Richard Armitage and the Quiet Death of Liberty TV

All his usual formalities of perfidy were observed with scrupulous technique.    —Winston Churchill on Hitler's Invasion of Russia

Washington offers numerous opportunities for high officials bent on undermining the Will of Congress, as well as the Chief Executive and his explicit, lawful directives. Richard Armitage, as we now know, ignored an express Presidential Directive in the Plame investigation when he failed to notify the White House that he was the source of the leak to Bob Novak.

But that was not the first time Mr. Armitage has disregarded the President's explicit orders.

Rumors abounded for years that he and Secretary of State Colin Powell regularly undermined the Administration and its plans in countless other ways respecting Iraq. Most of those claims are not capable of proof because they consisted of anonymous information supplied to reporters and others. But one case breaks that mold: the killing of Liberty TV.

Legislation was passed funding Liberty TV, a channel to be aimed at Iraqi and other Arab audiences. The President signed the budget authorizing it to start spending the Treasury's funds. The political branches of government had spoken. Yet Liberty TV  never saw the light of day.

I have offered the Department of State an opportunity to explain why the appropriated funds for this program were never spent and have received no reply. Relying on a GAO report, documents, contemporary news accounts and interviews, I have reconstructed what happened.

Liberty TV

The much—maligned Iraqi National Congress was the only nationwide secular group capable of playing a significant role in post—invasion Iraq. While it began with the objective of securing Iraq's liberation from the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein, when it was clear that regime change was in the offing, the INC refocused its attention to the development of civil society, democratic institutions and national reconciliation.

At least as early as 1998, Congress recognized the significance of broadcast TV in any post war planning. [Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, Sec. 4(a) (1) (B).]The designation of recipients  of funds from the US  for the establishment of broadcast TV was to be made by the President and the criteria were that the President

'shall consider only organizations that—(1) include a broad spectrum of Iraqi individuals, groups or both , opposed to the Saddam Hussein regime; and (2) are committed to democratic values, to respect for human rights, to peaceful relations with Iraq's neighbors, to maintaining Iraq's territorial integrity, and to fostering cooperation among democratic opponents of the Saddam Hussein regime.'

And the Congressional determination about the need to establish broadcast TV was sound Tony Corn writes:

With the advent of 100 Muslim satellite televisions channels since the mid—1990s, some analysts have wondered about the relevance of Clausewitz in the Age of al—Jazeera, while others have discerned the emergence of a new, non—Clausewitzian strategic trinity.25.

Within the various USG foreign affairs agencies, though, there is still great reluctance to view strategic communication as something that should be "present at the takeoff, not just the crash—landing," of foreign policy. In the counter—terrorism community, similarly, there is a tendency to treat terrorism as a suspension of communication (when it is in fact the continuation of communication by other means), and thus to fail to realize that counter—communication should be at the core, not the periphery, of counter—terrorism. The 2006 QDR asserts that the Long War will ultimately be won through "strategic communication." The problem? When it comes to strategic communications, amateurs talk about "messages," professionals talk about "narratives" —— and there are way too many amateurs in strategic communication today. [snip]

At the micro—level. As two defense intellectuals recently pointed out,

"a grand counterterrorism strategy would benefit from a comprehensive consideration of the stories terrorists tell: understanding the narratives which influence the genesis, growth, maturation and transformation of terrorist organizations will enable us to better fashion a strategy for undermining the efficacy of those narratives so as to deter, disrupt and defeat terrorist groups."

In 1999, then—President Clinton designated the INC as an organization eligible to receive funds under the Act. In that same year, 'the Iraqi National Congress Support Foundation (INCSF) was established to provide an organizational
structure for Department of State funding. The GAO wrote,

'From March 2000 until September 2003, the State Department provided funds to the INCSF for Several programs, including planning for the renewal of Radio Hurriah broadcasts and establishing new satellite television capability (Liberty TV), newspaper publication, and public information and information collection programs. INCSF's broadcasting goals included direct radio and television broadcasts into Iraq focusing on providing the Iraqi people unbiased news and information and updating them on efforts to bring democracy to the country.'

Despite Congressional support, adequate appropriations and the support of two Presidents, the program was never fully funded, and the record shows that the principal reason for this was the animus of Richard Armitage to the INC and the ease with which the bureaucratic apparatus was jiggered to thwart Congressional and Presidential will.

Killing the Program

On January 18, 2002, Richard Armitage was working to cut off all funds to finance Liberty TV. In a meeting  with representatives from the Near East Affairs Office (NEA) of the State Department (Mr. Krajeski and Ms. Lempert and Portz), the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the State Department, NEA's Deputy Director announced they were cutting off all funds to the INC.

The only basis for concern on the record was a minor audit issue (about $14,000 spent to rent an office in a residential apartment not permitted under the grant) which was quickly resolved. (The accounting rules of these grants are fairly arcane, and it is far from unusual for grantees to have some audit issues at the outset. In any event, the INC quickly resolved this single issue, adopted a sound accounting program and was fully compliant after the initial utterly minor problem.)

The Inspector General's Berman expressed shock at the suggestion.

'During the interim period after the report is issued—we don't do this to other grantees (cut off funding until all recommendations are completed).' He also observed that 'other grantees take years to make implementations and the funding continues.'

More, he told the Near East Affairs, He 'didn't think' that politically the funding could be cut.

Ms Ropella of the OIG added that the INC response showed they were making a 'good faith effort' at compliance with the audit requirements.

Nevertheless, Krajeski said that the Deputy Secretary (Armitage) 'makes all decisions' and  that 'he'd make the final decision.' Though he acknowledged that 'Congress loves Liberty TV' and that 'the newspaper (produced by the INC) is pretty good'.

So desirous was NEA of getting the OIG to do the dirty work of cutting off the Liberty TV funding, Lempert resurrected an accusation by an INC rival which had been reported to the Department in 2001, fully investigated and found baseless. OIG reported in due course that this allegation had been found baseless and detailed the thoroughness of the investigative process which had established that conclusion.

By April 5, 2002, the Department of State's Near East Office (Dave Pierce, Tom Krajeski and Yael Lempert and Anna Mary Portz) made it clear in a meeting with OIG that Richard Armitage bore animus to Ahmed Chalabi and the INC and his representatives at the meeting announced

'If the OIG recommended to discontinue funding, then Armitage would discontinue it.'

This was in effect a directive to OIG to falsely state that the INC had failed to abide by the Department's audit rules. The GAO wrote,

'Although several accounting and internal control weaknesses were identified, OIG officials said that they found no evidence concerning the prior accusations of fraud. An INCSF representative acknowledged that it had financial management and accountability weaknesses in the early stages of the agreements. However, the representative believed that INCSF made significant improvements in late 2001 and early 2002 to correct the weaknesses and to respond to the OIG audit.'

Two more meetings on this topic occurred in May with representatives of the NEA and OIG.

In the May 17 meeting NEA's Lempert asked the OIG for assistance with 'NEA's desire to 'shut down the INC''

In a follow—up meeting on May 21, Ms. Lempert described action Armitage had taken with respect to cutting INC's funding. He was angry that INC would not reveal the names of those involved in the INC's Intelligence Collection Program. Chalabi refused to do that because in the past when he had, these sources were killed. The amendments to the grant with Armitage imposed, placed the INC Liberty TV operation on a month—to—month basis, making it impossible to plan, hire, or obtain equipment as it was attempting to establish itself.

In sum, by imposing intolerable funding restraints, Armitage condemned Liberty TV to failure.

Ms Lempert never faced Congressional scrutiny for her attempt to induce the OIG to falsely allege auditing irregularities and thwart the will of Congress that the program be funded. She was shifted to Baghdad to work on the reconstruction, and was promoted to the staff of Under Secretary of State Marc Grossman, a critical witness against Scooter Libby in the pending Plame case.

Her boss Krajeski was named US Ambassador to Yemen.

The Wall Street Journal detailed the effort of the NEA, acting for Armitage, to manipulate the OIG into confecting  audit problems to  attack Chalabi, the INC and to undermine the 1998 Act and Congressional Appropriations  designating funds were to go to the INC to set up Liberty TV.

These shenanigans began during the Clinton Administration, when despite the Iraq Liberation Act there was no clear direction from the top. But the fact that they continued after President Bush had set a firm policy of disarming Saddam amounts to insubordination. It speaks volumes about who should be entrusted with rebuilding a post—Saddam Iraq.

State's Near East Affairs Bureau has always been a force for preserving the region's despotic status quo. And now that Saddam's regime is on the way out, NEA bureaucrats would prefer to see him replaced by ex—Baathists more amenable to their friends in the Saudi and Egyptian foreign ministries. We're not saying the U.S. should anoint Mr. Chalabi or any individual as the next Iraqi leader. But State and the CIA seem less afraid of Saddam than of real democrats who could set a new example and exert pressure for change throughout the Middle East.
If Mr. Bush means what he says about a democratic Iraq, the last thing he should want is State's hands on the purse strings. If the war supplemental arrives on his desk with Foggy Bottom in control of Iraqi reconstruction, he would be well—advised to consider a veto.

The President took no apparent heed of this warning. National Review's Joel Mowbray wrote,

That Journal editorial, which several administration officials say has sent Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage on a "witch hunt" to find the leak, quoted the minutes of a May 17, 2002 meeting where Lempert took the highly unethical approach of getting Office of Inspector General (OIG) auditors to — although she didn't exactly use these words — falsify their audit of the INC. "During the meeting, Ms. Lempert stated that NEA would appreciate any assistance the OIG could provide with NEA's desire to 'shut down the INC.'" [snip]

And given that this transpired after President Bush had made it unequivocally clear that he supported the INC, Lempert was openly flouting the wishes of the leader of the free world. But since Lempert was merely carrying out the orders of NEA — and apparently Armitage himself — she is being rewarded, not punished.

On the other side of the meeting is someone who shares Lempert's hatred of the pro—democracy INC and has recently partnered with a man openly backed by the House of Saud — all while on the payroll of the U.S. taxpayer. By day, Laith Kubba is a project manager for the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a taxpayer—funded organization that provides grants — at least ostensibly — to groups that help further the cause of democracy. By night, however, Kubba is angling for a leadership role in the post—Saddam Iraq, forming the Iraqi National Group as an alternative to the INC earlier this year. But when his group wasn't gaining enough traction, Kubba decided to join forces with Adnan Pachachi, the octogenarian former foreign minister who has two main supporters: the U.S. State Department and the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. A Sunni Arab, Pachachi is seen as the figure most likely to lend "stability" to Iraq — and as the best bet to edge out the INC's leader, Ahmad Chalabi.

Kubba has already used the U.S. taxpayer funds he controls to damage the INC, as well as burnish himself. The first grant he issued to an Iraq—based group was to the inappropriately named Iraqi Institute for Democracy. IID is based in the Kurdish—controlled north and has conducted several polls that purport to show that Chalabi and the INC have little support in the region. Aside from the polling, IID officials openly badmouth the INC in the press, doing everything they can to play into State's strategy of delegitimizing Chalabi and the INC. And when IID isn't busy beating up on the INC, it promotes Kubba to officials in Washington. Several months ago, IID President Hussein Sinjari lobbied administration officials on Kubba for president of a post—Saddam Iraq, apparently not fazed by the apparent — or actual — impropriety of lobbying on behalf of the man who issued grants to his organization. There is no indication Kubba pressured or even suggested Sinjari do this, but it was still done by someone on the receiving end of a Kubba—administered grant.

Two months after the Wall Street Journal's warning to the President that State was undermining his plans for establishing a Democratic Iraq, Armitage told Woodward of Plame's role in the Mission to Niger. Shortly after that he told Robert Novak, who reported it. 

Slightly over five months later Armitage told the Department of Justice of his role, without notifying the President, subjecting the White House to years of calumny and Rove and Libby and almost 200 other Adminitration officials and staff to the emotional and financial travails of the special prosecution and media frenzy which followed Novak's article.

Between the last NEA/OIG meeting at State and Armitage's Plame perfidy, the U.S. invaded Iraq, and without Liberty TV able to function as Congress and the White House intended, for the restrictions placed on it by Armitage proved impossible. The only nationwide TV available was beamed in from Iran and Al—Jazeera and constituted round—the—clock anti—Coalition broadcasts.

The occupation had no way to compete in the important information war.

Members of the Senate tried repeatedly without success to overturn Armitage's actions and get Liberty TV up and running.

On March 27, 2003, Senators Brownback, Santorum, Kyl, McCain and Coleman wrote to the President emphasizing how urgent was the full funding of the INC. The Senators reported:

Despite several assurances from the highest levels of the State Department that this issue would be resolved, including the most recent appearance of Secretary Powell before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee just weeks ago, TV Liberty—the main vehicle for broadcasting into Iraq, remains off the air due to lack of funds.

We have been informed by Iraqi opposition leaders that they have been given no money for other forms of communication with people inside Iraq—namely money for cell phones, satellite phones and links to radio/tv broadcasting into Iraq.

The Iraqi opposition remains a vital tool for saving American lives in the process of toppling Saddam's regime. The fact that we are at war with Saddam's regime and still not fully funding the Iraqi opposition in their struggle to achieve the same goal, is wrong.

We can not wait for this to be sorted out through the normal channels. Mr. President, we ask that you personally clear the bureaucratic road blocks from within the State Department and free up the authorized funding now and deal with why this delay has happened at a later date.
Our troops are on the ground. American lives are at stake. We must support them with every advantage available to us. It is critical that the Iraqi opposition be empowered to speak to the Iraqi people so that they may join us in this important struggle.'

The Senators received word that the President had directed Armitage to release the funds, but he did not release them all, and the restrictions he placed on the INC effectively put the INC on such a short leash that  it  was impossible to carry out Liberty TV's operations.

In June 11, 2003 Senator Coleman alleged that the Department of State's Near East Bureau may have acted improperly to stem the outlay of funds to the INC, indicating that the allegations

'would imply a violation of the letter and Spirit of the1998 Iraq Liberation Act and the 1998 Supplemental Appropriations and 'a disregard for Congressional will.'

On August 28, 2003 Senator Coleman wrote to the Comptroller General again asking about the administration of funds to the INC, arguing,

Perhaps the most alarming is the possibility that the delay in providing funds to the INC for communications and programming might have put our troops at a disadvantage. As we have seen, the U.S. has not been able to communicate well with the people of Iraq to convey the true nature of our role in that country, both before and after the invasion. Had the funds in question been released at an earlier date and an effective network been established to communicate with the Iraqis, it is conceivable that U.S. soldiers might have faced less resistance, and might today enjoy the support of the troops.'

The INC never got all the appropriated funds to undertake Liberty TV.

About two weeks later, on September 9, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Department of State

'has chosen to discontinue all funding to the Iraqi National Congress.... [t]he withheld money will apparently include $5.1 million that should have been disbursed in 2001, much of it for INC radio and TV.'

The editorial continued that the failure to disburse these funds thwarted Congressional will, that this was part of the DoS 'vendetta' against an important ally and that the broadcasting was critically needed.

Post Script

It has long been possible, even in the outermost circles of the journalistic trade, to guess who talked to Bob Woodward. One looks for the passages of sycophancy and works backward from there.      —Christopher Hitchens on Bob Woodward

One of the unremarked heroes of Bob Woodward's State of Denial is Newt Gingrich. He is not heard from much, but every time he is, what he has to say is both perceptive and brave. Here he is on p. 252, talking about the situatoin as it stood in September 2003.

"Washington was being systematically misinformed." [....]

"Bremer's model was totally wrong. Totally. His model was you could use peacetime contracting, hire big multinationals. They could do all the planning in Denver, and in two or three years, things would start to happen." [....]

"Bremer arrives thinking he was MacArthur in Japan and that we should have an American—centric model." [....]

Gingrich said that he was upset that the military could not get the emergency money they needed for small projects. The White House said the money was released, but officers that Gingrich had known for years were telling him that it was not. Finally, he said, he called Cheney.

"You and Condi are being lied to," Gingrich said he told the vice president.

"I'll get into it," Cheney said.

It still took 60 days of direct orders to get the money. [....]

The bottom line, Gingrich said: "Losing a war is bad."

What is important here is that Gingrich said the lying was going on at the time it was going on. This was no secret.

Clarice Feldman is an attorney in Washington, DC and a frequent contributor to American Thinker.