On August 10, a Senior State Department official held an on-background briefing on State/OIG’s still unreleased report of the May 2019 Emergency Certification for Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Jordan.
The cover memo to Pol-Mil that accompanied the IG report dated August 10 says that “OIG will distribute a copy of this report to Congress and post a redacted version of this report on OIG’s public website within 2 business days.” Then the agency basically Bill Barred the IG report, putting a fine spin on the IG report, most likely expecting a couple of days of most favorable headlines.
State/OIG posted the report online on Tuesday, August 11. But nice try by Foggy Bottom’s spin-doctors. Now folks got to read the actual report though a redacted one. The IG report says that “In a memorandum dated July 27, 2020, the Department asserted that its requested redactions were necessary to protect executive branch confidentiality interests and, further, stated its position that the Secretary “has the authority to direct the OIG not to disclose privileged information, and the Department may do so without any final assertion of executive privilege.”
Well, not only redactions from the public report, but a more extensive redactions from the classified report that they also want to withhold from the Congress:
“On August 5, 2020, the Department provided its redactions to OIG’s report. Although the Department withheld relatively little information in the unclassified portion of the report,4 it withheld significant information in the classified annex necessary to understand OIG’s finding and recommendation.”
“Department asserted that the redactions made to the classified annex should be withheld from Congress because the underlying information implicates “executive branch confidentiality interests, including executive privilege.”
But see, if the State Department could assert any redaction for State/OIG’s work products, including in the classified annex to be withheld from Congress, what’s to keep Pompeo from asserting the same thing over IG investigations related to him, his wife, or any other senior officials?
Summary of Review of Arms Transfers
“In response to congressional requests, OIG reviewed the Department of State’s (Department) role in arms transfers to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates following the Secretary’s May 2019 certification that an emergency existed under Section 36 of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA). 2 The Secretary’s emergency certification3 waived congressional review requirements for 22 arms transfer cases to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan,4 with a total value of approximately $8.1 billion. Congress had previously placed holds5 on 15 of the 22 arms transfer cases included in the May 2019 emergency certification. At the time the Secretary certified the emergency, 6 of the 15 cases had been held by Congress for more than a year. The held cases included at least $3.8 billion in precision-guided munitions (PGMs) 6 and related transfers. In explaining the decision to place the holds, members of Congress cited concerns about the actions of the Saudi-led Coalition (Coalition)7 in Yemen since 2015, including high rates of civilian casualties caused by Coalition airstrikes employing U.S.- supplied PGMs.
For this review, OIG examined the process and timeline associated with the Secretary’s May 2019 use of emergency authorities contained in the AECA. OIG also evaluated the Department’s implementation of measures designed to reduce the risk of civilian harm caused by Saudi-led Coalition military operations in Yemen and analyzed Department processes for reviewing arms transfers that do not require notification to Congress. 8 The AECA affords the President or Secretary considerable discretion in determining what constitutes an emergency. Moreover, the AECA does not define the term “emergency.” Accordingly, OIG did not evaluate whether the Iranian malign threats cited in the Secretary’s May 2019 certification and associated memorandum of justification constituted an emergency, nor did OIG make any assessment of the policy decisions underlying the arms transfers and the associated emergency.
OIG determined that the Secretary’s emergency certification was executed in accordance with the requirements of the AECA. However, OIG also found that the Department did not fully assess risks and implement mitigation measures to reduce civilian casualties and legal concerns associated with the transfer of PGMs included in the May 2019 emergency certification.9 In addition, OIG found the Department regularly approved arms transfers to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that fell below AECA thresholds that trigger notification to Congress. These approvals included items such as PGM components on which Congress had placed holds in cases where the transfers reached the thresholds requiring congressional notification. However, the AECA does not require the Department to notify Congress if it approves transactions below those thresholds specified in the law. OIG issued one recommendation to the Department in a classified annex10 that accompanies this report.”
Wait, the “emergency certification was executed in accordance with the requirements of the AECA” but the OIG made no evaluation whether it was an emergency? So, that’s something. Was this the same position taken by the former IG Steve Linick?
Sections 36(b)(1), 36(c)(1), and 36(d)(1) of the Arms Export Control Act (22 U.S.C. § 2776) specify the types of arms transfers that must be notified to Congress. For example, transfers to countries other than NATO members, Japan, Australia, the Republic of Korea, Israel, or New Zealand of major defense equipment in excess of $14 million and non-major defense equipment in excess of $50 million must be notified to Congress.
4,221 Below-Threshold Arms Transfers Estimated at $11.2 Billion
OIG reviewed Department records on approved arms transfer cases involving Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that fell below the AECA thresholds that trigger notification to Congress.41 The records show the Department approved a total of 4,221 below-threshold arms transfers involving Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with an estimated total value of $11.2 billion since January 2017. Components of PGMs were among the below-threshold transfers to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates approved during this period. Although the Department approved below-threshold transfers of PGM components as early as January 2017, the Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security notified the Secretary in 2018 and 2019 that the Department intended to proceed with additional below-threshold approvals notwithstanding congressional holds on larger, above-threshold transfers of similar items.
So basically, the State Department did separate below threshold arms transfers to Saudi Arabia and UAE and avoided the required congressional notifications. Apparently, it will continue to do so despite congressional holds on similar items.
Looks like the State Department is daring Congress to do something about this. Here’s Pompeo also touting full “vindication.”
Also on August 11, Politico’s tireless reporter Nahal Toosi covering the State Department published a copy of the same OIG report, unredacted.