The Cable

State Department training Islamic political parties in Egypt

U.S. assistance to Egypt is helping political parties of all ideologies prepare for the upcoming elections -- even Islamic parties that may have anti-Western agendas.

"We don't do party support. What we do is party training.... And we do it to whoever comes," William Taylor, the State Department's director of its new office for Middle East Transitions, said in a briefing with reporters today. "Sometimes, Islamist parties show up, sometimes they don't. But it has been provided on a nonpartisan basis, not to individual parties."

The programs, contracted through the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI), include helping political parties in Egypt conduct polling, provide constituent services, and prepare for election season. NDI's chairwoman is former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. IRI's chairman is Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)

Taylor said that none of the U.S. funding that has gone to election preparation is coordinated or vetted through the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which assumed power after the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak.

"It absolutely does not go to the SCAF," he said, noting that the Egyptian military still receives billions in military aid from the United States.

Taylor, who just got back from a trip to Egypt and Tunisia, said that he left Egypt unworried about the SCAF holding on to power after the coming elections.

"They wanted to make it very clear to this American sitting on the other side of the table that they didn't like the governing business," he said. "I do believe that they are uncomfortable governing. Some would say they're not doing a great job of it. "

Taylor led a similar office in the 1990s that coordinated policy in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Soviet Union. He is pressing for $2 billion in new aid to Egypt, half in loans and half in debt forgiveness, but acknowledged that the U.S. fiscal situation is not nearly as good now as it was then.

"This is a tight time on budgets here, as we all know. And when [State Department spokeswoman] Toria [Nuland] and I worked together earlier, we had a lot more money to put in to the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe," he said. "Now, that having been said, we recognize that there are other countries that are eager to provide support, and we support that."

But Taylor also said that promises of financial assistance to Egypt from other countries in the region have not materialized, leaving Egypt's government with little choice but to accept billions of dollar in loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank -- loans that come with strings attached.

"The IMF was in Egypt, and they put an offer of about $3 billion on the table for the finance minister. The finance minister was interested. He went to the SCAF. The SCAF said, ‘No, thank you.' The finance minister told the IMF, ‘No, thank you.' But just last week when I was there, he told me that he's likely to be able to accept an IMF offer this time," Taylor said.

Egypt owes the United States about $1 billion over the next three years from previous loans, but if Congress agrees, the State Department wants to let Egypt keep that money and spend it on its political transition, with U.S. consultation.

"We, the United States government, will agree with you, the Egyptian government, on how to spend that billion dollars in Egypt," Taylor said. "But it won't come here. It won't come back to the Treasury. It'll stay there and do projects that we are working on right now."

Taylor said the money would be spent on an "identifiable" joint project that would show Egyptians that "yes, we do care if your transition works."

The Cable

Senators call on State Department to cooperate with SIGIR

The war in Iraq may be ending, but the fight over who gets to oversee the billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars still being spent there is just heating up.

The Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) -- led by Stuart Bowen -- has been embroiled in a fight with the State Department, which has blocked SIGIR inspectors from assessing State's multi-billion dollar Iraqi police training program.

The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) reported last week that SIGIR managed to complete the report, which stated that the State Department "does not have a current assessment of Iraqi police forces' capabilities ... such an assessment is essential for effective program targeting."

"The SIGIR audit berated [the State Department] in its first sentence for failing to cooperate in the investigation, which ‘resulted in limited access to key officials and documents,'" POGO noted. "The IG was still able to complete the investigation however, through ‘limited discussions' and ‘documents obtained from other sources.'"

On Tuesday, five U.S. senators wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to urge her department to cooperate with SIGIR and provide SIGIR with requested information and documents.

"The State Department is explicitly directed to provide whatever information or assistance is needed by SIGIR, so long as SIGIR's request is ‘practicable and not in contravention of any existing law.'  In addition, State Department officials are prohibited from ‘prevent[ing] or prohibit[ing] the Inspector General from initiating, carrying out, or completing any audit' related to funds involved in Iraq reconstruction," the senators wrote. "Despite these requirements, the State Department has failed to provide SIGIR with adequate assistance and access to information and documents."

The letter's signatories were Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), Susan Collins (R-ME), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Tom Coburn (R-OK), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

"SIGIR is perfectly free ... to audit the reconstruction activities in Iraq. They are not free to audit the base element of the State Department. That is within the jurisdiction of three other entities," Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy told the Wartime Contracting Commission in a hearing last month.

The senators wrote that SIGIR "has jurisdiction to audit all Iraq reconstruction funds, including those spent on contracts which may also support other State Department activities."

"It is absurd for Under Secretary Kennedy, or whoever it is, to suggest that the State Department is suffering from too much oversight in Iraq," a senior GOP Senate aide told The Cable today. "He should take some time and read the Commission on Wartime Contracting report."

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Full text of the senators' letter after the jump:



SENATORS URGE SECRETARY CLINTON TO PROTECT SIGIR'S INDEPENDENCE


The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton

Secretary of State

U.S. Department of State

2201 C Street NW

Washington, DC 20520

October 31, 2011

Dear Madam Secretary:

We are writing to urge you to ensure that officials of the
Department of State comply with lawful requests by the Special Inspector
General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) for information and documents. 

SIGIR has broad access to information that may assist it to
perform its duties.  According to the law that established the office,
SIGIR is required to "conduct, supervise, and coordinate audits and
investigations of the treatment, handling, and expenditure of amounts
appropriated or otherwise made available to the Iraq Relief and
Reconstruction Fund, and of the programs, operations, and contracts
carried out utilizing such funds."     

The State Department is explicitly directed to provide
whatever information or assistance is needed by SIGIR, so long as
SIGIR's request is "practicable and not in contravention of any existing
law."  In addition, State Department officials are prohibited from
"prevent[ing] or prohibit[ing] the Inspector General from initiating,
carrying out, or completing any audit" related to funds involved in Iraq
reconstruction.  

Despite these requirements, the State Department has failed
to provide SIGIR with adequate assistance and access to information and
documents.  On August 3, 2011, SIGIR notified Congress and the State
Department that the Department's lack of cooperation with its requests
was impairing SIGIR's ability to perform audits of the Department's use
of private security contractors and the Police Development Program.  

The State Department has justified these denials on two
grounds:  that the information requested is outside of SIGIR's
jurisdiction and that the requests overlap with work done by other
government auditors.  In testimony before the Committee on September 21,
2011, Patrick Kennedy, the State Department's Under Secretary for
Management, asserted that SIGIR's requests for information about
contracts used by the State Department to protect State Department
personnel were outside the scope of SIGIR's jurisdiction, which is
limited to Iraq reconstruction funds.  Mr. Kennedy also stated that the
subject matter of SIGIR's requests had already been widely addressed by
other government auditors, including the State Department's Office of
Inspector General.  

These assertions are deeply troubling.  First, SIGIR has
jurisdiction to audit all Iraq reconstruction funds, including those
spent on contracts which may also support other State Department
activities.  The State Department has an affirmative obligation to
comply with all lawful and practicable requests made by SIGIR in support
of their work.  Under the law, the Department must provide whatever
information SIGIR legitimately requests, not merely whatever information
the Department deems appropriate.           

Second, even if the Department concludes that SIGIR has not
coordinated its audits with other Inspectors General, the law does not
provide the Department authority to impede such audits.  In the present
matter, however, SIGIR has already coordinated the audits of the PDP and
private security contractors with the Inspector General of the
Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

We believe that this unwarranted obstruction of SIGIR will
weaken an important oversight tool for the taxpayers and obstruct your
own efforts at improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the
Department.  Therefore, we request that you direct your officers to
comply with all lawful current and future requests from SIGIR for
documents and information it may require.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Senator Joseph Lieberman

Senator Susan Collins

Senator Claire McCaskill

Senator Tom Coburn

Senator Lindsey Graham