The Cable

Exclusive: Did the U.S. government buy favorable coverage of Iraq’s Anbar Province?

U.S. taxpayer money that was supposed to be used for emergency purposes in Iraq was spent to buy a special advertising issue for an Anbar businessman in a British trade magazine, a U.S. government investigation has found.

FDI magazine, a bimonthly print publication and website owned by the Financial Times, nearly simultaneously showered Anbar Governor Qasim Abid Muhammad Hammadi Al Fahadawi with positive coverage, praising the dangerous Anbar province as "a hot place to invest in" and giving the businessman an award as "Global Personality of the Year for 2009."

FDI's award was announced three days before the "Special Report" on Anbar, entitled, "Bridge to the Future," was published on its website. The award was immediately praised by the U.S. military in Iraq, without mention of the U.S. funds spent on the supplement, and the website makes no mention of it having been paid for by the American government. Then again last month, FDI magazine Editor Courtney Fingar handed the governor another award naming Anbar province one of FDI magazine's "standout regions of the year."

Reached by The Cable, Fingar confirmed the U.S. government had spent "in the neighborhood of $50,000" on the special supplement but denied her magazine's content had been bought and paid for, calling the report on Anbar "balanced and accurate."

The investigation was disclosed in the October quarterly report of the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction (SIGIR), which is tasked with monitoring U.S. expenditures and projects in Iraq, but has so far not been publicly reported. Sources told The Cable that after the report is submitted to Congress, it's up to that body to determine if the payment violated funding rules or the law.

The 14-page special advertising edition, the SIGIR report found, was completely paid for by U.S. military money from what's called the Commanders Emergency Response Program (CERP).

"CERP was originally designed for urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction," said Deputy Inspector General Ginger Cruz told The Cable. "Over the past six years its use has been greatly expanded and expenditures such as promotional media pieces emphasize the importance of having clear criteria to ensure appropriate use of taxpayer dollars."

"It just seems odd at all parts from whatever angle you look at it," said one administration source who requested anonymity because of the sensitive relationship between SIGIR and the military. Another source called the use of emergency funding to advertize for the governor "bizarre."

Defense Department financial regulations define CERP funding as "designed to enable local commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan to respond to urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction requirements within their areas of responsibility by carrying out programs that will immediately assist the indigenous population."

Fingar told The Cable that that while "travelling to Anbar to write the supplement provided an opportunity to become aware of the developments in the province and the work of the Governor," the editorial credibility of the publication was not for sale.

"The decision to grant the award was made after my return from Anbar, based on my experiences there and without consultation with the U.S. government, Anbar governor or any external sources," she said, "The decision is an editorial one alone."

She admitted that the special edition of the publication was paid for by the U.S. government and claimed it had a clearly identified sponsor, but the website version of the supplement made no mention the U.S. government involvement.

"As per standard practice in the [business to business] specialist publishing business, the cost of the report was underwritten by a clearly identified sponsor -- in this case the US government -- but as per the very strict editorial code of conduct under which we operate at The Financial Times Ltd, reporting and editing were carried out independently and with no interference," said Fingar, who described her reporting as "balanced and accurate.'

"We stand by our coverage," she said.

The Defense Department did not respond to requests for comment.

The Cable

Report: Obama’s national security team ‘incredibly weak’

Despite an expansion of the National Security Council staff, coordination of national security policy is still dysfunctional and there is a lack of strategic guidance from President Obama, according to a group of leading outside experts and former officials.

"Reform must take place," said James Locher, President & CEO of the Project on National Security Reform (PNSR), "If you did not like what happened in the last 7 or 8 years... you're not going to like what's coming in the future."

"Momentum for reform is building, but it is largely rhetoric and good intentions," reads PNSR's new report . The congressionally funded group was begun as the result of a cooperative agreement between the Defense Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. "Strategic management of the national security system remains absent and is desperately needed to make it integrated, cohesive, and agile," the report continues.

Calling reform of the national security infrastructure "the number one national security issue," Locher said that America's ability to operate in international arenas the world over is "crippled" by the dysfunction within the system.

He called the White House's national security staff "incredibly weak," preventing integration and coordination that the National Security Council should be doing.

"There's almost no strategic guidance from the president or the executive office of the president," Locher said, adding, "We have almost no knowledge management in the national security system."

There's also no effective means for delegating the president's authority, he added.

Locher spoke a an event rolling out the latest PNSR report at the New American Foundation, hosted by its foreign policy chief and editor of The Washington Note Steve Clemons.

Clemons noted that according to the Goldwater-Nichols act, President Obama was required to submit a national security strategy by June 18, 150 days into his presidency, but he failed to do so.

The "Guiding Coalition" that oversaw the PNSR report included heavyweights such as former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine, former Amb. Robert Blackwill, retired Gen. Wesley Clark, retired Adm. Ed Giambastiani, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, plus Washington players Brent Scowcroft, Thomas Pickering, and Joseph Nye.

Last November's version of the PNSR report included input from now Obama officials Jim Jones, James Steinberg, Michele Flournoy, and Dennis Blair. It declared that "the national security of the United States of America is fundamentally at risk."