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Looks like Cookie isn't so sweet toward those who'd talk to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Earlier this month, committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) wrote a scathing letter to State Department Inspector General Howard "Cookie" Krongard, accusing him of scuttling inquiries about corrupt contractors working on State's dime in Iraq and Afghanistan. The basis for Waxman's claims came from former employees John DeNona and Ralph McNamara, who resigned after Krongard slow-walked or obstructed their investigations. But Waxman was also assisted by current Krongard staffers who had a bad taste left in their mouths from Krongard's unorthodox approach to due diligence.

Those two staffers are Special Agent Ron Militana and Assistant Special Agent in Charge Brian Rubendall. Both are career federal investigators who agreed to go on the record with their accounts of Krongard's misconduct. And their boss held them in high esteem: Krongard called Militana "one of my best investigators." But after Waxman sent his letter to Krongard, his staff threatened their careers, according to a new letter to Cookie just released by Waxman's office.

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Despite a reported FBI investigation and the surrounding controversy, developers in Florida really want to hang on to their hard-earned $10 million Coconut Road earmark from Rep. Don Young (R-AK). And yet everything seems to come back to Young one way or the other.

Real estate developers, led by Daniel Aronoff, who raised $40,000 in campaign contributions for Young are pushing the Metropolitan Planning Organization in Lee County to overturn a recent vote to send the money back to Congress in hopes of having it reallocated for a more popular project. The MPO vote came after it learned that the earmark had been changed after Congress voted on the bill. A new vote could take place at an MPO meeting today.

Florida consultant Joe Mazurkiewicz, a Young campaign contributor and outspoken proponent of the Coconut Road project, emailed the MPO yesterday a memo drafted by a Washington lawyer named Jack Schenendorf. The memo plays down the significance of the Coconut Road earmark change, pointing to another section of the 1,200 page bill where "Jacksonville" was changed to "Jacksonville, FL." (As we've already reported, there were no edits of any of the other 6,000 earmarks in the bill that would have changed where money was directed, aside from Coconut Road.)

The email and memo leave the impression that Schenendorf is a disinterested observer:

Attached you will find a Bio and Statement by Jack Schenehdorf, an attorney with Covington and Burling covering the I 75 Coconut Road Interchange Project. This man’s experience and reputation is without equal regarding Federal transportation issues and funding.

It turns out that Agripartners, a company owned by the same Daniel Aronoff, hired Schenendorf to write the memo, which Agripartners acknowledged in a statement issued last night. Schenendorf is a former chief of staff of the House Transportation Committee which Young is now a member and once chaired and has contributed to Young's campaign fun (albeit only $1,500).

Update: The MPO just voted to reject the Young earmark again.

It only took, oh, seven years and up to $6 billion in potentially-criminal contracting fraud, but Congress is finally set to create an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Last night, the Senate unanimously approved an amendment to the defense authorization bill (not the appropriations bill, as I mistakenly wrote earlier this week) drafted by freshman Democratic Senators Jim Webb and Claire McCaskill that creates an eight-member commission studying a plethora of contractor-related issues. Waste, fraud and abuse is only the start. The commission will also look at how the federal government contracts for "security and intelligence functions" in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some defense experts believe that the overreliance on contract security is counterproductive to U.S. counterinsurgency efforts.

The commission will deliver a report after the 2008 election -- on January 15, 2009 -- containing "specific recommendations" for improvements to the contracting process. It will seek to determine which functions contracted out are "inherently governmental" -- a key concern for critics of outsourced security and intelligence priorities. While the primary product from the commission will be its report, it has the authority to refer potential criminal charges resulting from its inquiry to the Attorney General for prosecution.

However, the commission no longer has direct subpoena power, which was provided in an earlier version of the amendment, and which had drawn concern from Sen. John Warner (R-VA). In the final version, if the commission has difficulty acquiring information from any federal agency, it's to report that difficulty to Congress, and rely on Congressional subpoena power to resolve any deadlock. However, the bill essentially makes the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) into the commission's staff on the ground in Iraq, and a similar body will do the same in Afghanistan. SIGIR has subpoena power for both federal agencies and contractors. The bill's authors considered the subpoena-power change, made to satisfy some GOP concerns, to be reasonable.

President Bush is likely to sign the defense authorization into law, but concerns have been raised over the inclusion of a hate-crimes amendment, which might attract the president's veto.

Update: This post has been corrected.

What were administration lawyers debating for four hours after the NSA said it had sufficient basis for an emergency FISA warrant in the Iraqi insurgent-kidnapping case?

The three soldiers were reported missing on May 12, 20007. According to the timeline that Adm. Mike McConnell provided to the House intelligence committee, on May 14, the day before the emergency-surveillance controversy, intelligence officials approached the FISA Court for an amendment to a "then-current order" that had "some bearing" on the kidnapping crisis. The court apparently granted the amendment "that day." That, at least, suggests that even if the FISA Court had expanded, generically, FISA's protections to foreigners' communications passing through the U.S., the court was willing to work with the intelligence community to ensure that necessary surveillance could take place.

But presumably the NSA still didn't have enough material to satisfy probable cause on the insurgent communications on May 14, hard as that is to believe. The next morning, May 15, administration officials met to discuss surveillance, and by 12:53 a.m., the NSA's chief lawyer established that there was sufficient evidence for an emergency FISA warrant "for the remaining collection inside the U.S." By that, the lawyer means that the NSA needs a warrant to capture whatever insurgent communications pass through U.S. communication switches, and by about 1 pm, believed there was sufficient probable cause to justify an emergency warrant. It's likely that whatever other information the NSA had collected, it had done so through monitoring Iraq-to-Iraq communications that didn't pass through the U.S. or had gotten a measure of coverage through the aforementioned FISA Court amendment.

Yet according to the timeline, for the next four hours, administration officials "discussed legal and operational issues" about the surveillance. That's the critical delay, in all likelihood. Once NSA considers that probable cause for an emergency warrant has been met, why didn't the NSA contact the Justice Department's FISA office, the Office of Intelligence and Policy Review, and get an emergency warrant through to the Attorney General for his signature? McConnell told Congress that even with the emergency warrant in place, it still takes time to acquire sufficient material to meet an after-the-fact probable cause determination. But in a real emergency -- and the kidnapping of U.S troops in Iraq would seem to count as one -- it's hard to imagine why that review couldn't have occurred parallel to the surveillance, especially when the NSA says the lion's share of the probable cause is there.

OIPR got the NSA material at 5:15. It took another two hours to locate the Attorney General, who was in Texas to give a speech to U.S. attorneys. By then, however, it appears the crucial delay had already occurred.

Brent Wilkes has a court date today where we'll find out if his trial will proceed next week as scheduled, in the wake of the blitz of subpoenas his lawyer served to 12 members of Congress and had issued for some senators and high-ranking administration officials, The Hill reports. It looks unlikely that the trial will forge on, on time.

A hearing is scheduled for Monday on the House's motion to quash the subpoenas to the congressmen.

The House general counsel’s motion rejected the subpoenas for “a host of reasons,” primarily because the information sought is protected under the Speech and Debate Clause, which bars members of Congress from being investigated for work related to legislative activity.

The motion notes that in Hunter’s and Lewis’s cases, the subpoenas sought documents related to appropriations, authorizations and earmark requests in three categories: a) those pertaining to programs of interest to Cunningham and Wilkes, b) documents related to Wilkes’s bribery of Cunningham, Hunter or Lewis, and c) documents “evidencing bribes ‘offered to you or accepted by you.’”

Hunter and Lewis have no documents responsive to categories B or C, the motion said, although Hunter “may have” some documents responsive to category A.

56. Blackwater has been involved in 56 shootings this year while guarding American diplomats. Because so little information has been released on this subject, it is hard to comment on the significance of this number. For a comparison of apples and oranges, DynCorp International reported only 10 shootings in 1,500 convoy runs last year. (NY Times)

Childrens are a difficult word, and you cannot fault the President for each and every grammatical errors. But when the administration who support him try to cover up his failings, they make for good entertainment. Checks it out here. (WSJ's Washington Wire)

Last week President Bush said he had been unaware of the oil deal between Hunt Oil and the Kurdistan Regional Government and needed to look into the matter before he would comment. Now, a senior state department official in Baghdad has spoken (off the record) about the fact that the deal "needlessly elevated tensions" and undermines U.S. efforts to unify Iraq and strengthen its central government. The official added that Hunt Oil (whose CEO is a close Bush friend) was warned in advance, that the deal is "legally uncertain." (NYT, AFP)

Stevens' Bridge to Nowhere has finally been scrapped. But don't worry about those poor Alaskan islanders. Stevens has now requested that the Navy build a high speed ferry to shuttle people back and forth at the bargain price of $85 million. Never mind that the Navy had originally estimated costs of half of that, or that the original ferry was scrapped because it was a low priority. (USA TODAY)

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It's not just the State Department that maintains a cozy relationship with Blackwater despite the September 16 Nisour Square shooting. Yesterday the U.S. military's Transportation Command awarded a Blackwater affiliate a $92 million contract for aviation-related services for U.S. military flights between the archipelago of bases we're using in South Asia.

Presidential Airways, Inc., an aviation Worldwide Services company (d/b/a Blackwater Aviation), Moyock, N.C., is being awarded an indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) type contract for $92,000,000.00. The contractor is to provide all fixed-wing aircraft, personnel, equipment, tools, material, maintenance and supervision necessary to perform passenger, cargo and combi Short Take-Off and Landing air transportation services between locations in the Area of Responsibility of Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan. This contract was competitively procured and two timely offers were received. The performance period is from 1 October 2007 to 30 September 2011. The United States Transportation Command Acquisition Directorate, Scott Air Force Base, Ill., is the contracting activity (HTC7 11 -08-D-0010).

(Thx to reader BG.)

Over the past week, we've been reporting that U.S. government sources have disputed Mike McConnell's account to Congress that FISA Court rulings unreasonably delayed surveillance on Iraqi insurgents who kidnapped U.S. troops this spring. The sources blamed cumbersome bureaucratic hurdles for the delay, not the court, and questioned why obtaining an emergency surveillance order -- good for 72 hours before approval by a judge -- should have taken so long to acquire.

Late yesterday, under pressure from House intelligence committee chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), McConnell's office released a timeline of events that seems to vindicate our reporting. According to Pamela Hess of the Associated Press:

The timeline, obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, showed that the Bush administration held "internal deliberations" on the "novel and complicated issues" presented by the emergency FISA request for more than four hours after the National Security Agency's top lawyer had approved it.

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, last week blamed the delay on unnecessary bureaucracy within the Justice Department. Justice Department and U.S. intelligence officials dispute that, and say the NSA decision alone was not legally sufficient to authorize an emergency request.

"It's not a done deal at that point," Dean Boyd, a spokesman for Justice Department, said Thursday. "We believed we needed additional information and needed to resolve novel legal questions before we were satisfied we could take this to the attorney general."

Another two hours passed when Justice Department officials had trouble tracking down Alberto Gonzales, then the attorney general. He was speaking at a conference of U.S. attorneys in Texas.

Justice Department officials had to make several phone calls to Gonzales' staff before they were able to speak directly with him to get his authorization for the surveillance, according to the timeline.

The delay resulted in the death of one of the kidnapped soldiers.

The State Department's "first blush" investigation into the September 16 shootings at Baghdad's Nisour Square, which left 11 Iraqi civilians dead at the hands of Blackwater security contractors, largely absolves Blackwater of blame for the incident.

According to the initial account by the Baghdad office of State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, a car bomb detonated 25 yards away from a Blackwater detail accompanying a U.S. diplomatic convoy leaving a "financial compound" and heading for the Green Zone. Two other teams were dispatched from the Green Zone to assist in the diplomat's extraction. As the third team approached Nisour Square, it came under fire from between eight to ten assailants, who "fired from multiple nearby locations, with some aggressors dressed in civilian apparel and others in Iraqi police uniforms," the report states, as provided to The Washington Post.

The chaos did not stop there.

Separately, a U.S. official familiar with the investigation said that participants in the shooting have reported that at least one of the Blackwater guards drew a weapon on his colleagues and screamed for them to "stop shooting." This account suggested that there was some effort to curb the shooting, with at least one Blackwater guard believing it had spiraled out of control. "Stop shooting -- those are the words that we're hearing were used," the official said.

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