First Kuwaiti update

Which is to say, an update on the story that contractor First Kuwaiti had used kidnapped labour to build the Mother Of All Embassies. Still very little has come out, but Rolling Stone put me onto the fact that the Justice Department is having at it, now:

The Justice Department is conducting a criminal probe into the awarding of the contract and related subcontracts in the troubled construction of the massive $736 million U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, according to sources and congressional testimony this week.

The probe came to light Wednesday during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing into the actions of State Department Inspector General Howard J. Krongard. Though lawmakers appeared careful not to mention names of people under investigation, Krongard mentioned two people during his testimony, both of whom are key figures in the building of the embassy, as he defended his practice of meeting with people under investigation.

Krongard also said Justice has “three investigations” involving Iraq, apparently referring to previously reported probes into alleged labor trafficking by First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting Co. — the construction company awarded the embassy contract — and alleged weapons smuggling by Blackwater Worldwide, which supplies security for the State Department.

Back at Rolling Stone; Krongard is the fellow investigating Blackwater – the company his brother runs (no, you can’t make this up, can you?):

State Department inspector general Howard ‘Cookie’ Krongard has come under fire for attempting to investigate Blackwater, while his brother ‘Buzzy’ — the former number three at the CIA — serves on the board.

But this simple conflict of interest — and Cookie’s inconsistent answers to congress about it — is hardly his worst sin. As I described in “Bush’s Lapdogs” — Rolling Stone’s look at the rampant cronyism and incompetence of the Bush inspector generals — Cookie headed up the State Department’s investigation of whistle-blower accusations of trafficked labor being used to build the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

Krongard — in what investigators told me was a breach of every conceivable protocol in a case like this — took on the ‘investigation’ himself. But he gave the contractor, First Kuwaiti, several month’s advance notice of his visit. He let the contractor select the six employees he would interview semi-formally. His evidence gathering consisted of chickenscratch notes “on the backs of things” because he didn’t want people to feel “uncomfortable.”

He then published an informal report whitewashing the whole incident saying he found nothing to validate the descriptions of whistleblowers like Rory Mayberry, who later testified to Congress of having witnessed Filipino workers — who thought they were headed to Dubai to work on hotels — instead having their passports seized and getting stuck on a plane and flown at gunpoint to Baghdad.

Hey – it sure seems to me that we’re the people to go around lecturing the world on transparency and keeping out corruption.

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