The Cable

Bipartisan calls for firing of Afghanistan oversight official

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, became the second senator to call for the ouster of Arnie Fields, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, whose office received a failing grade in a new report on its investigations into the use of billions of dollars of U.S. taxpayer funds.

"The recent findings of the independent review of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) are appalling and confirm that there is clearly a lack of competent senior leadership in this agency," Coburn said. "Fraud, corruption and wasted resources are placing our soldiers and the mission in Afghanistan in danger.  The president must take swift action and replace the Inspector General and his top staff and immediately appoint an aggressive and independent watchdog who will oversee the billions of dollars the United States is sending there."

Earlier this week, the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), which serves as an oversight board of all inspectors general in the U.S. government, issued a scathing report on the work of SIGAR, which came after months of congressional angst over what certain lawmakers see as the organization's shoddy work product.

"In our view, the safeguards and management procedures in this organization did not provide reasonable assurance of conforming with professional standards in the conduct of its investigations from the inception of SIGAR to April 16, 2010," the panel wrote.

Fields responded in a letter that funding delays had prevented him from "building the capacity necessary to address my investigative mandate," and said he had already taken measures to address the panel's concerns.

Coburn had requested the review, along with Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-MO, and Susan Collins, R-ME. McCaskill called for Fields to be fired on the day the report was issued.

On Tuesday, The Cable caught up with McCaskill and she said she wanted to see the entire SIGAR office reorganized and folded into its sister organization, the Office of the Special Inspector for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).

"We need one inspector general that covers all crisis situations so we can have some accountability and consistency in this mission," she said.

SIGIR head Stuart Bowen has suggested a Special Inspector General for Overseas Contingecy Operations (SIGOCO) as a minor part of its lessons learned project, although his office has not been involved in the current imbroglio regarding SIGAR. 

On a separate track, his office has been shopping around town his idea for a new U.S. government agency that would manage all reconstruction efforts in areas where the military is deployed. He calls it the U.S. Office for Contingency Operations.

"It assumes that over time, contingencies will occur," Bowen told The Cable last November, "It's sort of like FEMA. FEMA is set up to address disasters, but disasters aren't continuous. The history of the last 50 years, with 15 contingencies or so, indicates that the next 50 years will probably have more contingency operations."

The SIGAR office Tuesday declined to comment on Coburn's statement.

The Cable

Over dinner, senators press Cameron on Lockerbie bomber

British Prime Minister David Cameron was quite clear in saying Tuesday afternoon that he has no intention of initiating a new British investigation in the release of Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset Al-Megrahi, but four senators pressed him for concessions Tuesday evening, including asking him to make British officials available for a coming congressional hearing on the issue.

The request puts Cameron in a difficult position. The British public is already upset that its new government is seeming to play into speculation that BP had some role in lobbying for the release of Megrahi, who was released last year to Libya for health reasons but has stubbornly refused to die.

Cameron said Tuesday afternoon, while standing next to President Obama at the White House, that the Scottish Parliament had already completed an investigation and that London had already released reams of information on the case. He pledged to direct his government to go back and see if there wasn't any more information that could be made available.

"I'm not currently minded that we need to have a UK-based inquiry on this -- partly for this reason:  I don't need an inquiry to tell me what was a bad decision," he said. "It was a bad decision."

But that's not quite good enough for Sens. Robert Menendez, D-NJ, Frank Lautenberg, D-NJ, Chuck Schumer, D-NY, and Kirstin Gillibrand, D-NY, who met Cameron at the home of British Ambassador Sir Nigel Sheinwald Tuesday evening.

In an interview Tuesday, Menendez told The Cable just before the meeting that he would continue to press Cameron to make British officials available for a coming Senate hearing that would examine the British government's involvement and any possible interactions with BP regarding Megrahi's release.

"We certainly appreciate the cooperation and hopefully the cooperation will be manifested by helping us getting the right witnesses that we are asking for," Menendez said. "I am disappointed that where he has the ability to look at what transpired with the British government's interaction with the Scottish and Libyan governments, that he would be in the best position to get to the truth."

Menendez, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that senators' concerns over the case trumped any worry that focusing on the issue could harm U.S.-UK relations.

"This is beyond our bilateral relationship with the British; this is a question of what messaging do we want to send to terrorists. Do we want to tell them you can kill Americans and others and at the end of the day still get out of jail? That's the wrong message," he said.

CNN reported that the meeting lasted for 45 minutes and that no pledges or promises by Cameron were made. Sen. John Kerry, D-MA, told The Cable that the hearing has been scheduled for next week.

Cameron had several meetings on Capitol Hill Tuesday: one with Sens. John McCain, R-AZ, and Lindsey Graham, R-SC, and another with Kerry and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, chairwoman of the Foreign Relations subcommittee on Europe.

Shaheen told The Cable that she asked Cameron about British interest in EU enlargement, specifically for countries in the western Balkans.

"He confirmed that he is a very big proponent of enlargement. It's been good for Britain and he will continue to support that," she said.

NSC spokesman Mike Hammer said before Cameron's meeting with Obama that the two leaders' hour-long one-on-one session would predominantly focus on the situation in Afghanistan. Cameron said that Britain could begin pulling out troops next year, based on conditions on the ground, and promised there would not be a large British troop presence by 2015.