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February 8, 2008
Notes from the Pentagon

Bureaucrats in Iraq
A State Department official this week issued a blistering critique of Foreign Service bureaucrats at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad for undermining civilian stability efforts in Iraq.

"After a year at the embassy, it is my general assessment that the State Department and the Foreign Service [are] not competent to do the job that they have undertaken in Iraq," said Manuel Miranda, a conservative former Senate staff member who is part of the office of legislative statecraft in Baghdad.

The Feb. 5 memorandum to U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker stated that the military surge is working, but State Department support for civilian efforts to pacify the country is a disaster due to bureaucrats' "built-in attention deficit disorder."

"The State Department bureaucracy is not equipped to handle the urgency of America's Iraq investment in blood and taxpayer funds," Mr. Miranda said. "You lack the 'fierce urgency of now.' "

Mr. Miranda's most stinging accusation is that the State Department is an "albatross around the neck of the coalition command."

The department "failed to assist coalition initiatives by delaying or failing to supply the civilian expertise needed in a thoughtful and timely manner and also delaying decisions on funding and staffing vital to GOI (and our) success," he said, using the acronym for the government of Iraq.

Also, the embassy has blocked the flow of information to the White House and other policy-makers, the State Department in Washington, and the commanding general in Baghdad, fearing leaks to the press.

Foreign service officers sent to Iraq have "ludicrously little experience" in managing programs and hundreds of millions of dollars in funds and other resources used to help the Iraqi government, he stated.

"It is apparent that, other than diplomacy, your only expertise is your own bureaucracy, which inherently makes State Department personnel unable to think outside the box or beyond the paths they have previously taken," he said.

Eighty people in Washington, for example, second-guess embassy officials, leading to paralysis and infusing embassy work with "the State Department's culture of delay and indecision."

Mr. Miranda said the State Department's Iraq operations, judged by private sector standards, is "willfully negligent, if not criminal."

State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Mr. Miranda, as a temporary appointed employee in Iraq, "is entitled to his opinion."

"However, the president and Secretary [of State Condoleezza] Rice believe that Ambassador Crocker and his team at Embassy Baghdad are performing ably under incredibly difficult circumstances," he said.

Saudi mosque
New information has surfaced during an embezzlement case on the leader of the Islamic Center of Washington, who is the government's chief witness in a case against its former manager.

Documents obtained under court subpoena by lawyers for Farzad Darui, the defendant in the embezzling case, revealed that mosque director Abdullah M. Khouj, a Saudi cleric, failed to comply with a court order regarding his use of post office boxes.

A federal court in December ordered Mr. Khouj to provide documents related to the use of post office boxes between 1984 and 2006, and he provided one envelope from 1995 from the Saudi Embassy to Mr. Khouj at a Washington post office box address.

Other subpoenaed records by lawyers for Mr. Darui show numerous post office boxes were used for deposits by Mr. Khouj. "The subpoenaed returns expose Khouj's refusal to comply with the order," according to a court motion by Mr. Darui filed this week. "Documents from all four of Khouj's bank accounts, all during the relevant time period, reveal that Khouj utilized, and still utilizes, post office boxes. Bank of America, BB&T, First Union (later Wachovia), and SunTrust all list Post Office Box #39219 as Khouj's mailing address."

Lawyers for Mr. Darui say the documents "conclusively refute" Mr. Khouj's claim that Mr. Darui took checks meant for him and also reveal that "Khouj had money in an amount far exceeding what he could have accumulated from his claimed salary of approximately $2,500 a month." Mr. Darui has stated he was entitled to the money he received because it was repaying a debt for Mr. Darui housing and feeding Mr. Khouj's mistresses.

The case is providing new details of how the Saudi government funds mosques and in some cases has sought to bring in radical Wahhabi Muslims to the United States. Wahhabism is an ultraconservative form of Islam that teaches hatred of non-Muslims and democracy, and is said by some specialists to be a basis for al Qaeda's terrorist ideology.

China threats
Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell said this week that China and Russia have the capabilities to attack U.S. computer networks.

Noting that information networks are "critical to virtually every aspect of our modern life," Mr. McConnell said U.S. intelligence agencies assess that several nations, "including Russia and China, have long had the technical capabilities to target U.S. information systems for intelligence collection."

"Think of that as passive," he said. "The worrisome part is today they also could target information infrastructure systems for degradation or destruction."

China's military has been linked to widespread computer attacks on the U.S. and foreign governments in recent months. Russia's government is suspected in a crippling computer strike in Estonia last year.

Army JAGs
Army General Counsel Benedict S. Cohen wrote a letter taking issue with a report in this space about Congress quietly rewarding Army lawyers by adding a third star to the Judge Advocate General of the Army (TJAG), the service's top lawyer, despite failures to go after senior officers in the Abu Ghraib scandal.

Mr. Cohen denied that Army lawyers failed to discipline officers responsible, noting that at least one lieutenant colonel was court-martialed and one senior commander was given "non-judicial punishment."

However, Mr. Cohen, in his letter, failed to address the additional star given to the TJAG or the fact that Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, the commanding officer at Abu Ghraib, was named in the investigation of the prison scandal and should have been charged with dereliction of duty. She got away instead with the less-than-a-slap-on-the-wrist letter of admonishment.

Word in the Pentagon is that the Army never prosecuted Gen. Karpinski because it feared a trial would expose faults in the Army promotion process for reserve generals, and also would have raised more questions about other high-ranking officers responsible for Abu Ghraib. Observers note that while the Army is currently at half the numbers of troops it had during the Cold War, the number of Army lawyers increased, highlighting the problem of restricting war-fighting by "lawyering" the military.

  • Bill Gertz covers national security affairs. He can be reached at 202-636-3274, or at

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