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A Pentagon panel has cleared Paul Wolfowitz in its investigation of his involvement in his girlfriend’s Iraq junket.

Paul Wolfowitz, while serving as deputy secretary of defense, personally recommended that his companion, Shaha Ali Riza, be awarded a contract for travel to Iraq in 2003 to advise on setting up a new government, says a previously undisclosed inquiry by the Pentagon’s inspector general.  

The inquiry, as described by a senior Pentagon official, concluded that there was no wrongdoing in Wolfowitz’s role in the hiring of Riza by the Science Applications International Corporation, a Pentagon contractor, because Riza had the expertise required to advise on the role of women in Islamic countries.


The investigators also found that Wolfowitz, now president of the World Bank, had not exerted improper influence in Riza’s hiring. Earlier this week, Science Applications International said an unidentified Defense Department official had directed that she be hired. She had been a World Bank employee for five years at the time.

That Wolfowitz’s girlfriend was hired by DOD contractor SAIC to go to Iraq was reported in the New York Times earlier this week.

The Defense Department directed a private contractor in 2003 to hire Shaha Ali Riza, a World Bank employee and the companion of Paul D. Wolfowitz, then the deputy secretary of defense, to spend a month studying issues related to setting up a new government in Iraq, the contractor said Monday.

The contractor, Science Applications International Corporation, or SAIC, said that it had been directed to hire Ms. Riza by the office of the under secretary for policy. The head of that office at the time was Douglas J. Feith, who reported to Mr. Wolfowitz.

After her trip to Iraq, Ms. Riza briefed members of the executive board of the World Bank on efforts to rebuild after the American invasion and specifically on the status of Iraqi women, according to Ms. Riza’s supervisor at the time.

As was the fact that the assignment took her well outside of her World Bank job’s purview.

It was not clear why the Pentagon specifically asked for Ms. Riza to travel to Iraq. At the time, however, the World Bank did not have a relationship with Iraq. Normal bank rules do not allow the bank to provide economic assistance to an area under military occupation.

Ms. Riza’s trip raised concerns among some bank officials, who said they did not know under whose auspices she had traveled to Iraq at a time when it was against bank policy for its officials to go there.

Bank officials said, however, that after the ouster of Mr. Hussein, the Bush administration tried to get the bank to help assist in the redevelopment of Iraq and that it was trying to involve the United Nations in the occupation to provide a rationale for the bank’s assistance.

The irony is just a tad hard to miss. This maneuver issued from the same neoconservative cabal that moved heaven and earth to destroy Ambassador Paul Wilson and his wife Valerie Plame Wilson because of  supposed nepotism. But then, Wilson’s findings in Niger discredited a key element in their plan for war in Iraq.

Time magazine’s Matthew Cooper has written that he was told by Karl Rove on July 11 “don’t get too far out on Wilson” because information was going to be declassified soon that would cast doubt on Wilson’s mission and findings. Cooper also wrote that Rove told him that Wilson’s wife worked for the agency on weapons of mass destruction and that “she was responsible for sending Wilson.”

This Washington Post reporter spoke the next day to an administration official, who talked on the condition of anonymity, and was told in substance “that the White House had not paid attention to the former ambassador’s CIA-sponsored trip to Niger because it was set up as a boondoggle by his wife, an analyst with the agency working on weapons of mass destruction,” as reported in an Oct. 14 article.

Of course the nepotistic boondoggle charge was as false as the rest of the case for war.

Over the past months, however, the CIA has maintained that Wilson was chosen for the trip by senior officials in the Directorate of Operations counterproliferation division (CPD) — not by his wife — largely because he had handled a similar agency inquiry in Niger in 1999. On that trip, Plame, who worked in that division, had suggested him because he was planning to go there, according to Wilson and the Senate committee report.

The 2002 mission grew out of a request by Vice President Cheney on Feb. 12 for more information about a Defense Intelligence Agency report he had received that day, according to a 2004 report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. An aide to Cheney would later say he did not realize at the time that this request would generate such a trip.

Wilson maintains that his wife was asked that day by one of her bosses to write a memo about his credentials for the mission–after they had selected him. That memo apparently was included in a cable to officials in Africa seeking concurrence with the choice of Wilson, the Senate report said.

So if you’re trying to keep up with the logic here, it’s pretty simple. Fact finding missions that advance the Administration’s aims are good, even if they are recommended by the paramours of those who undertake them. Fact finding missions that disprove the Administration’s assertions are bad, even when they come at the behest of officials other than the spouses of those who undertake them. So bad that the White House feels fully justified in assassinating the character of both husband and wife, ruining the wife’s career, and undermining the CIA’s efforts to track WMD. It comes down to priorities.

Indeed, the White House continues to affirm its support of Mr. Wolfowitz, in spite of nepotistic machinations that have resulted in a massive job promotion and, it appears, the highly unusual action of granting security clearance to a foreign national, who holds no other such classification.

Riza, who is not a U.S. citizen, had to receive a security clearance in order to work at the State Department. Who intervened? It is not unusual to have British or French midlevel officers at the department on exchange programs, but they receive security clearances based on the clearances they already have with their host governments. Granting a foreign national who is detailed from an international organization a security clearance, however, is extraordinary, even unprecedented. So how could this clearance have been granted?

State Department officials familiar with the details of this matter confirmed to me that Shaha Ali Riza was detailed to the State Department and had unescorted access while working for Elizabeth Cheney. Access to the building requires a national security clearance or permanent escort by a person with such a clearance. But the State Department has no record of having issued a national security clearance to Riza.

As of this writing, Wolfowitz still has his World Bank job. That may change as the World Bank’s board expands its investigation of Wolfowitz to include the hiring and contracts of his closest advisers. Apparently he’s surrounded himself with Bush Administration insiders.

Did I mention that the position Wolfowitz finagled for his lady love reports to the Vice President’s daughter? I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again. It’s the hypocrisy, stupid.

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