Yesterday the Wall Street Journal reported that the FBI has good reason to believe among the currency used by defense contractors Mitchell Wade and Brent Wilkes to bribe now-jailed former Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham wasn’t just money, real estate, and Liberace-like wares, but also women – and that the FBI is also investigating whether or not this particular form of influence-peddling by Wilkes may have extended to other members of Congress, or their staffs, as well. Last December, the San Diego Union-Tribune circumspectly raised this possibility in its Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation of the Cunningham affair, making a passing reference to private parties hosted by Wilkes for various legislators.
On Thursday night, Harper’s Washington Editor Ken Silverstein advanced the story, reporting via a “well-connected source” that “those under intense scrutiny by the FBI are current and former lawmakers on Defense and Intelligence committees -- including one person who now holds a powerful intelligence post.” (Silverstein also got the 62-page rap sheet of the owner of the limo service retained by Wilkes for “entertainment” purposes.) Over at TPM Muckraker, Justin Rood concluded -- not unreasonably -- that this is likely a reference to Porter Goss, and wonders if this might explain a curious staffing decision at CIA:
“Remember that Goss is the one who plucked one of Wilkes’ old San Diego friends, the unusual and colorful Kyle “Dusty” Foggo, out of CIA middle-management obscurity to be his #3 at the agency. At the time of Foggo’s appointment, no one could figure out where he came from, or how Goss knew him….[how did Goss] determine he was qualified for the CIA executive director post?”
All good questions, especially as Foggo is currently under investigation by the CIA Inspector General because of his relationship with Wilkes over possible CIA contracting improprieties, and any role he might have played in the Cunningham affair. (Update: Goss through a flack denies partying down with Wilkes at hotels) Friday morning the Union-Tribune and Laura Rozen added additional details about poker games and hotel suites presided over by Wilkes and attended by various past and present legislators and CIA officials (including one known only by his delightful nickname, “Nine Fingers," so named because he lost one of his digits while on assignment. Is it just us, or is this beginning to sound like a Sopranos episode?)
In December 2004, POGO’s Mintz-Burnham Fellow Jason Vest was the first to report on concerns from within the CIA about the appropriateness of Foggo’s sudden appointment to the number 3 slot at the CIA. Last year with Rozen, Vest reported on the Cunningham probe’s interest in Foggo and others in Government Executive and National Journal (Sorry, subscriber-only). Here is Jason Vest's take on current developments:
While the media dwells on the more salacious dimensions of the scandal, it’s first worth remembering what it’s all about: Not just that contractors were able to pay a Congressman off to get what they wanted, but that part of the way that Congressman was able to deliver what they wanted was by taking advantage of the Congressional practice of earmarks – some of which we might still not know about, as they may have been included in classified sections of legislation. While the House passed a lobbying and earmark “reform” package yesterday, there was no language in it that echoed a suggestion made back in 2003 by former CIA Inspector General L. Britt Snider: “The committees ought not to allow their Members to hide pork barrel projects behind the veil of security classification.”
Like, say, the Wilkes CIA contract, as described by the Union Tribune:
"One of Wilkes’ companies, Archer Logistics, won a contract to provide bottled water, first-aid kits and other supplies to CIA agents in Afghanistan and Iraq. The company had no previous experience with such work, having been founded a few months before the contract was granted.
Critics familiar with the contract, valued at $2 to $3 million, say the CIA overpaid for the work. The contract was approved by the CIA office in Frankfurt, Germany, where Foggo oversaw acquisitions. Foggo did not personally sign the contract, however, said unnamed CIA officials who spoke with Newsweek."
(Aside: Although not in any way hidden, federal contracting involving Wilkes’ limo provider, Shirlington Limousine and Transport Service, probably merits a closer look. How does a company run by a guy with a 62-page rap sheet get a $21 million contract for the Department of Homeland Security – and does DHS need to be doing $21 million of business with a limousine/transport company? We won’t attempt to answer the second question here, but as to the first, help from a revolving-doorista may have had something to do with it: In an October 2005 Black Enterprise article (registration required), Shirlington’s CEO, Chris Baker “credit[ed] his success” to Republican and former Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Bush (I) adviser Arthur Fletcher. According to other federal contracting documents, the company has also done work for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.)
As to other matters: For anyone covering or interested in the Duke Cunningham-Mitchell Wade-Brent Wilkes saga, the elephant in the room has been two sentences in Dean Calbreath and Jerry Kramer's seminal December 4 San Diego Union-Tribune piece on Wilkes: “Wilkes befriended other legislators, too. He ran a hospitality suite, with several bedrooms – first in the Watergate Hotel, and then in the Westin Grand near Capitol Hill.”
The inference was pretty clear: If Wilkes was bribing Duke Cunningham to get Cunningham to earmark contracts for him, he might not have been doing it just with money, but women -- and possibly other legislators beyond Cunningham as well as CIA officials were involved as well. A senior official in the Cunningham investigation last year confirmed that this was a highly possible scenario, and would, in fact, constitute a next phase of the Cunningham probe.
The scenario the FBI is investigating, according to a number of CIA sources, is perfectly reasonable, given past events of which those sources have knowledge of regarding Foggo and Wilkes. CIA watchers may remember that Goss’ first pick for CIA executive director (or ExDir), his House subcommittee staff director Mike Kostiw, never officially made it to the job after the Washington Post exposed his 1981 bacon shoplifting arrest. After Foggo was tapped to be the new ExDir in the wake of the Kostiw embarrassment, Porter Goss lieutenant Patrick Murray went to then-Associate Deputy Director of Operations for Counterintelligence Mary Margaret Graham and informed her that if anything leaked about other Goss appointments---in particular, Foggo’s---she would be held responsible. Senior CIA operations officials Steve Kappes and Mike Sulick, along with Graham, all quit over Murray’s heavy-handedness; many viewed the incident as an example of culture-clash and power struggle within the agency, nothing more or less.
But sources subsequently recommended looking at the incident through a different lens. Specifically, was there anything in Foggo’s past that would have caused chagrin or complication if it got out, or show Foggo’s appointment to be motivated more by Brownie-esque cronyism? Given that Goss’ initial choice appeared to have been picked more with an eye towards personal loyalty than anything else, was it possible that the new pick---who was suddenly getting promoted to the #3 spot in the CIA---might have a similar embarrassments in his past?
According to sources familiar with Foggo’s counterintelligence file and his performance in the field, yes. They note that much of Foggo’s CI file has to do with various social encounters over the years, none of which he’s been deceptive about when polygraphed, and all of which have been deemed to be of no threat to operational security---but are still the types of things that could be embarrassing for Goss and the Agency. An issue of unease to some in the Agency, however, has not been Foggo’s solo socializing, but what happens when Foggo and Wilkes have socialized together: Several senior CIA officials have expressed concerns about potential embarrassment over parties the two have thrown together in other overseas locations. All these are the types of things that, had they been publicly revealed a la Kostiw, very well might have caused Goss additional consternation and at least raised questions about, if not scuttled, Foggo’s appointment to ExDir---and raised more questions early on about the relationship between Foggo and Wilkes, and the relationship of each with Goss.
Separate from the public corruption investigation, these are matters that one would hope everyone from the CIA Inspector General to the Director of National Intelligence to the Intelligence Oversight Committees would take a keen interest in with regard to CIA administration. As Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) noted earlier this week when, for the first time in her career, she voted against an Intelligence Authorization Act, the CIA is in a “free fall,” with recent months seeing the undesired departure of senior intelligence executives whose combined experience totals 300 years. (According to my sources, that’s only if you talk about the most senior level). A top CIA procurement officer who Foggo has long feuded with was reportedly retired against his will last month; and apparently morale in the critical Directorate of Support (once the Directorate of Administration) is reportedly very low, with officers there leery of Foggo protege Stephanie Danes Smith’s leadership.
There’s clearly more to look into here, and also clearly more solutions on any number of fronts Congress can legislate if it wants. Indeed, Congress is certainly cognizant of the unique potential for mischief, if not damage, that can be caused at the nexus of intelligence, lobbying and contracting: An amendment to the anemic lobbying reform package the House passed yesterday includes a prohibition on former CIA station chiefs lobbying for foreign countries for five years after they retire, and an amendment to the Intelligence Authorization from Rep. David Price (D-NC) mandates greater accountability, transparency and oversight in the Intelligence Community contracting process. There’s probably more that can be done---but if the committees don’t fully and responsibly exercise their oversight powers to hold hearings and zealously investigate these matters, what’s the point?