TPM News

As I reported yesterday, the Senate Rules Committee met this morning about the nomination of Hans von Spakovsky to the Federal Elections Commission.

This morning's result: faced with the defection of a Democrat on the committee, later revealed to be Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) chose to agree to send all four nominees, two Democrats and two Republicans, to the floor without recommendation. In other words, the committee did not vote to approve von Spakovsky, but he got through nonetheless.

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A forthcoming study by private-military contractor expert P.W. Singer obtained by TPMmuckraker finds that Blackwater and other private security firms in Iraq are detrimental to U.S. counterinsurgency efforts.

Singer, author of the landmark book Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry, goes beyond the current Blackwater imbroglio to criticize the entire system for security contracting in Iraq. He finds that even though private military firms represent a hindrance to counterinsurgency objectives, the privatization boom beginning in the 1980s has left the U.S. military functionally dependent on the companies for numerous combat operations and logistics tasks. Private military companies have become "the ultimate enabler" for military commitments, Singer writes in "Can't Win With 'Em, Can't Go To War Without 'Em: Private Military Contractors and Counter-Insurgency," allowing a politically cost-free way for the U.S. to go to war in Iraq without a massive call-up of reserve forces.

What the contracting industry diminishes in political cost it compounds in actual cost to counterinsurgency. Iraqis view private companies like Blackwater as lawless, and they have no reason to distinguish between private contractors and U.S. troops -- thereby compounding the danger to U.S. forces from infuriated Iraqis.

A real world example illustrates how this process plays out. An Iraqi is driving in Baghdad, on his way to work. A convoy of black-tinted SUVs comes down the highway at him, driving in his lane, but in the wrong direction. They are honking their horns at the oncoming traffic and firing machine gun bursts into the road and in front of any vehicle that gets too close. He veers to the side of the road. As the SUVs drive by, Western-looking men in sunglasses point machine guns at him.

Over the course of the day, that Iraqi civilian might tell X people about how "The Americans almost killed me today, and all I was doing was trying to get to work." Y is the number of other people that convoy ran off the road on its run that day. Z is the number of convoys in Iraq that day. Multiply X times Y times Z times 365 and you have a mathematical equation for how to lose a counterinsurgency in a year. (And that assumes he doesn't tell his mom or wife about the incident, upon which they are likely to tell the entire neighborhood about how the Americans almost killed their boy/husband, multiplying the equation further.)

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Anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International has listed Iraq as the third-most corrupt nation on the planet. Somehow, Haiti, winner of the 2006 Corruption World Cup (Iraq won the bronze that year, too) is no longer as corrupt as Baghdad.

The ranking comes as the State Department has barred its anti-corruption officials from publicly testifying to the House oversight committee about how bad the corruption situation is in Iraq. Maybe that goes a ways toward explaining why Transparency International considers 19 countries less corrupt than the United States.

Via Kevin Whitelaw of U.S. News.

From the AP:

John Rizzo, the president's choice to become the CIA's general counsel, asked President Bush to withdraw his name, saying it would be in his best interest and that of the agency where he has worked for 32 years....

Rizzo, currently serving as the CIA's interim general counsel, told a Senate panel in June that he did not object to a 2002 memo authorizing interrogation techniques that stop just short of inflicting pain equal to that accompanying organ failure or even death.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who led the opposition to Rizzo, called him the wrong man for the job.

"I hope that the administration's next nominee for the position demonstrates greater respect for the rule of law and a firmer commitment to making sure that our nation's counterterrorism programs have the strong legal foundation that they deserve," Wyden said.

Yesterday a jury found former Alaska state Rep. Pete Kott (R) guilty of taking bribes from former Veco CEO Bill Allen, who testified during the trial that he also paid for some of Sen. Ted Stevens' (R-AK) home remodeling, AP reports.

In exchange for helping to get a petroleum state tax law passed that would entice oil companies to build a pipeline lucrative for Veco, Allen gave Kott cash and promised him a job at the company. Kott's sentencing hearing is scheduled for December 7.

Federal prosecutors say the seven-term former lawmaker from Eagle River, north of Anchorage, accepted nearly $9,000, including a $7,993 check that he used to pay his son to work as his campaign manager. The company also paid for a poll at a cost of a $2,750, prosecutors said.

Also, prosecutors said, VECO promised Kott a job after he left office in exchange for his support of their political agenda.

The jury conviction signals danger for Stevens, who is under investigation for his dealings with Allen.

Under the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952, the government was able to bar intellectuals such as Gabriel García Márquez and Graham Greene from entering the U.S. Now, according to a group of civil rights organizations, the government is putting new teeth in the enforcement of this law by using secret information obtained under new antiterrorism laws to prevent critics of the U.S. from entering. One ACLU lawyer noted, it "seem[s] that what the government has done is taken the communist-era playbook and replaced every instance of the word communist with terrorist." (NY Times)

Lane Hudson (the blogger of Mark Foley fame) is claiming that Rudy Giuliani, who has made MoveOn's recent ad a key talking point against Democrats, received the same preferential treatment by the New York Times when he placed a full page ad denouncing Moveon. Hudson has filed an FEC complaint against the Giuliani office for purchasing campaign materials at a discounted rate. (Politico)

Unisys Corp., which has been richly rewarded with fat government contracts, is now under investigation by the FBI for its work for the Department of Homeland Securitry. The House Homeland Security Committee has also asked its Inspector General to begin its own investigation. Unisys allegedly failed to detect cyber break-ins to Department of Homeland Security computers that led to information being posted to a Chinese-language Web site. Unisys also allegedly covered up its deficiencies but apparently they had trouble shielding this information as well. (Washington Post)

Independent judge, horrible boss. That's the verdict on AG-to-be Mike Mukasey, based on employee grievances filed by U.S. Marshals signed to protect him. According to the grievances, Mukasey forced his guards to empty his trash, carry his golf clubs and groceries, and buy him and his wife upgrades to first class on long flights. According to one complaint, marshals on the night duty weren't even allowed to flush the toilet. (Boston Globe)

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"It may be worse than Abu Ghraib."

That's a senior U.S. military official explaining to The Washington Post how strongly Iraqis are reacting to Blackwater's September 16th shooting of civilians in Baghdad. By contrast, here's a State Department official: "The bottom line of this is that we recognize that there's an issue here."

In the gap between those two assessments lies the acrimony between the Pentagon and the State Department over the shooting. The State Department hired Blackwater to protect its dignitaries in Iraq, and so it has to balance its relationship with the Iraqi government with its need to protect Blackwater from reprisal. But the military sees Blackwater's relaxed rules of engagement -- issued by the State Department -- as hurtful to its efforts to turn Iraqis against the Sunni insurgency and the Shiite militias. (More on this later today.)

"They are immature shooters and have very quick trigger fingers. Their tendency is shoot first and ask questions later," said an Army lieutenant colonel serving in Iraq. Referring to the Sept. 16 shootings, the officer added, "None of us believe they were engaged, but we are all carrying their black eyes."

"Many of my peers think Blackwater is oftentimes out of control," said a senior U.S. commander serving in Iraq. "They often act like cowboys over here . . . not seeming to play by the same rules everyone else tries to play by."

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Now this augurs well for a thorough inquiry into Blackwater's recent behavior in Iraq. Just three days after Rep. Henry Waxman announced his House Oversight and Government Reform Committee would hold hearings into the deaths of 11 Iraqi civilians, a State Department contracting official wrote to Blackwater with a simple message: you don't say anything we don't tell you to.

We've added the letter to our Document Collection. You can read it here.

The State Department official, Kiazan Moneypenny, wrote Blackwater VP Fred Roitz to "advise" him of Blackwater's obligations under the terms of State's contract. Among them: "all documents and records (including photographs) generated during the performance of work under this contract shall be for the sole use of and become the exclusive property of the U.S. government." These obligations, according to the contract, exist in perpetuity -- not just until the contract expires. As a result, Moneypenny told Roitz to make "no disclosure of documents or information generated under [the contract] unless such disclosure has been authorized in writing by the Contract Officer."

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A new letter from House oversight committee Chair Henry Waxman (D-CA) to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice charges that State Department officials have refused to answer Congressional investigators' questions about corruption in the Iraqi government unless the committee agrees not to disclose their answers.

That's not all. In the letter, Waxman charges that State has instructed Blackwater not to cooperate with the committee's inquiry into its operations in Iraq (more on that soon), and that Condoleezza Rice herself has refused to testify about either corruption within the Maliki government or any aspect of the Blackwater controversy.

Oversight investigators identified two State Department watchdogs, Vincent Faulk and Christopher Griffith, whom they sought to interview about corruption in the Maliki government. (David Corn recently unearthed some evidence for that contention.) A State Congressional liaison informed Waxman that the department had no objection -- provided that their answers not be released to the public.

In an e-mail yesterday, State's Joel Starr said that in the interests of retaining positive ties with the Maliki government, there were just a few things that couldn't be aired publicly:

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Finally, the time has come. The Senate Rules Committee will vote tomorrow on whether Hans von Spakovsky, the former Justice Department official who former employees say was key to the politicization of voting rights section, will get a term on the Federal Elections Commission. Von Spakovsky is also a veteran of Republican efforts to target voter fraud.

It's not immediately clear what will happen tomorrow. Howard Gantman, staff director for the committee, said that Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) wants a vote on each nominee separately (as opposed to considering all four nominees, Democratic and Republican, in one vote) and that she continues to have serious concerns about Von Spakovsky. He also said that no deal had been struck.

Former employees of the voting section mounted serious opposition to von Spakovsky's nomination, with a group writing in a letter to the committee that he'd been "the point person for undermining the Civil Rights Division's mandate to protect voting rights." Von Spakovsky, however, portrayed himself during his confirmation hearing as just a lawyer in the section who gave advice when it was asked. It was a portrayal with real problems -- as von Spakovsky himself tacitly acknowledged when he modified his testimony in later written answers to the committee.

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