The Cable

I Didn't Block An Investigation Into Drug War Deaths, Says State Department Official

A top State Department official accused of suppressing an investigation into four drug-related killings in Honduras tells The Cable that he's innocent.

The official, William Brownfield, the assistant secretary for international narcotics and law-enforcement affairs, is the latest diplomat to fall prey of Aurelia Fedensin, a former State Department inspector general investigator and self-proclaimed whistleblower who is leaking memos detailing eight examples of alleged misconduct by State Department personnel or contractors. On Monday, the U.S. ambassador to Belgium had to fight off charges, based off of documents leaked by Fedensin, that he was soliciting prostitutes and having sex with minors.

The latest allegations -- that Brownfield "stymied" an investigation into the killing of four Hondurans in a botched counternarcotics operation overseen by the State Department -- were published by the New York Post, aggregated across the web, but denied fervently by Brownfield.

"Allegations in the press that I stymied an investigation into a shooting incident in Honduras are false," he told The Cable. "The issue was never whether the incident would be investigated, but rather which U.S. Government organization would review the involvement of U.S. law enforcement support of a foreign police operation overseas."

The 2012 incident in question involved the pursuit of narco traffickers on a boat by Honduran police and DEA personnel. At some point during the chase, Honduran police opened fire on the boat from a number of positions, including a State Department-owned helicopter, and four Hondurans were killed.

As The New York Times reported last May, the incident sparked riots and the burning of government buildings as locals insisted the victims on the boat were merely fishing. U.S. and Honduran officials maintained that authorities killed two drug traffickers and seized 1,000 pounds of cocaine in the operation.

Brownfield had no role in the operation, but according to Wednesday's New York Post, which cited an Office of the Inspector General internal memo, Brownfield stymied an investigation into potential misconduct in the operation. He "was not forthcoming and gave the impression [that State] should not pursue the investigation," read the memo, which referenced an interview between an unnamed agent and Brownfield.

But Brownfield says the allegation is impossible because such an interview never happened. "I was never interviewed by anyone from the Office of the Inspector General or Bureau of Diplomatic Security about this incident" he told The Cable.

Going further, he said he was the one trying to get the ball rolling on an investigation, which proved difficult because it fell under the authority of both the DEA and the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

"In fact, the role my office played was to broker a meeting between DS and DEA to encourage coordination and information sharing," he told The Cable.

Ultimately, the two agencies failed to agree on whether the DEA or DS should investigate the matter. The DEA concluded its internal investigation noting that not a single DEA official fired a shot in the exchange. An investigation by Honduran police came to the same conclusion.

The State Department maintains that allegations it covered up criminal wrongdoing are "preposterous." Even so, on Monday, it ordered a review of its investigative processes.

National Security

White House takeover of the CIA continues with new agency No. 2

The White House has nominated an agency outsider and the first woman to be the CIA's No. 2 after career intelligence officer Mike Morell, passed over for the top job earlier this year, resigned.

Avril Haines, a White House lawyer who has been a deputy counsel at the NSC and focused on national security issues, will replace Morell Aug. 9, CIA Director John Brennan announced Wednesday. Haines was nominated two months ago to be legal counsel at State but will now go to help lead an intelligence agency in which she has never before worked.

In a statement, Brennan said that at the White House, Haines has worked on some of the agency's most sensitive programs, participating in most of high-level meetings over the past two years. "In every instance, Avril's command of substance, sense of mission, good judgment, and keen insights have been outstanding," Brennan said.

The 43-year-old Haines has enjoyed a meteoric rise from Senate staffer to now the second most powerful position at the agency. On the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, she was known for being an effective operator, clearing many treaties that had been stalled in committee by working closely with members of the GOP.

Haines's appointment could be seen as another example of the White House putting more of its people in key national security jobs. Mark Lippert's appointment as chief of staff at the Pentagon under Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, after a long stint at the NSC, suggested to some outsiders that the White House was pushing its people out to key agency jobs. Sending Haines to the second most important job at CIA seems like another such example to some. But the Center for Strategic and International Studies's David Berteau, who tracks national security appointments, doesn't think filling these jobs in this way smacks of a White House asserting its control.

"I don't see that this appointment presents a threat to the operational integrity of the agency," he said, adding that giving principals the discretion to hire who they want leads to their ultimate success. "The real question here is, is this the person who John Brennan wants and needs?"

Berteau pointed to the nomination of Leon Panetta to CIA, which initially raised eyebrows because he was not steeped in intelligence. It didn't take long before those critics began to sing his praises. "By all accounts, Leon Panetta turned out to be a superior director of the CIA," he said.

When David Petraeus left the agency directorship abruptly after his affair with biographer Paula Broadwell, it was Morell who stepped in as acting director -- the second time in his career. Many from inside the intelligence community wanted to see Morell be given the job permanently. They cited his long history in the intelligence world and hoped his nomination to be director could be a sign of the agency returning to its roots of intelligence collection and analysis. In the end he was passed over for John Brennan, who has expressed interest in pursuing a similar agenda.

Morell will leave a field in which he's been for 33 years. In a memo to staff, Morell said Brennan made the decision both tougher and easier for him. Morell said he believes the agency is in good hands but at the same time said he wished he could watch the agency "accomplish great things" under Brennan's leadership. But Morell said he was leaving to spend more time with his family -- the "real reason" he's leaving, he said. "Whenever someone involved in the rough and tumble of Washington decides to move on, there is speculation in various quarters about the 'real reason,'" he said in the memo. "But you all know me, so you know that when I tell you that it is time for my family, nothing could be more real than that."

DNI Jim Clapper issued a statement saying Haines was an "excellent choice" to replace Morell. Haines, he said, has "distinguished herself" in key national security positions. "She has a deep understanding of the intelligence community and she values the contributions of our nation's intelligence professionals," Clapper wrote.

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