reside.

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Petraeus for...?

| Thu Mar. 25, 2010 9:29 AM PDT

At a presser in Manchester, New Hampshire yesterday, Gen. David Petraeus once and for all squashed rumors that he has presidential ambitions (and rendered obsolete the Petraeus 2012 website). At least I think he did:

I thought I’d said no about as many ways as I could. I really do mean no. We have all these artful ways of doing it. I’ve tried Shermanesque responses, which everybody goes and finds out what Sherman said was pretty unequivocally no. I’ve done several different ways. I’ve tried quoting the country song, ‘What Part of No Don’t You Understand?’ I mean, I really do mean that. I feel very privileged to be able to serve our country. I’m honored to continue to do that as long as I can contribute, but I will not, ever, run for political office, I can assure you. And again, we have said that repeatedly and I’m hoping that people realize at a certain point you say it so many times that you could never flip, and start your career by flip-flopping into it.

Hmmm. So he's not ruling out a cabinet level appointment, then. Secretary of State? Let the rampant speculation commence!

 

Outsourcing Oversight

| Tue Mar. 23, 2010 1:47 PM PDT

Last September, the antics of ArmorGroup North America's vodka-butt-shot-taking Kabul embassy guards caused more than a diplomatic embarrassment. The resulting scandal's propaganda and terrorist recruitment potential has been likened to that of Abu Ghraib, and it may have played a role in undermining counterinsurgency objectives in Afghanistan. The episode also exposed deep flaws in the State Department's oversight of the contractors on its payroll, and now the agency has a curious plan to prevent another Embassy-gate. It entails hiring another contractor, this one to police its embassy contractors.

Eric Boswell, the Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security, described this plan recently in written responses to questions posed by Sen. Claire McCaskill following a hearing last December. Asked about the "options for improved oversight of private security contractors and contracts" his office was considering, Boswell wrote [PDF]:

As a result of the Diplomatic Security (DS) investigation into the allegations of misconduct, DS temporarily assigned a DS Special Agent to reside at Camp Sullivan, where the AGNA guards reside, to augment the Regional Security  Officer’s (RSO’s) contract oversight efforts in Kabul. As part of the long term solution, DS has conducted interviews and is now in the selection and hiring process for a personal service contractor (i.e., an employee engaged directly by the government rather than a third-party contractor) who will reside at Camp Sullivan and further augment the RSO’s contract oversight responsibilities.

The notion of partially outsourcing oversight certainly raised eyebrows in McCaskill's office. Last Friday, she wrote [PDF] Boswell expressing concern "that the steps taken by the Department may not go far enough to ensure that there is sufficient transparency, accountability, and oversight of the contract. In particular, I'm troubled by the decision to employ a contractor to provide contract oversight for the Department."

However counterintuitive, the outsourced oversight model has already been used to a degree by the Pentagon in both Afghanistan and Iraq. For instance, Aegis was awarded a contract to run the Armed Contractor Oversight Directorate in Afghanistan. And DoD brought in a firm called Serco to oversee aspects of a massive KBR logistics contract in Iraq. But if the government is turning to contractors to oversee contractors, who's overseeing them?

(H/T POGOblog)

AP: Ex-Blackwater Pres Faces Possible Indictment

| Tue Mar. 23, 2010 8:58 AM PDT

The AP is reporting that the Justice Department may be preparing to indict a trio of ex-Blackwater officials on weapons charges, including the company's former president, Gary Jackson. The potential charges are connected to a June 2008 raid on the company's North Carolina compound by federal agents, who seized nearly two dozen automatic weapons from Blackwater's armory. The guns, which included 17 Romanian AK-47s, had been purchased by Blackwater but were technically owned by the local sheriff's office, which had inked an agreement with the company to store the weapons.

The AP reports:

Multiple law enforcement officials familiar with the case said investigators are trying to determine if Blackwater obtained the official letterhead of a local sheriff to create a false justification for buying the guns. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation.

Federal law prohibits private parties from buying fully automatic weapons registered after 1986, but does let law enforcement agencies have them.

Reports of weapons-related improprieties have dogged Blackwater for years. In the past, federal investigators have probed whether the company had illegally smuggled guns (and silencers) into Iraq that wound up in the hands of a Kurdish group designated by the US as a terrorist organization. In court documents, two former Blackwater employees also alleged that the company had smuggled contraband weapons, sometimes hiding them in bags of dog food. Last month, a Senate committee revealed that personnel working for a Blackwater-subsidiary in Afghanistan had aquired hundreds of AK-47s and other weapons they were unauthorized to have from an armory that's meant to equip the Afghan National Police. In one case, a Blackwater contractor signed for a trove of guns using the alias Eric Cartman, an apparent reference to the South Park character.

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