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Yesterday the Department of Justice announced it was joining a whistleblower lawsuit filed against KBR - the Army's largest contractor in Iraq, and a former subsidiary of Halliburton. The suit alleges some KBR employees received kickbacks, including food, drinks, and tickets to sports events from two air cargo companies. An Assistant Attorney General said:
“Defense contractors cannot take advantage of the ongoing war effort by accepting unlawful kickbacks. We are committed to maintaining the integrity of the Department of Defense's procurement process."
On the very same day, the Army announced that it was awarding KBR a $586 million no-bid contract for support services to the military in Iraq, despite the fact that following pressure from Congress in 2008 on no-bid contracts, the Army has bid out all of its logistics orders. The Army argues that it chose KBR because transitioning a new contractor would be disruptive and expensive.
However, the Army's reluctance to change contractors may be costing American taxpayers money: On April 1, the DoJ sued KBR alleging it violated its contract by using private security guards and improperly charging the Army for their services.
The lawsuit was the first action by the United States against KBR despite continuing criticism from lawmakers and overseers about KBR inflating its costs in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a steady stream of whistleblowers coming forward about fraud and abuse practiced by the company.
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This post was written by GAP Homeland Security Director Jesselyn Radack for her Daily Kos blog.
There are already countless wrinkles to the Times Square attempted bombing case and coming prosecution of accused bomber Faisal Shahzad, and more are certain to emerge. No doubt some officials will ratchet up the "homegrown terrorism" fear-mongering. Others (like Senator Lieberman) will propose offensive limitations on naturalization. And some may call for increased video surveillance (even though the cameras in Times Square aren't what stopped the bombing) or more body-scanners in airports and more "no-fly" lists (even though the "no-fly" list failed miserably at stopping Shahzad from getting through security checkpoints and boarding a flight to Dubai just before his arrest).
One especially disappointing wrinkle is the debate over whether Shahzad should have been read his Miranda warnings. Unfortunately for those lampooning the Obama administration for "giving terrorists rights," reading Miranda rights is totally optional.
Here's a brief refresher: It is not just something fictional cops do on Law & Order. Mirandizing a suspect is a constitutionally-mandated practice required to preserve one of our most fundamental constitutional rights (the privilege against self-incrimination) and is often required to preserve a criminal case against a suspect.
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We’re still trying to sort out what happened at AIG in the prelude to, and the aftermath of the federal bailout in 2008. Sources report to us that in the run up to the meltdown, Kathleen Chagnon, then-AIG Deputy General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer, was in charge. Chagnon was reportedly a close friend of General Counsel Anastasia Kelly before arriving, and she was on good terms with the Independent Monitor, James Cole, after she settled in. Cole, of course, was in place at AIG to report to the SEC as part of a settlement of a lawsuit against the former AIG CEO for fraud. A major part of his job was to keep Kelly, Chagnon and later Folsom, honest.
Before turning up at AIG, Chagnon had enjoyed a jumpy career. At 49, she’s a veteran of Hogan & Hartson, The Saint Paul Companies, Constellation Energy, Saul Ewing, LLP., DLA Piper, AIG, and now Remedi Senior Care. She resigned under a cloud from AIG after a series of complaints in July 2008, just as the Financial Products debacle began to unravel.
In the wake of the Chagnon regime, Suzanne Folsom, on the lam from the World Bank, took over and terminated about half of the AIG Compliance Office staff in October 2008 for reasons we do not fully understand. With Kelly’s blessing, and unimpeded by Independent Monitor Cole, Folsom blithely dismissed AIG’s anti-money laundering officer, risk management officer, foreign-corrupt practices officer, global compliance trainer and shared services officer. In their place, consultants who were well-connected to Kelly and Folsom arrived. One salient example is Sarah Brown Meeham, who took up residence in an AIG office on a regular basis. Meeham was a consultant working for Levick Communications, where Kelly has served on the Advisory Board. She didn’t actually deal with compliance; she’s a PR specialist, according to Levick.
That may be what’s ailing AIG with these people running the show. They think that good PR is an adequate substitute for real compliance with regulation. And as it turned out, once Kelly and Folsom collected their ample severance packages, even the best corporate hack/flack in the world couldn’t have made AIG look good.
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Even though we thought it was impossible to top the barrage of troubling news that emerged last week about the oil spill (still going on!) that followed the explosion, fire and sinking of the oil platform Deepwater Horizon, even more disturbing information has come out since our last blog on the topic.
BP has continued to a.) be less than forthcoming about the oil spill details, and b.) downplay the effects to many news outlets. As we conveyed last week, despite claims from scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association to the contrary, BP argued on Wednesday that the oil spill was stable and had actually moved farther away from the coastline. BP also took nine days to admit that the amount of oil leaking was 5000 barrels a day, rather than the 1000 barrel figure they initially claimed. In addition, a plan filed by BP with the U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS) outlined a worst-case oil spill scenario of 162,000 gallons a day for the Deepwater Horizon platform, much less than the 210,000 gallons a day currently estimated.
The company has also refused to disclose how much oil was under the surface in the area in which they were drilling; however, an anonymous company official confirmed that it was tens of millions of barrels.
BP chief executive Tony Hayward claimed today that chemicals used to keep oil from the surface have had a significant impact on the spill. He failed to mention that BP had already bought up a third of the world's supply of the chemicals, called dispersants, and that the supply could easily run out if the flow of oil continues for any serious length of time.
Hayward also neglected to point out that the chemicals themselves pose a threat to the fragile gulf ecosystem – and according to an expert, may be more toxic than oil. While not all of the compounds in the chemicals are known due to trade secrecy, at least one is associated with "headaches, vomiting and reproductive problems at high doses." From ProPublica:
“There is a chemical toxicity to the dispersant compound that in many ways is worse than oil,” said Richard Charter, a foremost expert on marine biology and oil spills who is a senior policy advisor for Marine Programs for Defenders of Wildlife and is chairman of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council. “It’s a trade off – you’re damned if you do damned if you don’t – of trying to minimize the damage coming to shore, but in so doing you may be more seriously damaging the ecosystem offshore.”
The chemicals can also have a worrisome effect on food safety. Studies have shown toxic compounds from the chemicals can accumulate in shellfish, and affect the development of fish. The chemicals will likely negatively affect the Gulf Coast fish industry.
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Government Accountability Project Homeland Security Director Jesselyn Radack posted an extremely popular blog yesterday on her Daily Kos Diary about the recent aggressive behavior by the Obama administration toward reporters and sources.
The administration authorized a subpoena Monday that would require a New York Times journalist to turn over documents and testify about his confidential sources for a chapter of his 2006 book, State of War: The Secret History of the C.I.A. and the Bush Administration. Journalists James Risen and a colleague won a Pulitzer Prize in 2006 for reporting on the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program. That article had been blasted by the Bush administration, which opened an investigation into the sources used by the journalists. But no one was indicted under Bush.
Was the Risen subpoena an aberration? Apparently not. The Obama administration has indicted a NSA source for blowing the whistle on agency mismanagement. In a follow-up blog on Daily Kos. Radack quotes a statement by President Obama on government whistleblowing:
Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled.
The official who was indicted is Thomas A. Drake, a former senior executive for the NSA. As the Washington Post notes, "[Drake] has not been accused of sharing the most sensitive of the NSA's secrets: the means it uses to intercept e-mails and phone calls around the world, or the tools it employs to crack adversaries' codes." Instead, Drake was indicted on charges that he mishandled classified information and tried to obstruct an investigation of his actions. What was the information that he "mishandled?" As Radack writes, the information led to articles in the Baltimore Sun that "exposed technical failings and cost overruns of several agency programs that cost billions of dollars."
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Read an update on the situation here
Many troubling details are beginning to come out about the explosion and sinking of the oil platform Deepwater Horizon, which oil giant BP was leasing from Transocean, the world's largest offshore drilling contractor. The platform exploded on April 20 and sank two days later, leaving 11 workers missing and presumed dead, and producing one of the largest oil spills in history in U.S. water.
Soon after the explosion and sinking of the platform, which houses the machinery used to extract oil from the ocean floor through a hole called an oil well, the New York Times reported that federal authorities have recorded more than 500 fires on oil platforms, two deaths and 12 serious injuries due to platform fires in the Gulf of Mexico since 2006. None of the accidents has slowed the rate of drilling in the Gulf, which has increased over the past decade. In the aftermath of the explosion, industry officials said that despite the loss of the Deepwater Horizon, drilling in the Gulf will likely continue as usual.
On Tuesday, the London Guardian (UK) reported that the Minerals Management Service (MMS), the US government agency responsible for overseeing offshore oil activities, was expected to launch an investigation into the sinking of Deepwater Horizon.
MMS is currently investigating a whistleblower's claims that BP had broken the law by not keeping an up-to-date set of records on the oil platform Atlantis, also located in the Gulf of Mexico. In the event of an emergency, such records would be vital to shut down the platform. According to an email from a BP executive, not having the records could lead to "catastrophic operator errors." Atlantis, which is located 190 miles south of New Orleans, is the largest oil platform of any kind in the world.
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This op/ed by GAP Homeland Security Director Jesselyn Radack appeared today in the Los Angeles Times.
The case of Thomas A. Drake, a former National Security Agency official indicted last week on charges of providing classified information to a Baltimore Sun reporter, is painfully familiar. In 2002, I became the target of a leak investigation stemming from America's first post- 9/11 terrorism prosecution.
As a Justice Department ethics attorney, I had inadvertently learned of a court order for all copies of Justice's internal correspondence about the interrogation of the so-called American Taliban, John Walker Lindh. Although I had written more than a dozen e-mails on the subject, the Justice Department had turned over only two of them, neither of which reflected my conclusion that the FBI committed an ethics violation in its interrogation and that Lindh's confession might have to be sealed. I checked the hard-copy file, which had been a thick, stapled stack of paper. It had been reduced to three rather innocuous e-mails and fax cover sheets from my boss to senior Justice officials.
I resurrected the missing e-mails from the bowels of my computer archives, gave them to my boss and resigned. I also took home a copy of them in case they "disappeared" again. As a criminal case proceeded against Lindh — and the Justice Department, by all appearances, still had not turned over the e-mails — I decided to give them to the media.
The Justice Department then unleashed an investigation that had nothing to do with ascertaining why someone would divulge government documents, and everything to do with plugging the leak. Anonymous senior Justice officials smeared me in the media as a "traitor," "turncoat" and "terrorist sympathizer." They told my new employer, a private law firm, that I was a criminal and would steal client files. They leaned on the firm to fire me. The firm put me on unpaid, indefinite administrative leave instead. When I was awarded meager unemployment benefits, the government assisted the firm in contesting them.