Oversight is for wimps

Blackwater and the State Department to Congress: Back off.

By Tim Grieve
Published September 26, 2007 4:21PM (UTC)
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It turns out that this whole separation-of-powers congressional oversight thing can be a real drag, especially if you're the one being overseen and you've spent six long years not really having to deal with it at all.

Exhibits A, B and C: The State Department's dealings with Rep. Henry Waxman's Oversight and Government Reform Committee. In a letter sent to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Tuesday, Waxman complains that the State Department is blowing off his committee on three fronts.

Blackwater: The State Department has told Blackwater USA that it cannot provide the committee documents or information regarding its security work for U.S. diplomats in Iraq -- including the incident earlier this month in which Iraqi civilians were killed -- without getting the State Department's approval first. In a letter to Blackwater, State Department contracting officer Kiazan Moneypenny -- no, really -- reminded Blackwater that its contract with the State Department prohibits the company and its employees from communicating "to any person any information known to them by reason of their performance" of that contract. In a second letter sent Tuesday, Moneypenny backed down a bit, saying that Blackwater can produce unclassified documents to the committee but must give any classified documents to State for its review first.

In a separate letter sent Monday, one of Blackwater's lawyers asked the committee to "refrain" from even "asking questions" during an Oct. 2 hearing "that might reveal sensitive operational and technical information that could be used by our country's implacable enemies in Iraq." Among such information would be just about anything the committee might want to know about how Blackwater works: the size of security contingents; the identities of Blackwater employees involved in particular incidents; the number and nature of the weapons Blackwater deploys in incidents; the "structure" of how its convoys operate; and the backups that are available in case of an attack.

Iraqi corruption: Waxman's committee wants testimony from the State Department about corruption in the Iraqi government and State's efforts to deal with it. The response from State so far: State Department witnesses won't be allowed to give even "broad statements/assessments which judge or characterize the quality of Iraqi governance or the ability/determination of the Iraqi government to deal with corruption" in any open hearing before the committee, let alone discuss the actions of specific Iraqi government officials.

Rice's testimony: Waxman's committee wants to hear from Rice herself about Iraq and other matters. But Waxman says that Rice's staff told him this week that the secretary is simply "unavailable" to testify before his committee.

A State Department spokesman tells the Washington Post that this is all just one big "misunderstanding" and that all the information the committee has requested "has been or is in the process of being provided."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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