Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

  Accountability at the Pentagon, Part III

In the second installment of this series, I described why the Senate Armed Services Committee ought to be very concerned about the nomination of a new Inspector General of the Defense Department—entirely apart from the worrying facts about David Laufman's career and qualifications. Both of the IGs elevated thus far by George Bush have established a record of obstructing investigations into criminal activity by government officials. In addition, an extremely sensitive investigation of the administration's manipulation of pre-war intelligence ("Phase Two"), pushed strongly by Sen. Carl Levin, has been in the hands of the Office of the IG. Republican operatives have been trying for years to strangle this investigation, and David Laufman appears to be the very man to do the deed.

Fortunately, Sen. Levin was well positioned as the Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee to scrutinize closely David Laufman's nomination at the July 18 hearing. To judge by Laufman's answers to the Committee's advance questions (PDF), it's possible to surmise that this hearing did not go smoothly.

It may be, then, that Laufman's nomination really can be derailed permanently.

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Let's take a short tour of Laufman's responses to the Senate Armed Service Committee's advance questions. There's plenty of grist here, so I'll concentrate on just a few of things that struck me (not in a good way) about his answers:

(i) Many of his responses are vague or elusive. Repeatedly, he states that as a nominee he doesn't yet have any basis for offering ideas about how to manage or improve the Office of IG. He admits that he has no first-hand knowledge of pretty much anything.

He sounds like a child. He's out of his element. He has no point of reference.

Even when asked a political question, he fumbles.

7. The previous DOD IG has been accused of slowing investigations of senior government officials, improperly appropriated funds on pet projects, and accepting gifts violated ethics guidelines.

7.A. Do you believe that these accusations have undermined in the integrity of the Office of Inspector General?

7.B. What steps would you take, if confirmed, to restore confidence in the integrity of the Office of Inspector General?

Laufman's answer: Gee, I don't know if it has undermined confidence in integrity, but I'll do everything possible to ensure everybody in the Office upholds the highest standards. That answer must have wowed the Committee.

(ii) From my perspective, Laufman's nomination falls apart completely at question number eight:

8. Section 3 of the Inspector General Act of 1978 provides that IG's shall be appointed on the basis of their "demonstrated ability in accounting, auditing, financial analysis, law, management analysis, public administration, or investigations."

8.A. What background and experience do you possess that you believe qualifies you to perform the duties of the DOD IG?

Laufman's response is to summarize his CV, which demonstrates no ability in accounting, auditing, financial analysis, management analysis, or public administration. And the primary evidence of investigative skill he cites are the two notorious cover-ups, the October Surprise and Passportgate investigations.

This is supposed to have prepared him to blow the lid off corruption and incompetence in the younger Bush's Defense Department? Michael Browne's background in Arabian horses springs to mind, somehow or other.

Then things get really goofy:

8.B. Do you believe that there are any steps that you need to take to enhance your expertise to perform these duties?

ANSWER: If confirmed, I plan to become more familiar with statutes and regulations applicable to government contracting in general and defense procurement in particular. I also plan to meet with a broad cross-section of officials and personnel within the Department of Defense, including members of the armed forces overseas, to listen to their concerns and identify issues that might merit action by the Office of the Inspector General.

In other words: Confirm me and I'll figure out how contracting and procurement is done. Oh, and I'm a good listener too.

I can't even muster the appropriate level of sarcasm here. Dear reader, please fill in for me with a few choice words, while I pull myself together.

(iii) Anyhow, Laufman made exactly the right kind of enemies with his answers regarding the independence of the Inspector General's Office.

The DOD Directive (PDF) on the the IG's responsibilities is reasonably clear in stating that the Office is to be "an independent and objective unit" within DOD. The IG is under the "general supervision" of the SecDef and Deputy SecDef, whom the IG keeps apprised of investigations along with the President and Congress, but they have virtually no power to interfere in IG investigations or withhold necessary clearances. The IG of DOD is also required to ensure that the independence of other, subordinate Inspectors General (such as the Office of IG at NSA) are not compromised or threatened. In other words, the Directive stresses the independence of this unit, which is to act as a watch-dog over the DOD even though the IG is nominally supervised by the SecDef.

Laufman, however, showed a rather disturbing amount of deference to the SecDef in his answers to the Committee. There is this, for example:

7.E. Under what circumstances, if any, do you believe that it is appropriate for the DOD IG to consult with officials in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (or other DOD officials outside the Office of the Inspector General) before issuing a report, regarding the findings and recommendations in the report?

ANSWER: It is essential to maintain not only the actual independence of the Inspector General in accordance with the Act’s mandate, but the appearance of independence as well.

With respect to audits and inspections, I believe it is appropriate to provide officials in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (and other appropriate officials outside the Office of the Inspector General) with an opportunity to review a draft report to ensure that the report is factually accurate and to identify any areas of disagreement concerning conclusions, findings, and recommendations. Whether any changes are made to a report as a result of such a review remains within the sole discretion of the Inspector General.

With respect to non-criminal investigations such as senior official investigations and reprisal investigations, prior consultations generally should occur only if such consultations would not compromise the Inspector General’s independence or the integrity of the ongoing investigation. In this regard, it should be noted that in Section 8(b)(1) of the Act, Congress expressly provided that “the Inspector General shall be under the authority, direction, and control of the Secretary of Defense with respect to audits or investigations, or the issuance of subpoenas, concerning (A) sensitive operational plans; (B) intelligence matters; (C) counterintelligence matters; (D) ongoing criminal investigations by other administrative units of the Department of Defense related to national security; or (E) other matters the disclosure of which would constitute a serious threat to national security.” Given this congressional directive, I believe that the Inspector General has a statutory obligation to consult with the Secretary of Defense regarding the findings and recommendations of investigations of matters specified in Section 8(b)(1) prior to issuing a report concerning such matters.

You can just hear the alarm bells that answer would have set off. It's one thing to be under the authority, direction, and control of the SecDef. It's quite another to assert that (a) you're obligated to allow the SecDef to have a shot at blunting or reshaping your office's draft reports; and (b) you're required by law to consult in advance with the SecDef about every investigation the Office might undertake in a broad range of areas.

(iv) On this point, there is further information in the only news account I've found about the actual Committee hearing, an NBC report dated Sept. 29:

Levin, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, has publicly questioned Laufman's independence. And Levin's staff director confirms that the senator has helped stall any action on the nomination at least until November, when the lame-duck congressional session begins.

"We met with him and we still have concerns," says Richard DeBobes, the Democratic Staff Director of the Senate Armed Services Committee. DeBobes says the senator is concerned that Laufman could "cozy up to" the secretary of defense and consult with him before issuing an investigation or report that deals with national security matters.

"I don't believe it's been the practice of the IG's to consult with the Department of Defense or to feel obligated to consult with the Department of Defense relative to those findings," Levin said at Laufman's confirmation hearing in July. "To do so would be a real impingement on the independence of the inspector general... so that's why I'm very, very surprised by your answer."

Laufman protested, and said that the IG statute requires the inspector general to consult with the defense secretary on certain sensitive national security issues. He insisted, however, that he would never "trim the sails" of any Pentagon investigation. "I do not anticipate taking any course of action that infringes on the actual independence of the IG," Laufman testified.

Well, as long as he doesn't anticipate taking…Wait a minute—"anticipate"? Where did that verb come from?

DeBobes also tells NBC News that the Acting Inspector General for the Pentagon, Thomas Gimble, has played a role in derailing Laufman's nomination. The acting IG — whose job Laufman would replace — wrote to Congress and criticized Laufman's belief that sitting IGs must in some way consult with the defense secretary before issuing reports that deal with national security matters.

"They're [the acting IG and his staff] the ones who have provided information to us that is very unsettling," DeBobes says.

So it looks like Gimble wants to keep his job and is willing to throw Laufman under a bus. Although I don't think that Gimble is trustworthy or his motives pure, on the whole it would be advisable to leave him in place a little longer while Bush is made to identify a better-qualified and more independent nominee.

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Today it became even more urgent to block Laufman's nomination, with the sacking of Donald Rumsfeld. A shakeup in DOD will mean some tumult; the Office of the IG might drift undetected for a long time if an unqualified nominee is confirmed now. Besides, an unscrupulous IG such as Laufman appears to be would have plenty of opportunity to undermine necessary investigations.

In any case Robert Gates, the nominee to replace Rumsfeld, is another of the unsavory hacks from an earlier era whom the Bush administration has excavated and dusted off.

Independent Counsel found insufficient evidence to warrant charging Robert Gates with a crime for his role in the Iran/contra affair. Like those of many other Iran/contra figures, the statements of Gates often seemed scripted and less than candid. Nevertheless, given the complex nature of the activities and Gates's apparent lack of direct participation, a jury could find the evidence left a reasonable doubt that Gates either obstructed official inquiries or that his two demonstrably incorrect statements were deliberate lies.

Reasonable doubt about obstruction of justice and perjury. A ringing endorsement, then, of Mr. Gates. Oddly, this gushing tribute to the man's integrity has not figured in the media reports today on Gates' nomination.

What you will hear is that Gates is "a Bush-family friend". The chattering classes prefer to avoid the term 'crony'. Indeed, Gates allegedly took part in the 1980 October Surprise by accompanying Wm. Casey and George H. W. Bush to Paris to negotiate with the Iranians behind Jimmy Carter's back. My hunch is that the chattering classes won't mention that.

As I discussed in the first installment, David Laufman served on the congressional investigation of the October Surprise, which he helped to turn into a whitewash. Therefore it is doubly unacceptable that Laufman would be confirmed to serve under the direction of another Bush-family crony, the presumptive SecDef Robert Gates.

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This has been a long and pretty lonely vigil, warning against the danger that this nominee presents to accountability in government. Relatively few other bloggers have shown an interest in Laufman (most notably Cernig), and so far no journalists whatever. In the NBC article quoted above, senior producer Jim Popkin actually complains about the delay in Laufman's confirmation.

The nominee is well-connected, then. But as we saw today, George Bush will pitch anybody overboard to preserve his own viability. Can the blogosphere help to stiffen the opposition that Democrats have already shown to this travesty of an appointment?


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