- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A scathing government accountability report issued Tuesday shows that the State Department has fallen far short of meeting congressional standards for assessing the threat of Iran in Latin America.

The State Department’s assessment of Iranian threats became the subject of an investigation by the Government Accountability Office after lawmakers raised concerns that a multiagency strategy for countering Iran’s “growing hostile presence and activity in the Western Hemisphere” was limited in scope.

In a 30-page oversight report, investigators accused State Department officials of developing a strategy that failed to meet the standards of the Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act of 2012, which President Obama signed into law December 2012.

Under the act, the State Department was required to consult with the heads of the departments of defense, homeland security, justice and treasury as well as the offices of the director of national intelligence and the U.S. trade representative prior to developing the strategy.

The report, conducted from January 2013 through September, shows the State Department consulted with the intelligence agencies and then delivered to Congress a classified strategy report that blatantly skipped over “12 distinct elements that the act said should be included in the strategy.”

“For example, the strategy contains information describing the operations of Iran, but does not include a plan to address U.S. interests to ensure energy supplies from the Western Hemisphere are free from foreign manipulation,” the report states. “State and ODNI officials reported several reasons why the strategy may not fully address the information identified in the law. For example, State said it only included information in the strategy if it deemed the activity identified in the law to be a threat to the United States.”

Christopher Flaggs, the State Department’s acting comptroller of the department, bureau of the comptroller and global financial services, told investigators that the department did not address certain portions of the act when developing its strategy because they overlapped with the National Strategy to Combat Terrorism.

“The National Strategy To Combat Terrorism provides the United States Government’s strategic guidance for securing our borders from terrorist threats,” Mr. Flaggs said in a Sept. 19 letter. “It is lengthy and did not need to be repeated in the strategy.”

Although oversight investigators were unable to view certain portions of the classified strategy, they were able to ascertain that the State Department had included a list of the activities that Iran conducts in the Western Hemisphere and a summary of the diplomatic and economic relationships it maintains with countries in the region. The strategy noted that Venezuela is “the key to Iran’s activities in the region,” oversight investigators said in their report.

Oversight investigators noted that the report and the accompanying supporting material that State Department officials delivered to lawmakers in mid-2013 made “the assumption that Iran will continue its outreach to the Western Hemisphere” even though “the Iranian influence in the Western Hemisphere is waning,” according to oversight investigators.

Rep. Jeff Duncan, who sponsored the Western Hemisphere Act of 2012, said in an Oct. 21 letter to the editor of The Hill that he was stunned by the State Department’s “flippant attempt to follow the law.”

“The security of the American people and our interests in Latin America require a cohesive strategy and clear situational awareness of Iranian activity,” the South Carolina Republican said. “Iran should not have the capability to direct or support terrorist activity in our own hemisphere. We must do more to connect the dots, secure our borders, and protect the U.S. homeland.”

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