Malfeasance on an Epic Scale

  • By Ronald Goldfarb
  • March 4, 2015

A look at Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War

Malfeasance on an Epic Scale

When he was in the United States Senate, Harry Truman conducted hearings into waste and fraud in wartime WWII and became a national figure at the time and, later, of course, president. When Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) held hearings about whistleblowing and fraud among contractors carrying out our country's failed occupation of Iraq, no fame followed, though his hearings records compose a public document that ought to have awakened the media and the public to this shocking story. 

In Pay Any Price, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter James Risen tells the story of the squandered costs — economic and moral — of the Iraq misadventure. Read it and your hair will go on fire, so outrageous are the tales of theft gone unpunished in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Syria.

After 9/11, the government poured hundreds of billions of dollars into Homeland Security and counterterrorism, with many of those entities’ tasks being carried out by private contractors, subject to little oversight. Risen tells of the questionable consequences and of $20 billion sent to Iraq’s war zone “with virtually no supervision or safeguards.”

Risen concludes that $11.7 billion of the approximately $20 billion sent to Iraq “is either unaccounted for or has simply disappeared.” Controls and records were lax. “Billions of dollars in cash were wasted. And billions more simply disappeared.”

All this was kept secret by the government. Cash was spread around indiscriminately, much pocketed by corrupt officials and irresponsible intermediaries. In one instance, $700,000 simply vanished.

“While there have been some corrections, fines, forfeitures, and restitution of midlevel and enlisted officials and contractors,” Risen reports, “The biggest thieves have been far more elusive.” It amounted, in his words, to “one of the biggest acts of thievery in history.” 

To compound the economic disaster, the war on terror, Risen complains, became a “war on truth.” It fought whistleblowers who spoke out against perceived excesses and the press itself — Risen particularly — when it brought these excesses to light.

One example: An NSA official advised Diane Roark, then a staff member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, that a certain anti-terrorism program was potentially unconstitutional, but he couldn’t persuade his colleagues of its danger. Roark questioned General Michael Hayden about this, and he resisted her entreaties, adding that congressional officials had been informed of the program and approved. She raised the question with her committee colleagues and was told to drop the matter.

She called a FISA judge who didn’t talk to her but contacted the Department of Justice instead. Roark called an acquaintance, David Addington, who didn’t return her call. Everyone she called seemed to accept the executive decision that the program was legal.

Roark was told that, if challenged, they "have the majority nine votes"; the Supreme Court, presumably. Risen writes: "She had gone to all three branches of government...and had discovered that there was a conspiracy of protect an unconstitutional operation."

Roark resigned her job, moved to Oregon, and retired. Suddenly, one early morning, she was arrested by a phalanx of FBI agents who searched her home for evidence of implication in a leak. She was never charged.

These years following Sept. 11th were a period, Risen states, when "thieveries in the global war on terror reached industrial scale...Billions of dollars in cash were wasted. And billions more simply disappeared.”

He continues, “Money was spread around promiscuously, with scant record keeping, receipts, or controls.” Much of the money went to corrupt politicians in the region who never accounted for what they received. Our dispensers of these payments managed their responsibilities "in a manner arbitrary and capricious."

Our government showed no interest in uncovering this plunder, as much of it went to our people and foreign officials we encouraged. We now see the quid we got for that quo.

Ronald Goldfarb’s column, CapitaLetters, appears regularly in the Washington Independent Review of Books.

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