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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Contracting Commission to DOJ: Stop Stonewalling

| Wed May. 26, 2010 12:18 PM PDT

During a hearing of the Commission on Wartime Contracting earlier this week, Chris Shays got so exercised over the Justice Department's intransigence that he may have momentarily forgotten that the panel he co-chairs doesn't have subpoena power. He threatened to use it anyway to compel the agency to deliver up information that Shays, a former GOP congressman from Connecticut, says it has been stonewalling on for months.

Starting in December, the commission has repeatedly sought data from Justice on contracting corruption-related cases and prosecutions. That information—bringing together data from a collection of federal agencies and divisions—is contained in a database administered by an interagency law enforcement unit known as the International Contract Corruption Task Force.

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Chatting With Karzai's Cabinet

| Fri May. 14, 2010 9:25 AM PDT

The State Department press aide hinted at some kind of bureaucratic snafu. The invites had only gone out at the last minute. As a result, David Samuels (author of this epic piece on Balkan jewel thieves and a Mother Jones contributor) and I found ourselves the lone journos at a media roundtable featuring a handful of members of the Afghan cabinet who'd accompanied President Hamid Karzai on his visit to Washington this week. Among them were General Abdul Rahim Wardak, the country's dour and barrel-chested defense minister; Wahidullah Shahrani, the youthful looking Minister of Mines; and Omar Zakhilwal, the Minister of Finance.

The event started late and ended abruptly a short time later, with the Afghan officials ushered out of the room by their handlers and shepherded on to their next appointments. And strictly speaking the roundtable portion never actually took place. But for about 15 or minutes or so I was able to chat with officials including Minister of Interior Haneef Atmar and Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, the former Afghan communications minister and currently a top security advisor to Karzai.

I already highlighted Atmar's comments on private security companies, but he was also eager to discuss the strides that have been made in combating corruption—successes, he griped, that have not received "the kind of attention that they should." Over the past year, he said, more than 200 police officers have been prosecuted on corruption-related charges. And he noted there has been a major crackdown on illegal roadblocks set up by police to "toll" (i.e., extort) passerby. "Our main roads and highways are much more conducive to travel." He also pointed to the ministry's fledgling Major Crimes Task Force, set up in partnership with the FBI to pursue high-level corruption cases. "It is a success story in terms of building an organizational framework to address the problem. It has yet to produce the desired result. It's a very, very young organization." 

Afghan Minister: "Zero Tolerance" for Security Firm Shootings

| Fri May. 14, 2010 3:15 AM PDT

Shortly before departing Kabul to accompany President Hamid Karzai on a state visit to Washington, Interior Minister Haneef Atmar delivered a message to the country's myriad private security operations: You can't get away with murder. Anymore, at least.

Following recent incidents in which two civilians were gunned down, Atmar banned a pair of security companies—Compass and Watan Risk Management—from providing their services on the Kabul-to-Kandahar highway, where the shootings occurred. Additionally, the alleged perpetrators were arrested and are facing prosecution.

In the past, undisciplined and reckless guards, many of them locals drawn from the ranks of militias or moonlighting members of the national police force, have been known to fire wildly and indiscriminately, sometimes wounding or killing civilians; Compass guards were previously blamed for the death of a Canadian soldier. But, when these episodes occur, there has often been little in the way of consequences. As a result, outrage has mounted among Afghans who believe the country's many security firms—some of them glorified militias—operate with impunity. Military officials have expressed concern about the irresponsible actions of security contractors as well, since their conduct directly undermines the principles of counterinsurgency, which calls for protecting the populace even at the expense of protecting the troops.

According to Atmar, times are changing. "The level of tolerance of misconduct when it comes to these organizations is zero," he told me on Thursday, at a State Department event attended by a handful of Afghan cabinet members. "They have had all the time to develop their capacities to professionally provide a service. Now if they fail to do that very, very serious legal action will be taken."

Shahzad, FBI Mystery Deepens

| Thu May. 6, 2010 1:47 PM PDT

The mystery deepens. Yesterday I highlighted an intriguing paragraph buried in a New York Times piece on alleged Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad. It described how George LaMonica, who purchased his Norwalk, Connecticut condo from Shahzad in 2004, had received a visit by investigators from the national Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) shortly after moving in. According to LaMonica, they questioned him about the transaction and about Shahzad. The JTTF is the same FBI-led interagency unit that caught Shahzad as he attempted to flee the country to Dubai on Monday—and, if the Times account is accurate, the implications could be significant. It suggests that Shahzad was on the radar of federal counterterrorism investigators at least six years before he parked his bomb-laden Pathfinder on West 45th Street. Recently, the intelligence and law enforcement communities have been criticized for possessing vital intelligence yet failing to put together the pieces when it came to Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan and underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. How long the FBI has been aware of Shahzad and what brought JTTF investigators to LaMonica's doorstep seems like a major unanswered question.

So I asked FBI spokesman Paul Bresson whether LaMonica's account was accurate and, if it was, why JTTF investigators had been asking questions about Shahzad back in 2004. Here's where things get strange. "We have no record of interviewing him," Bresson replied in an email.

That didn't mean it didn't happen, so I followed up:

Was Shahzad the subject of an earlier investigation that would have entailed visiting people like LaMonica? And is the FBI following up to confirm whether or not the JTTF did in fact interview LaMonica?

Bresson responded:

The answer is no to your first question. I would not comment on your second question.

What to make of this? I have a call and email in to LaMonica to see what he has to say. I'll update the post when I hear back.

UPDATE: LaMonica maintains that he was contacted by a detective for an FBI-led task force. More here.
 

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