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Analysis: Duke Cunningham's $80M scam

By SHAUN WATERMAN, UPI Homeland and National Security Editor   |   Oct. 18, 2006 at 5:12 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Oct. 18 (UPI) -- Convicted former Rep. Randall Cunningham, R-Calif., inserted up to $80 million worth of earmarks for the contractors who bribed him into classified intelligence authorization laws between 2000 and 2006, bullying staff who became concerned, according to an interim report from a special House investigation.

The report, an unclassified five-page summary of a much longer document, is the fullest accounting to date of how Cunningham corruptly used his position on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence to steer government business to two contractors.

It says that over six years, Cunningham and co-conspirators Mitchell Wade and Brent Wilkes, "repeatedly sought to use (the committee) to facilitate the objectives of the conspiracy, particularly through requests for congressional funding (adds or earmarks) that benefited Wilkes, Wade and other companies," which it does not identify.

The interim report, written by a specially appointed outside counsel, was made public by the ranking Democrat on the committee, Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., over the protests of Chairman Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich.

"The unilateral decision by Harman to break our bipartisan, written agreement ... by releasing an incomplete, internal committee document that has not been reviewed by the other committee members is disturbing and beyond the pale," said Hoekstra in an angry statement, accusing her of "politiciz(ing) the committee and this critical inquiry."

His spokesman Jamal Ware told United Press International that Hoekstra and the majority staff had only become aware of Harman's intention to release the document a few minutes before it was made public.

In a statement, Harman accused Hoekstra of slow-walking the release of a report which was all but complete in May. She said he had agreed in principle to the release of a public summary and that she had released the one "finalized" by the outside counsel, Michael Stern, on Friday.

Hoekstra said that Stern was still deciding how to deal with an offer from Cunningham to testify. "Until a final determination has been reached on securing Cunningham's testimony and the full committee can review the independent counsel's final report, this inquiry cannot be considered complete," he said.

Cunningham pled guilty last year to taking $2.4 million in bribes from Wilkes and Wade, and in February, Wade admitted bribing him and others to get $150 million worth of government business for his firm, MZM, Inc. -- mainly through a single umbrella contract with the Department of Defense and work for two very secret Pentagon intelligence centers.

But coverage at that time focused on the abuse of Cunningham's position on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.

While that subcommittee appropriates funds for U.S. intelligence agencies, the House Intelligence Committee also authorizes their spending, and earmarks can be added by either. Cunningham's membership of both panels, the report says, was "key to the success of the Wilkes/Wade funding requests."

In theory, this overlapping oversight of spending by two different committees should ensure that every item gets a thorough going-over. But in practice, reformers argue, the secrecy of the budget process for the intelligence agencies means that it merely provides double the opportunity for back-room pressures of all kinds.

The report says there is no evidence that any staff members knew about or profited from Cunningham's corrupt relationships. Indeed, another key to the scheme's success, it says, was the congressman's "willingness to pressure and intimidate individual (committee) staff members" who became concerned about the projects he was supporting.

However, there are unanswered questions about how staff responded to what the report calls numerous "red flags" about MZM's counter-intelligence contract since its inception in 2002. These included "frequently expressed questions about the ethics and integrity of Wade, doubts about the value of the project and MZM's performance and grave concerns about the propriety of the Cunningham-Wade relationship."

The report does not say who raised these grave concerns or what staff did about them. But it does say that staff were "fully aware" the earmark "was intended for a specific recipient and either actively co-operated with or did not resist Cunningham's efforts to steer the funds."

In her statement, Harman said merely the committee "must examine why 'red flags' did not trigger greater scrutiny of Cunningham's activities, and what can be done to prevent this type of abuse in the future."

The report concludes by listing three matters which it says should be or are being investigated further by "appropriate law enforcement and national security agencies."

"While our review has not identified any national security breaches resulting from the Cunningham conspiracy, we are aware of dealings that Cunningham had with certain foreign nationals," the report said, urging they be given further scrutiny.

In 2004, according to Government Executive magazine, Cunningham took two trips to Saudi Arabia, funded by a Saudi-American real estate developer from his district named Ziyad Abduljawad.

The magazine notes that Abduljawad's father is on the infamous "Golden Chain" -- a list of wealthy Saudis who supported Osama bin Laden during his early years with the Afghan mujahedin.

Secondly, the report says that former committee staffer Brant Bassett, who had a "significant personal relationship" with Wilkes, provided gifts to other staffers of "government trinkets," including a carpet emblazoned "Global War on Terror."

The gifts came from another friend of Bassett's, Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, the CIA's third-ranking official, and they were designed to help smooth the path in Congress for management changes the men wanted at the CIA.

"At this stage," says the report of the gifts, "it is unclear whether these actions violated any law or regulation."

Thirdly, the report says that Foggo is under investigation for steering CIA contracts to a third, unnamed, contractor, whom he introduced to Bassett in 2003. Because the terms of the committee's own investigation were limited to the crimes that Cunningham pled to, the report says "additional inquiry is warranted to determine whether either Bassett or anyone else at (the committee) facilitated or was involved in any of the contract awards in question."

© 2006 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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