“If a T-wall tips over in Baghdad but there’s no media around to hear it, will it make a sound? What if it crushes a local national contractor working on a USG facility— will anyone mention the man’s death, or can we expect radio silence as usual? It’s becoming clear that no one back home really cares about what’s going on over here….it’s like 2004 all over again.”
U.S. Soldiers of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, guide a concrete barrier into a new position at Joint Security Station Loyalty, eastern Baghdad, Iraq, on May 17, 2009. Photo by Staff Sgt. James Selesnick
Note: “T-Walls” or Texas barriers can reached upwards of 12 to 18 feet in height. Some of the tallest reach 24 feet. According to army.mil, t-walls of the larger variety became symbols of life in Iraq although several variations of shapes and sizes also abound around Iraq. Read more here.
A 2011 ranking of private USAID partners by devex.com lists LBG as the third largest USAID private-sector partner that has contracted some of the government’s largest post-conflict redevelopment projects in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to Bloomberg, Louis Berger International, a unit of Louis Berger Group, got about $736 million to modernize a power system and rehabilitate the Kajakai Dam in Afghanistan. Whoa! We thought that dam only cost $305.5 million! Plus cost of fuel that US taxpayers also had to shoulder.
What is missing from this announcement? How much was the total contracts that LBG received in the last 20 years? Who’s paying the independent monitor? And for heaven’s sake, what lessons are we sending to other reconstruction capitalists doing awesome work for love of god and country?
The former president, chief executive officer, and chairman of the board of a New Jersey-based international engineering consulting company was sentenced today to 12 months of home confinement and fined $4.5 million for conspiring to defraud the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) with respect to billions of dollars in contracts over a nearly 20-year period, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
Derish Wolff, 79, of Bernardsville, New Jersey, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Anne E. Thompson to a superseding information charging conspiracy to defraud the government with respect to claims. Judge Thompson imposed the sentence today in Trenton federal court.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
Wolff, the former president and CEO of Morristown, New Jersey-based Louis Berger Group Inc. (LBG), and the former chairman of LBG’s parent company, Berger Group Holdings Inc. (BGH), led a conspiracy to defraud USAID by billing the agency on so-called “cost-reimbursable” contracts – including hundreds of millions of dollars of contracts for reconstructive work in Iraq and Afghanistan – for LBG’s overhead and other indirect costs at falsely inflated rates.
USAID, an independent federal government agency that advances U.S. foreign policy by supporting economic growth, agriculture, trade, global health, democracy, and humanitarian assistance in developing countries, including countries destabilized by violent conflict, awarded LBG hundreds of millions of dollars in reconstruction contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as in other nations. LBG calculated certain overhead rates and charged USAID and other federal agencies these rates on cost-reimbursable contracts, which enabled LBG to pass on their overhead costs to the agency in general proportion to how much labor LBG devoted to the government contracts.
From at least 1990 through July 2009, LBG, through Wolff and other former executives, intentionally overbilled USAID in connection with these cost-reimbursable contracts. The scheme to defraud the government was carried out by numerous LBG employees at the direction of Wolff.
Wolff targeted a particular overhead rate, irrespective of what the actual rate was, and ordered his subordinates to achieve that target rate through a variety of fraudulent means. From at least as early as 1990 through 2000, Wolff ordered LBG’s assistant controller to instruct the accounting department to pad its time sheets with hours ostensibly devoted to federal government projects when it had not actually worked on such projects.
At an LBG annual meeting in September 2001, Salvatore Pepe, who was then the controller and eventually became chief financial officer (CFO), presented a USAID overhead rate that was significantly below Wolff’s target. In response, Wolff denounced Pepe, called him an “assassin” of the overhead rate and ordered him to target a rate above 140 percent, meaning that for every dollar of labor devoted to a USAID contract, LBG would receive an additional $1.40 in overhead expenses supposedly incurred by LBG.
In response, Pepe and former controller Precy Pellettieri, with Wolff’s supervision, hatched a fraudulent scheme from 2003 through 2007 to systematically reclassify the work hours of LBG’s corporate employees, including high-ranking executives and employees in the general accounting division, to make it appear as if those employees worked on federal projects when they did not. At his plea hearing on Dec. 12, 2014, Wolff admitted that Pepe and Pellettieri, at Wolff’s direction, reclassified these hours without the employees’ knowledge and without investigating whether the employees had correctly accounted for their time, and at times did so over an employee’s objection.
In addition to padding employees’ work hours with fake hours supposedly devoted to USAID work, Wolff instructed his subordinates to charge all commonly shared overhead expenses, such as rent, at LBG’s Washington, D.C., office to an account created to capture USAID-related expenses, even though the D.C. office supported many projects unrelated to USAID or other federal government agencies.
On Nov. 5, 2010, Pepe and Pellettieri both pleaded guilty before then-U.S. Magistrate Judge Patty Shwartz to separate informations charging them with conspiring to defraud the government with respect to claims. Also on that date, LBG resolved criminal and civil fraud charges related to Wolff’s and others’ conduct. The components of the settlement included:
a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA), pursuant to which the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey suspended prosecution of a criminal complaint charging LBG with a violation of the Major Fraud Statute; in exchange, LBG agreed, among other things, to pay $18.7 million in related criminal penalties; make full restitution to USAID; adopt effective standards of conduct, internal controls systems, and ethics training programs for employees; and employ an independent monitor who would evaluate and oversee the company’s compliance with the DPA for a two-year period;
a civil settlement that required the company to pay the government $50.6 million to resolve allegations that LBG violated the False Claims Act by charging inflated overhead rates that were used for invoicing on government contracts; and an administrative agreement between LBG and USAID, which was the primary victim of the fraudulent scheme.
In the settlement, the government took into consideration LBG’s cooperation with the investigation and the fact that those responsible for the wrongdoing were no longer associated with the company.
Media reports say that a car bomb went off at 5:40 pm local time in front of the U.S. Consulate General in Irbil, in northern Iraq today. An unnamed senior State Department official told ABC News it was a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED). Other reports say the target was the local cafe near the consulate. The AP reports that no consulate personnel or local guards were wounded. There are local casualties but the number has not been officially released. McClatchy’s Mitchell Prothero in Iraq reports that “the entrance to the consulate appeared to have been struck by a bomber on foot.”
U.S. Consulate Erbil (Irbil) is headed by FSO Joseph Pennington who assumed his duties as Consul General in northern Iraq in July 2013.
IRBIL, Iraq (AP) — Car bomb explodes outside US Consulate in northern #Iraq city of Irbil
WaPo covered the ambushed and abduction of four Americans and an Austrian employed by Crescent Security Group, a small private security firm in Iraq in July 2007. In March 2008, U.S. authorities were reported to be in possession of five severed fingers, four of which belong to private security contractors. In May 2008, the FBI identified the remains of the kidnapped contractors. This case was originally filed on March 22, 2010, Munns et al v. Clinton et al; case number 2:2010cv00681.
Via Opinion from the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, filed on Mar 20, 2015 (pdf):
The panel affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs’ equitable claims due to lack of standing and their federal benefits claims due to lack of jurisdiction, and vacated the district court’s dismissal of the due process and takings claims for withheld back pay and insurance proceeds in an action brought against United States government officials by family members and a coworker of three Americans who were kidnapped and killed while providing contract security services during the United States military occupation of Iraq.
This case arises from the kidnappings and brutal killings of three Americans who were providing contract security services during the United States military occupation of Iraq. The plaintiffs, who include family members and a former coworker of these three men, brought suit against United States government officials to challenge policies governing the supervision of private contractors and the response to kidnappings of American citizens in Iraq (“policy claims”). They also claim the government is withholding back pay, life insurance proceeds and government benefits owed to the families of the deceased contractors (“monetary claims”).
The district court dismissed the policy claims for lack of standing and for presenting nonjusticiable political questions. It dismissed the monetary claims for failure to establish a waiver of the government’s sovereign immunity from suits for damages and for failure to state a claim for which relief could be granted. We hold that the plaintiffs have not shown they are likely to be harmed in the future by the challenged policies. They therefore lack standing to seek prospective declaratory and injunctive relief regarding those policies. We further hold that the plaintiffs have failed to allege a governmental waiver of sovereign immunity that would confer jurisdiction in the district court over their monetary claims. Finally, we hold that the United States Court of Federal Claims has jurisdiction over the plaintiffs’ claims for withheld back pay and insurance proceeds, and we direct the district court to transfer those claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1631. We thus affirm in part and vacate in part and remand.
In November 2006, while working for Crescent, contractors Munns, Young and Cote were assigned to guard a 46-truck convoy traveling from Kuwait to southern Iraq. The plaintiffs allege that on the day of the convoy, Crescent issued the men substandard military equipment and ordered other security team members not to accompany them on the convoy, and that Iraqi security team members slated to join the convoy failed to show up for work, leaving only seven contractors to guard the convoy. When the convoy stopped at an Iraqi police checkpoint, 10 armed men approached and, along with the Iraqi police, took five of the contractors captive, including Munns, Young and Cote. The men were held for over a year, until their kidnappers brutally executed them sometime in 2008.
The plaintiffs trace the contractors’ kidnappings and murders to Crescent’s failure to adequately prepare and supervise its personnel in Iraq. They allege Crescent’s deficient conduct was “officially sanctioned” by the Secretary of State through an unlawful order issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) overseeing the U.S. occupation. CPA Order 17 allegedly gave “blanket immunity [to contractors] from all prosecution,” granting them a “license to kill” with impunity and permitting contractors to “circumvent the authority of Congress, the Courts, and the Constitution.”2 Additionally, the plaintiffs say they heard rumors that CPA Order 17, and the consequent lawless behavior of some security contractors, may have been the motivation behind the kidnappings.
Circuit Judge Reinhardt:
The more troubling and painful question is what the role of our government should be if and when terrorist groups like ISIS or Al Queda capture an American citizen and hold him hostage, and whether the government may, or should, impose any limitation on the rights of the citizen’s family or friends to communicate with that group or pay a ransom. It is significant that the government has told this court that currently there are no policies preventing private individuals from making efforts to secure the release of relatives who are held captive abroad. More important however from the standpoint of the legal rules that govern us, the parties bringing the action – relatives of contractors’ employees “brutally killed,” as Judge Fisher puts it, in the Middle East – seek no damages resulting from that policy but simply seek to have the policy declared unlawful. They ask that the government be enjoined from implementing the policy in the future. Again, even assuming that contrary to what the government tells us, such a policy exists, we cannot under well established legal rules render a decision that will be of no immediate benefit to the individuals bringing the lawsuit. Because the plaintiffs have no relatives currently in the Middle East, or currently in greater danger from terrorist groups than any of the rest of us, we again face only a hypothetical question – the kind that courts do not answer
Read in full online here or download the opinion in pdf file here.
The Crisis Management Training office out of FSI has a running tally of posts evacuated in the last two decades but it’s not available to the public. The 2016 budget justification for USAID and the State Department does include a list of posts that went on evac status in FY2013 and FY2014. I think I’ve covered all the post evacution on this list except for the one in Los Cabos, Mexico (how did I miss that?)
Also note that in June 2014, Embassy Baghdad personnel were “temporarily relocated” both to the Consulate Generals in Basra and Erbil and to the Iraq Support Unit in Amman, Jordan but that personnel movement does not appear to be considered an “evacuation.” Might that be because Iraq constitute a different/separate congressional funding request?
Fiscal Year 2013 Evacuations (October 2012-September 2013)
Bangui, Central African Republic
Fiscal Year 2014 Evacuations (October 2013-September 2014)
EDCS funding is heavily influenced by unpredictable evacuations that may occur as a result of natural disasters, epidemics, terrorist acts, and civil unrest. Recent demands include Sierra time Leone’s Ebola-related emergency evacuation and the evacuation of the embassy in Ukraine due to the ongoing conflict.
EDCS also funds certain activities relating to the conduct of foreign affairs by senior Administration officials. These activities generally take place in connection with the U.S. hosting of U.S. Government-sponsored conferences, such as the UN and OAS General Assemblies, the G-20 Summit, the Nuclear Security Summit, the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, the Asian-Pacific Economic (APEC) Summit, and the NATO Summit. In FY 2014, the U.S. hosted the U.S. – Africa Leaders’ Summit. In FY 2015, the U.S. will begin the two-year Chairmanship of the Arctic Council. In FY 2016, the Department will host the Nuclear Security Summit.
Other EDCS activities include presidential, vice presidential, and congressional delegation travel overseas; official visits and official gifts for foreign dignitaries; representation requirements of senior Department officials; rewards for information on international terrorism, narcotics trafficking, transnational organized crime, and war crimes; as well as the expansion of publicity efforts.
Last Friday, the State Department announced a couple new websites for the Global Coalition to Degrade and Defeat ISIL out of State and DOD. Via Foggy Bottom’s official spox:
“This webpage has the most up-to-date public information about the coalition, including the latest stats on members and their public support for coalition efforts. Our colleagues at DOD have today also launched their website, defense.gov/counter-ISIL, which has up-to-the-minute information about the military line of this coalition effort, targeting – targeted operations against ISIL terrorists and infrastructure.”
The website includes a list of “over 60 coalition partners” who apparently “have committed themselves to the goals of eliminating the threat posed by ISIL and have already contributed in various capacities to the effort to combat ISIL in Iraq, the region and beyond.” The list is long, but short on specifics on what exactly each of this coalition partner is willing to do/or currently or in the future is doing in the fight to “degrade and defeat ISIL” (what happened to destroy?). It sounds like everybody wants to fly their planes for bombing strikes. But we were listening with our bad ears, so who knows.
One notable exception. The new website mentions “a critical contribution of $500 million by Saudi Arabia to the humanitarian response in Iraq, [that] have been essential.” On October 7, media reports say that Vice President Biden apologized to a top Saudi official for his remarks suggesting that key U.S. allies destabilized Syria by sending arms and money to extremists. “The Turks … the Saudis, the Emiratis, etc.” Uh-oh!
And — since this is officially a war, even if Congress did not have the guts to debate this, we’ve got to give this a name. We had GWOT, but that term had fallen out of favor, so we really need a new name for this war against ISIL.
Below is an F/A-18C Hornet attached to Strike Fighter Squadron 87 prepares to launch from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush in the Persian Gulf to conduct strike missions against Islamic State of Iraq (ISIL) targets, Sept. 23, 2014. Check out DOD’s website on Targeted Operations Against ISIL.
U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Robert Burck
DOD’s website looks more fleshed out than the State Department’s but makes one wonder why each needed a separate website. This is a united, interagency effort of the U.S. Government with coalition partners, is it not? Is the FBI going to roll out its own Targeted Operations Against ISIS inside the United States separately for those wanna-be jihadists, too? Is DHS/ICE going to have a separate one for its Targeted Operations Against ISIL in all our border crossings and what is DHS/TSA’s plans for the jihadists returning home from their vacations abroad?
Speaking of Iraq — and we apologize in advance if you fall off your chair — here is Foggy Bottom’s clip of the day:
State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki has trouble finding evidence of successes in Iraq | http://t.co/q30trEoDEb
Secretary Kerry Poses for a Photo With General Allen, Ambassador Jones, Assistant Secretary Patterson, and Deputy Assistant Secretary McGurk at Ambassador Jones’ Swearing-in Ceremony From left to right, General John Allen, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. Ambassador-designate to Iraq Stuart Jones, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Anne Patterson, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Brett McGurk pose for a photo at the swearing-in ceremony for Ambassador Jones at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on September 17, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]
As of this writing, Embassy Baghdad’s website is still showing Robert Stephen Beecroft as the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. Ambassador Beecroft was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the next ambassador to Cairo on June 26, 2014.
Prior to his appointment to Baghdad, Ambassador Jones was the COM at the US Embassy in Jordan. President Obama announced his nomination on May 8, 2014. He was confirmed by the Senate together with Ambassador Beecroft on June 26, 2014. The WH released the following brief bio at that time:
Ambassador Stuart E. Jones, a career member of the Foreign Service, Class of Career Minister, is currently the U.S. Ambassador to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, a position he has held since 2011. Ambassador Jones previously served in Iraq as Deputy Chief of Mission in Baghdad from 2010 to 2011 and as Governorate Coordinator for Al Anbar Province in 2004. He was Director for Iraq on the National Security Council staff from 2004 to 2005. Ambassador Jones served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs at the Department of State from 2008 to 2010. Prior to this, he was Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt from 2005 to 2008. Ambassador Jones served as Political Counselor in Ankara, Turkey from 2000 to 2002, and Principal Officer in Adana, Turkey from 1997 to 2000. He served as Legal Advisor at the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador, El Salvador from 1990 to 1992 and as Consular Officer in Bogota, Colombia from 1988 to 1989. At the Department of State, he served as Deputy Director for European Regional Political Military Affairs and as Desk Officer for Serbia. Ambassador Jones also was the Executive Assistant to the Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations from 1994 to 1996. He received an A.B. from Duke University and a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania.
Secretary Kerry’s top Iraq team members also joined Ambassador Jones’ swearing-in ceremony. On September 13, 2014, the State Department announced the appointment of General John Allen as the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Brett McGurk as his deputy senior envoy with the rank of Ambassador.
The United States has asked one of our most respected and experienced military experts, General John Allen, to join the State Department to serve as Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL. In this role, General Allen will help build and sustain the coalition so it can operate across multiple lines of effort in order to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL. General Allen is a patriot and a remarkable leader. His extraordinary career in the military speaks for itself. Whether as the top commander of NATO’s ISAF forces in Afghanistan during a critical period from 2011-2013, or as a deputy commander in Anbar during the Sunni awakening, or as a thinker, scholar, and teacher at the U.S. Naval Academy. And he has done significant public service out of uniform since he returned to civilian life. His commitment to country and to service has really been enduring.
Most recently we worked together very closely in designing new approaches to meet the long-term security needs of the state of Israel, and I could not be more pleased than to have General Allen coming on board now fulltime at the State Department.
He’ll be joined by a terrific team, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Brett McGurk, who will serve as General Allen’s deputy senior envoy with the rank of Ambassador. Not only has Brett been back and forth to Baghdad and Erbil almost every month this past year, but he has also spent a number of years over the past decade posted in Iraq as a top advisor to three different Ambassadors. Brett is one of our foremost experts on Iraq, and he will be integral to this effort’s success. Both General Allen and Ambassador McGurk will begin work immediately.
Hello SPE/GCCISIL! Not sure if this will be a separate office and how many staffers it will have. The Special Envoys and Reps according to the official org chart report directly to the Secretary. As of this time, we could not locate General Allen in the organizational chart or the telephone directory. Ambassador McGurk (doesn’t he need confirmation?) is still listed as a DAS for Iran/Iraq.