A newly released cable by the anti-secrecy group Wikileaks shows that the government of Kuwait repeatedly lobbied the State Department on behalf of First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting Company (First Kuwaiti), the company responsible for bungling the construction of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
The cable, sent in May 2008, includes the text of a diplomatic note from the Kuwaiti Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Secretary of State. The diplomatic note cites Kuwait’s strong relationship with the U.S. Government, including its “critical support to the war in Iraq,” before raising concerns about the “unfounded allegations” that had been voiced by Members of Congress and the press involving First Kuwaiti.
The diplomatic note called on the State Department for assistance in rehabilitating First Kuwaiti’s “public reputation and resolving completely all pending investigations of the company as soon as possible.”
In reaction to this diplomatic note, a State Department official commented that it indicated how well-connected the company is with senior leadership in the government of Kuwait:
It is clear from this second intervention, coming during the Secretary's visit and conveyed by the Amir's own senior staff, that First Kuwaiti has major connections in Kuwait—including with the Al Sabah leadership—and remains agitated over its reputation within the Department and elsewhere.
It’s unclear what impact, if any, the lobbying effort had on First Kuwaiti’s relationship with the State Department. But as POGO has documented, the State Department has not attempted to recover $132 million from First Kuwaiti for its shoddy work on the Embassy, as the Office of Inspector General recommended nearly two years ago.
In addition, the State Department has allowed First Kuwaiti to continue working on U.S. embassies around the world through a small American company that some State Department officials have called a “front” company, although that claim has been denied by the company and other State Department officials.
If nothing else, the government of Kuwait’s advocacy on behalf of First Kuwaiti illustrates the sensitive interaction between diplomacy and contracting in war zones. Since many foreign contractors have high-level connections to U.S. allies, the U.S. government may come under conflicting pressures when conducting oversight and considering holding these contractors accountable.
It's an open question whether the Kuwaiti government’s efforts contributed to U.S. taxpayers being left holding the bag in this case, but the recent cable released by Wikileaks suggests it is a real concern.
Jake Wiens is a POGO Investigator.
Image via Kuwait Ministry of Defence.