State Dept. Inspector General Linked to Blackwater
State Department Inspector General Linked to Blackwater
By Matt Renner
t r u t h o u t | Report
Howard Krongard, the State Department inspector general, recused himself from all investigations involving the controversial private security firm Blackwater USA, when confronted with evidence obtained by a prominent Democrat that showed Krongard had a previously undisclosed conflict of interest.
During testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Democratic members of Congress revealed Alvin "Buzzy" Krongard, a former top CIA official and Howard Krongard's brother, recently became a member of the Blackwater advisory board and was paid to attend a meeting in Virginia earlier this week, facts Howard Krongard initially disputed.
Emails from the president of Blackwater, Erik Prince, show Alvin Krongard accepted the board member position in September. Howard Krongard testified he spoke with his brother in early October, after his brother apparently became a member of the board, and his brother "assured" him he did not have a "financial interest" in Blackwater. Krongard looked surprised and sounded offended when first confronted with the evidence of his brother's involvement.
Truthout tried to contact Alvin Krongard, but his number was unlisted. According to the web site Talking Points Memo (TPM), Alvin Krongard said he did in fact inform his brother of his relationship with Blackwater. Alvin Krongard told TPM, "I had told my brother I was going on the advisory board. My brother says that is not the case. I stand by what I told my brother."
When the Committee took a short recess, Howard Krongard called his brother and was informed Alvin Krongard was in fact a member of the Blackwater board and had attended the recent board meeting. Howard Krongard has been accused of interfering in an active criminal investigation of Blackwater by Department of Justice (DOJ) investigators and by members of his own staff. Howard Krongard claimed he did not have a conflict of interest prior to the hearing because he was unaware of his brother's association with the company. As a result of the revelation, Howard Krongard recused himself from any investigations into Blackwater going forward. The State Department Inspector General's office did not return a request for comment on the effect this would have on ongoing Blackwater investigations.
This miscue occurred toward the beginning of a contentious hearing, part of an ongoing investigation into mismanagement, fraud and possible corruption at the State Department. Many of the accusations against the State Department involve their contracting with Blackwater for protection in war zones. The State Department has been accused of covering up criminal activities by Blackwater contractors, including weapon smuggling and murder. As inspector general since 2005, Krongard has been responsible for a team of career investigators and auditors who were supposed to function as an in-house watchdog for the massive executive branch department. However, top officials in Krongard's office have accused him of potentially criminal misconduct, including halting internal investigations and interference in DOJ investigations that would have been embarrassing to the Bush administration.
The confusion over Krongard's ties to Blackwater cast doubt over his testimony. Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland) attacked Krongard on this issue: "your role as inspector general is to investigate waste fraud and abuse at the State Department, but your office has not completed any investigations into Blackwater activities although there is a Justice Department investigation under way. You've taken several unorthodox steps that delayed or impeded that investigation such as requiring a personal briefing from the Justice Department and requiring all investigative documents to go through your congressional affairs director."
Congressman Christopher Shays (R-Connecticut) conceded Krongard's failure to disclose his conflict of interest negatively affected his testimony. "You have made a mistake in my judgment in not being clearer with your brother the importance of him being upfront with you. I think that has been not helpful at all," Shays said.
During the hearing, Democrats questioned Krongard closely. Investigators compiled a report detailing numerous allegations of wrongdoing made by whistleblowers from the DOJ and Krongard's own office.
Krongard struggled to rebut criticisms of his management style. He admitted to being "shrill" and "very hard" on the employees he managed. Former staff members claimed his behavior was "abusive" and that he "berated" and "harassed" employees. Krongard claimed his previous experience in the private sector as a lawyer and an auditor had set his expectations too high.
Among the most serious claims, Krongard has been accused of covering up State Department contracting fraud by actively working to undermine a DOJ investigation. When confronted with statements that blamed Krongard for the lack of cooperation with DOJ, Krongard claimed he had done nothing wrong and the DOJ had actually appreciated how cooperative he had been. Congressman Henry Waxman, Chairman of the Committee, replied, "what you have said to us contradicts what almost everybody else has said."
Questioning from Congressman John Yarmuth (D-Kentucky) revealed Krongard had improper information faxed to a colleague of Ken Tomlinson, the chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and a close friend of former presidential aide Karl Rove. In his current position, Krongard also has oversight responsibility over the BBG. The fax contained personal information about a BBG employee who complained about Tomlinson's time sheets and accused Tomlinson of "double dipping," or claiming extra work hours inappropriately.
Krongard claimed he told his assistant to fax the letter to Tomlinson. The information about the whistleblower was contained in an attachment to the letter, which Krongard claimed he did not intend to send to Tomlinson but was accidentally included by his assistant.
Earlier in the hearing, Krongard said, "I did not pass anything to Mr. Tomlinson, I never had any contact whether by fax, phone, or meeting with Mr. Tomlinson." Krongard pointed out the fax was sent to the executive director of the BBG, Brian Conniff, not directly to Tomlinson. The staff report quotes Special Agent Peter Lubeck, the investigator on the Tomlinson case, who said that, in his experience, investigators do not "advise the subject of an investigation in advance, that they are the subject, because that compromises the investigation." Lubeck found that two witnesses shredded documents relating to the Tomlinson investigation.
In a closing statement, Cummings told Krongard "the only way you can be credible is if all of your employees who have given sworn testimony to our committee, over a dozen, are wrong in their statements and if the Justice Department is wrong in information it has given us."
Matt Renner is an assistant editor and Washington reporter for Truthout.