TPM News

Via Joseph Neff, the Raleigh News & Observer's Blackwater blogger, CBS reported on Friday that the Iraqi government has drafted a piece of legislation removing legal immunity for U.S. security contractors. (One of the final decrees of U.S. proconsul Jerry Bremer in 2004 was to exempt contractors from prosecution in Iraqi courts, something with which the Iraqis have to date complied.)

You can read the draft here. (pdf) It's short, and the operative language is simple: "All immunities granted to [security contractors] in accordance with any valid legislation shall be canceled."

The significance, if passed? CBS:

That law still must be ratified by the Iraqi parliament, and if and when it is, private security firms would almost certainly pull out of Iraq.

“There’s no question it’s a disaster if this got passed,” said Carter Andress, one of an estimated 8,500 private security contractors guarding diplomats, convoys and reconstruction sites for the U.S. He is not willing to let his employees be subject to arrest by an Iraqi police force he believes is riddled with corruption and infiltrated by enemy fighters.

“How do we determine in that situation whether or not it's legitimate use of the rule of law or whether or not this is someone trying to kidnap one of us and take advantage of the situation,” he said.

Is there anyone to match Rep. Don Young's (R-AK) earmarking abilities? Sure, Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) knows his way around an appropriations bill. But contractors know that the way to Murtha's heart is to open an office in his district. Convincing Young to dole out federal dollars, however, seems even easier.

Witness the $280 billion 2005 transportation bill, Young's masterpiece, the culmination of 30 plus years of experience. In it, Young not only tagged hundreds of millions for his home state -- including his own bridge to nowhere -- but he delivered for projects all over the country. Back in August, we gave a rundown of four states where contributors had ponied up for Young's attention, and this weekend, McClatchy took a step back to admire the full scope of Young's popularity outside of Alaska:

With money pouring in from transportation interests, Young amassed $6.5 million in political contributions from 2001 to 2005. Facing weak political opposition at home, he didn’t need much for his campaign. Instead, Young tapped his campaign fund to travel the country, often lavishly and in corporate jets, to meet with more developers and view their proposed highway projects....

Of the $6.5 million in contributions that Young collected — $5.5 million for his campaign and $1 million for his leadership political action committee (PAC) — about 85 percent came from people who didn’t live in Alaska and couldn’t vote for him.

And many of those contributors weren't disappointed. We've written often about Florida's Coconut Road project. But what about $5 million to help a developer build the largest shopping mall in America in Syracuse, New York? They're just two among many. Take a look.

It's official: embattled State Department Inspector General Howard "Cookie" Krongard will finally testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Wednesday.

Krongard, for the uninitiated, is the IG voted most likely to... not investigate waste, fraud and abuse. In September, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), the oversight committee chairman, accused him of scuttling investigations into corruption in State activities and contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Matters got worse when Krongard's subordinates told Waxman that his aides threatened retaliation against them for going public. Condoleezza Rice promised that Krongard would answer the charges. The FBI got involved. It's a whole to-do.

Come Wednesday at 10 a.m., Krongard will get a chance to explain himself. As of last week, the hearing focused primarily on the whistleblower-protection question. Aides to the committee said last week that there were no preconditions to Krongard's testimony, and lo and behold, the title of the current hearing is now the broad-brush "Assessing the State Department Inspector General."

Can't wait for Wednesday? Check out the Mighty Justin Rood's newest piece on the State Department's allergy to accountability in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Good catch from Pam Hess of the AP. At an intelligence conference last month, the nation's number-two intelligence official, Don Kerr, contended that you shouldn't expect the government to protect your anonymity. At least one prominent civil libertarian tells TPMmuckraker that Kerr should resign if his remarks reflect what he believes.

Kerr, the chief deputy to intelligence chief Michael McConnell -- he of questionable credibility concerning the Bush administration's surveillance programs -- contended last month that anonymity is an outmoded component of citizens' reasonable privacy expectations. Technology has influenced social interaction to such a point where people don't blanch at giving Amazon their credit card numbers or posting personal information on social-networking websites. While the government should protect privacy, shielding anonymity "isn't a fight that can be won." Kerr, it should be noted, was previously the director of the National Reconnaissance Office, which is in charge of the nation's spy satellites.

Some civil libertarians read Kerr's remarks as at odds with long-standing legal privacy protections. At least one tells TPMmuckraker that it's time for Kerr -- who was just confirmed as McConnell's deputy on October 4 -- to find a new line of work. "The Constitution protects the right of anonymity," says Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. "If Mr. Kerr does not believe he can uphold the Constitution, he should resign."

Kerr shied away from teasing out the implications of his statement when asked. ("It's a personal question that everyone, in a way, has to answer for themselves," said Kerr -- who, remember, is a government official presumably not willing to allow 300 million people the leverage to decide, say, how much surveillance the government can perform.) But here's the heart of the argument (pdf):

Anonymity results from a lack of identifying features. Nowadays, when so much correlated data is collected and available -- and I'm just talking about profiles on MySpace, Facebook, YouTube here -- the set of identifiable features has grown beyond where most of us can comprehend. We need to move beyond the construct that equates anonymity with privacy and focus more on how we can protect essential privacy in this interconnected environment.

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Just last week Dyncorp’s CEO Herb Lanese distanced his employees from those of Blackwater by stressing his firm’s cautious rules of engagement. But according to several eyewitnesses, a Dyncorp guard shot an unarmed Iraqi taxi driver on Saturday and just “drove away.” A Dyncorp spokesman commented that “we knew that we had fired at the front of the vehicle,” but “we were kind of surprised that there was a death.” (NY Times)

We're a year away from the election, and you know what that means... soft money battles! Seems oddly fitting that this season, the first independent 501c(4)s to surface would be backing Sen. Campaign Finance Reform himself John McCain (R-AZ).

When Pete Kott, the former Republican speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives admitted, "I had to cheat, steal, beg, borrow and lie... Exxon's happy. BP's happy. I'll sell my soul to the devil," a lobbyist assured him that this “will stay in this room.” But this conversation was just one of the many corrupt Alaskan political deals caught on tape by the FBI. Nobody knows what the feds' extensive video collection will ultimately mean for other operators in the state, such as Representative Don Young (R-AK) or Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK). But according to Ray "Disco Ray" Metcalfe, a former Republican state legislator, "It was common knowledge that everything was corrupt," “but “nobody wanted to talk about it.” (Washington Post)

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Your typical wartime logistics operation: from supplier to vendor to transport to customer... oh, and corrupt warehouser who'll sell your weaponry to the insurgency while U.S. military officers look the other way.

Welcome to the operation to get guns to the Iraqi security services, circa 2004-2005. According to Government Accountability Office investigations -- and at least one criminal investigation -- over 190,000 weapons sent to Iraq for the Iraqi security forces disappeared almost as soon as they got off the C-17s. General Petraeus, who was in charge of the effort at the time, commented recently that he thought expeditious delivery of weapons was more important than proper bookkeeping. The New York Times details that his men truly internalized that message -- even to the point of opting not to notice when Iraqi warehousers would turn contractor-run armories into a private, for-profit arms dealership.

Two Army majors, John Isgrigg III and Timmy W. Cox, assigned to the equipping mission told the Times about racing against other military units to claim palletized guns off the planes delivering them. They and their colleagues are open about how they didn't care about keeping proper records of their cargo, claiming that fastidiousness in a complex procurement operation is a hindrance to the mission:

“We had folks getting killed because equipment wasn’t moving,” said Col. Randy Hinton, the majors’ superior officer. “Were there times when all the right forms were not signed? Probably. But we had a mission to do, and we were going to do it the best way we could at that time.”

An interesting approach to following the law. The trouble is that their negligence, in part, led to an atmosphere of tolerance for weapons smuggling.

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Ah, Illinois. Only this Wednesday ex-Governor George Ryan (R-IL) became prisoner 16627-424, convicted of racketeering charges in April. Now, the feds are looking closely at Rod Blagojevich (D-IL), who ran his campaign on the promise of cleaning up what Ryan left behind. With several recent indictments of the governor's political fundraisers, the feds have been closing the vise. The most troubling tie for Blagojevich these days is the relationship connecting him, his wife Patti, and Tony Rezko.

Rezko has been a longtime supporter of the Blagojevichs; The Chicago Tribune reported in 2005 that Rezko and Patti Blagojevich had a business relationship tracing back as early as 1997. In 2003, real estate deals with Rezko accounted for roughly one-quarter of Patti’s income (they have ceased their business deals since 2004). He also demonstrated what might generously be called a knack for getting friends appointed to state board positions.

But Rezko was indicted on extortion charges in 2006. And though the Governor has not been named by investigators, there is this revelation by the Associated Press:

But Antoin "Tony" Rezko, a Blagojevich political confidant and friend, is under indictment, accused of seeking campaign contributions from investment companies in exchange for getting them business with a state pension fund.

In one case, the indictment claims Rezko demanded a company make a $1.5 million contribution to "a certain public official." That was Blagojevich, according to a person familiar with the investigation, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the probe is continuing.

Rezko has so far not turned state’s evidence, but with a trial coming up in February, Blagojevich might very well have reason to be nervous.

Of course, if Rezko doesn’t float your boat, there are other investigations that might sink the governor.

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No rundown of Bernard Kerik's ethical shortcomings could ever hope to be comprehensive, but we've done our best. So here, without any further ado, is our grand catalogue. Thanks to TPMm research hounds Adrianne Jeffries, Will Thomas and Peter Sheehy and TPMm readers for all the help.

In today's indictment:

-- Bribery. Accepted $255,000 worth of renovations to his apartment in an upscale section of the Bronx from a mob-connected construction company, Interstate Industrial Corporation, that sought his help in winning city contracts. Kerik was Commissioner of the New York City Department of Corrections at the time. He already admitted to charges from city prosecutors that the payments constituted an illegal gift.

-- Tax fraud. Kerik failed to report $236,269 in rent for his Upper East Side apartment where he lived from December 2001 to December 2003 with his family. One of the city's biggest real estate developers, Steve Witkoff, paid the $9,650 in monthly rent. Kerik asked for Witkoff's help with the apartment while he was still police commissioner of NYC, and the real estate mogul made the payments because the two "anticipated doing business in the future."

-- More tax fraud. Kerik also failed to disclose $20,000 in consulting fees from a computer software company and $75,953 in royalties for writing his autobiography.

-- Even more tax fraud. Kerik failed to report wages paid to his nanny (more about that below), claimed $80,000 in phony charitable contributions, and falsely claimed a home office deduction for a home he had not moved into yet.

-- False statements. Lied on application for head of Department of Homeland Security about the nanny, payments from the construction company, and other things he preferred to keep quiet.

From before Kerik's time in city government:

-- Deported from Saudi Arabia. In 1982, Kerik was hired to provide security for a Saudi Arabian hospital. Nine former hospital employees have argued that Kerik acted as enforcer for his employer, Nizar Feteih, who used the security team to keep an eye on a handful of female hospital employees, as well as the men with whom they were in contact. Kerik is accused of inappropriate surveillance, including wiretapping staff members.

Kerik declared one doctor disliked by Feteih as drunk and had him arrested (and later deported) under Saudi law. The outrage prompted an investigation by the Ministry of Health, which determined that many allegations of security abuse against Kerik were accurate. Kerik was fired over the incident and deported.

Kerik's many, many ethical shortcomings while working first as New York City corrections commissioner and then police commissioner:

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Several readers lamented that yesterday's House Judiciary committee hearing on torture with former Navy instructor Malcolm Nance and Colonel Steve Kleinman wasn't on C-Span. Well, you didn't think that would stop TPM, did you?

Thanks to TPM's video ace, Ben Craw, we've distilled the extensive hearing into its dramatic, high-octane essence: Nance's intense opening statement, and a key exchange between Kleinman and Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ). Don't call him pro-torture!

Check it out:

Washington versus Cornwallis. Napoleon versus Wellington. 50 Cent versus Ja Rule. And now: DynCorp versus Blackwater!

The Raleigh News & Observer's Joseph Neff reports that on a recent conference call with investors, DynCorp CEO Herb Lanese had some not-particularly-nice words about his chief competitor in the security contracting world. Like:

But I do want you to know that in this narrow space in which we compete with Blackwater, we believe we are a very different company.

For example, we are highly selective in our hiring practices. We operate very, disciplined security teams. We enforce a strict, no-alcohol policy, strict no-alcohol -- not eight hours prior to going up on a work assignment, but no alcohol period.


And we've developed our own rules for the use of force that are more detailed than those issued by the U.S. government. In fact, our rules for the use of force are based on the most conservative elements of the three sets of rules in effect in Iraq.


We're not in the game of firing people after we hire them. We're in the game of being selective in hiring the right people upfront. That is a really important distinction.

Oh, snap! Who knew: it turns out Herb Lanese rolls straight gangsta. Erik Prince, are you just gonna take that?