- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 19, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A congressional committee has begun an investigation into the State Department’s inspector general, accusing him of blocking fraud investigations, including potential security lapses at the newly built U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

Also under scrutiny is whether Blackwater USA, the private security firm banned this week from working in Iraq over the killing of civilians, was “illegally smuggling weapons into Iraq,” according to a letter to Inspector General Howard J. Krongard obtained yesterday by the Associated Press.

The letter was signed by Rep. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The investigation involves accusations that “your strong affinity with State Department leadership and your partisan political ties have led you to halt investigations, censor reports and refuse to cooperate with law enforcement agencies,” Mr. Krongard was told.

Based on accusations from a number of current and former senior investigators who worked for Mr. Krongard, the Waxman letter also questioned whether he adequately investigated illegal labor trafficking claims involving the Kuwaiti company that was building the Baghdad embassy.

Mr. Krongard’s office said the inspector general was “on travel” yesterday and unavailable to comment. A spokesman for the office did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

In testimony before the oversight committee in July, Mr. Krongard dismissed accusations that foreign workers were mistreated in building the new complex in Baghdad, but he acknowledged that some recruiters may have misled foreign workers about pay expectations and living conditions.

According to the letter, the panel’s staff investigators said Mr. Krongard stalled an investigation into claims that contractors building the Baghdad embassy did not adequately search for mines and other security hazards on the 104-acre compound, which included a number of tunnels.

Sean McCormack, the spokesman for the State Department, said he had not seen Mr. Waxman’s letter, which was faxed to the department yesterday morning, and that he could not speak to its charges.

The Baghdad embassy, which will be the largest in the world, is expected to be finished this month, at a cost of nearly $600 million.

A central theme running through the letter is that Mr. Krongard prevented his investigators from cooperating with Justice Department probes and refused to send his staff to Iraq and Afghanistan to look into accusations of contract fraud and wasteful spending.

Mr. Waxman also said that he has been told Mr. Krongard censored inspection reports and audits to remove information critical of the State Department.

The letter cited e-mails between staffers talking about their frustrations at not being allowed to assist the Justice Department in investigations.

The letter makes claims that Mr. Krongard:

Was warned about poor workmanship at the U.S. Embassy site, where serious electrical problems eventually occurred, but blocked invest- igations into it.

Prevented investigators from seizing evidence they thought would implicate a large State Department contractor in procurement fraud, involving computers in Afghanistan.

Obstructed a probe of Voice of America head Kenneth Tomlinson, by providing him information about the inquiry.

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