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 the new Koch brothers biography, Sons of Wichita (Grand Central Publishing). Email him at dschulman (at) motherjones.com.

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White House Does 180 on Visitor Records

| Fri Sep. 4, 2009 9:21 AM EDT

Remember those Secret Service logs of White House visits by health care and coal industry execs the Obama adminstration was refusing to make public? Or the records of visits by lobbyist Stephen Payne, who was caught on tape peddling access to senior US officials in exchange for a sizable donation to the George W. Bush presidential library, that the Bush administration fought to keep secret? Details of those visits will soon be made public by the Obama White House, which up until now had been following its predecessor's policy of blocking access to the Secret Service logs. But not just that. Going forward, the adminstration is planning to implement an historic transparency policy, releasing the names of most White House visitors, along with other information, on an ongoing base.

This policy shift comes as the Obama administration moved to settle four cases related to public access to White House visitor logs filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. This morning's release from CREW:

CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan praised the White House, stating, “The Obama administration has proven its pledge to usher in a new era of government transparency was more than just a campaign promise.  The Bush administration fought tooth and nail to keep secret the identities of those who visited the White House.  In contrast, the Obama administration – by putting visitor records on the White House web site – will have the most open White House in history.  Because visitor records will now be available online, CREW dismissed its lawsuits.”  Sloan continued, “Providing public access to visitor records is an important step in restoring transparency and accountability to our government.  CREW is proud to have been part of this historic decision.”

Yesterday’s agreement stems from lawsuits CREW filed after the Bush and later the Obama administration refused to provide White House visitor records in response to CREW’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.  Visitor records are created by the Secret Service as part of its statutory responsibility to protect the president, vice president, their residences, and the White House generally.

In lawsuits for records of visits by Christian conservative leaders and lobbyist Stephen Payne, the Bush administration argued the records were presidential records, not agency records of the Secret Service, and therefore exempt from the FOIA’s mandatory disclosure requirements.  U.S. District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth disagreed, ruling twice that the records are subject to the FOIA and not within any of the claimed exemptions.  The government appealed those decisions to the District of Columbia Circuit Court.

After President Obama took office, CREW sought records of visits to the White House by health care and coal executives to determine the degree of their influence on health care and energy legislative proposals.  The government initially refused to turn over these records, but now has agreed to produce them, as well as the Bush era records, as part of the settlement.  In turn, CREW has agreed to dismiss all the pending litigation.

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MoJo on MSNBC: Contractors Behaving Badly Edition

| Thu Sep. 3, 2009 3:21 PM EDT

A clip from my appearance on MSNBC this morning, where I spoke with Monica Novotny about the latest developments in ArmorGroup-gate. What is the State Department going to do about this debacle? Good question, Monica.

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy


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POGO: ArmorGroup Whistleblower Forced to Resign

| Thu Sep. 3, 2009 11:07 AM EDT

How is ArmorGroup North America responding to the allegations that its Kabul embassy guards were engaging in a range of unbecoming conduct? The firm (and its parent company, Wackenhut) has so far declined to issue any comment. Behind the scenes, however, swift action has been taken, though not against ArmorGroup employees who engaged in or approved of lewd behavior, humiliating hazing rituals, and other practices that put the embassy at risk. Rather, says the Project on Government Oversight, one of the whistleblowers who brought these explosive allegations to the watchdog group's attention has been retaliated against by his employer, an ArmorGroup client:

One of the whistleblowers who helped expose the guard scandal at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul has just been forced to resign after his company—whose client is ArmorGroup, North America (AGNA)—came to believe that he had reached out to D.C. for assistance. The company told POGO that the whistleblower’s resignation was voluntary.

However, information obtained by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) strongly suggests he was pressured into resigning to avoid being fired, an action often referred to as constructive dismissal.

POGO is deeply concerned about the action allegedly taken against the whistleblower. He is being forced out at a time when three of the supervisors responsible for allowing the misconduct at Camp Sullivan have been allowed to quietly resign and escape accountability. As per our letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of September 1, 2009, POGO calls on the State Department to take immediate action to protect both the physical and employment security of whistleblowers who have stepped forward with allegations of serious misconduct involving ArmorGroup, North America and others.

Embassy Guards Gone Wild: The Pictures (NSFW)

| Wed Sep. 2, 2009 10:09 AM EDT

Warning: The pictures you are about to see are graphic—and may result in you swearing off vodka (and other varieties of hard liquor) permanently. The Project on Government Oversight provided me with a series of photographs—a dozen in all—that depict the bacchanalian goings on at Camp Sullivan, home to the ArmorGroup personnel who guard the nearby US embassy compound in Kabul. On Tuesday, POGO sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton detailing a host of explosive charges relating to ArmorGroup's management of the embassy contract, including evidence of "near-weekly deviant hazing and humiliation of subordinates." According to POGO, "witnesses report that the highest levels of AGNA management in Kabul are aware of and have personally observed—or even engaged in—these activities, but have done nothing to stop them."

As you'll see below, POGO really wasn't exaggerating when it spoke of the "Lord of the Flies environment." Here's the jaw-dropping proof:

The cover shot for a soon-to-be-released Contractors Gone Wild: The Asses of Afghanistan video?

State Department Responds to ArmorGroup Allegations

| Tue Sep. 1, 2009 5:08 PM EDT

When State Department spokesman Ian Kelly woke up this morning, he may have been anticipating some tough queries from reporters. But he probably wasn't expecting to field questions about US embassy guards in Kabul engaging in what the Project on Government Oversight has described as "deviant hazing and humiliation," acts that allegedly included "peeing on people, eating potato chips out of ass cracks, vodka shots out of ass cracks."

"These are very serious allegations and we are treating them that way," Kelly told reporters at a briefing this afternoon, after POGO sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton detailing a host of charges relating to ArmorGroup's $189 million contract to provide security for the US embassy in Kabul. Kelly said Clinton had been informed of the allegations and noted that the matter had been referred to the State Department's Inspector General. Kelly added that the State Department has "zero tolerance for the type of conduct that is alleged in these documents."

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