On June 27, 2013, President Obama nominated Steve Linick to be the first permanent Inspector General of the Department of State since Howard Krongard vacated the office in January 2008. At a glance, the office of the IG wouldn’t seem to be the sexiest of positions, nor the most important, but a hard look at the office and its role in the functioning of good government cannot be overstated. The inspector general of any federal agency is charged with finding and investigating fraud, waste, and abuse of the system. The Office of the Inspector General is designed to act as an impartial arbiter of the facts, existing outside traditional chain of command and above the petty squabbles and internal power struggles that exist in any bureau, agency, or office setting. In short, the American people pay very handsomely for a foreign policy. The inspector general makes sure we’re getting our money’s worth.
In the years since State last had a permanent inspector general, a culture of cronyism and corruption has proliferated in unexpected and troubling places. Examples of mismanagement have materialized in such catastrophic financial and planning disasters as the Jeddah New Consulate Compound in Saudi Arabia, which was announced in 2007 and set to open in 2009. Six years later, only the “shell” of a compound, as it has been described, exists, housing precisely zero State Department personnel. The project has gone over budget by tens of millions of dollars, on top of the new $100,543,000 contract signed last year to actually build the thing. For comparison’s sake, it’s taken two years longer (and counting) to construct an office building in Saudi Arabia than it took the United States to plan, design, build, test, and deploy the first atomic bomb. World War II, from start to finish, took less time to wage than it’s taken State Department contractors to erect four walls and a perimeter fence. But the consequences of mismanagement at State have now been felt in ways far beyond that of mere dollars. As we learned in Benghazi, a meandering culture absent any true accountability has also cost the lives of brave American diplomats abroad.
If Mr. Linick is confirmed, he will have his work cut out for him. Next week Clearance Jobs will explore some steps the next IG will need to take in order to bring order to an often-chaotic system. Today, it’s useful to recap some of the State Department’s biggest gaffes operating without government oversight.
In December 2012, a whistleblower named Kerry Howard exposed sexual misconduct in the Napals, Italy office. Allegedly, U.S. Consul General Donald Moore had inappropriate relations with subordinates and prostitutes. When Howard first raised the issue, State Department officials attempted to suppress the details from becoming common knowledge. Later, Howard was targeted for retribution. Officials threatened, harassed, humiliated, and excluded her from official business. Ultimately, she was forced to resign. In an interview, she said what many have alleged: “It’s cover-up after cover-up. It’s absolutely hideous.”
Whistleblower Aurelia Fedenisn fared no better. As an investigator for the Inspector General, she learned of criminal wrongdoing by State Department officials, and of a subsequent cover-up. Among the crimes outlined in an internal memo: Howard Gutman, the U.S. Ambassador to Belgium, “routinely ditched his protective security detail in order to solicit sexual favors from both prostitutes and minor children”; a State Department security official in Beirut “engaged in sexual assaults” against foreign nationals hired by the embassy; and members of the security detail of former-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “engaged prostitutes while on official trips.” Not only were investigations shut down by higher ups, but also the final memo by what would otherwise have been an independent Inspector General was whitewashed of the allegations.
After Fedenisn came forward with the incriminating documents, State Department officials allegedly initiated an intimidation campaign. According to her attorney, investigators from the (not permanent, and thus not impartial) Inspector General began skulking around Fedenisn’s house “They talked to both [of Fedenisn’s] kids and never identified themselves… First the older brother and then younger daughter, a minor, asking for their mom’s place of work and cell phone number… They camped out for four to five hours.” Their stated purpose was to compel Fedenisn to sign an affidavit stating that she stole the documents from the State Department. As none of the documents were classified, and because Fedenism’s contractual terms of separation allow for the disclosure of wrongdoing, the haunting of her house would seem to be as much about sending a message as anything else. As her attorney observed of this confession document, “Why not simply mail it, courier it, send it Federal Express or deliver it by any other normal means by which one delivers a demand letter? Why send two federal law enforcement agents?”
As Jeff Jarvis observed about a different ongoing scandal, “Even the Mafia had ethical rules against targeting the family members of people they feel threatened by.”
But the case gets even stranger. Last month, there was a break-in at the Dallas law firm of Schulman & Mathias. Most burglars, you can imagine, would be in a hurry to snatch up unsecured, easy to carry valuables. Not these guys. They pried their way into file cabinets and stole three computers. Everything else was left untouched. Likewise, no other businesses in the high rise were targeted. The burglars were very clearly after information. The catch? Schulman & Mathias represent none other than… Aurelia Fedenisn. She is their most high-profile case, and the break-in came after weeks of high-profile media attention. Foreign Policy’s The Cable asked Cary Schulman whether, perhaps, the criminals were targeting some unrelated case. “I’m involved in other cases locally,” he said, “but those cases are rather stale.”
Nobody is suggesting that higher-ups at the Department of State ordered its own team of Watergate Plumbers to plant bugs and steal legal files. But the mere fact that some might think that is proof enough that the management culture at the State Department is broken, and corruption isn’t feared so much as expected.
Next week we’ll look at how Steve Linick, as permanent inspector general, can fix it.