(Washington, D.C.): At 2:00 p.m. this afternoon, the Commerce Department will hold a press conference intended, among other things, to perform damage-control following official confirmation of numerous media reports that the Department had deliberately falsified information submitted pursuant to a congressional subpoena. The Center for Security Policy believes that today’s event provides an excellent opportunity to begin a full-scale investigation into this episode of possible criminal wrong-doing — and its larger implications for U.S. technology security policy.
According to a formal inquiry by the Commerce Department’s own Inspector General, data demanded by Congress concerning export licenses to Iraq prior to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait were doctored by the Department’s Bureau of Export Administration. With the express knowledge of the Bureau’s senior official, then-Under Secretary of Commerce Dennis Kloske, information concerning Iraqi military end-users of such exports and objections from other agencies concerning their transfer was deleted or modified. Even more astounding, the IG determined that efforts were made to destroy the permanent record of these transactions, it would seem in an effort to prevent the alterations from coming to light.
Rep. Doug Barnard — Democrat from South Carolina and chairman of the House Government Operations subcommittee whose dogged efforts to explore militarily relevant technology transfers to Iraq precipitated the subpoena for this data — has expressed understandable concern about the IG’s findings. He has written Attorney General Dick Thornburgh stating "I believe it is a crime to knowingly supply false information to Congress" and asking that an investigation be opened to consider the possibility of malfeasance.
The Center for Security Policy welcomes this step. Indeed, it has believed for several years that the Commerce Department’s management of technology security under Secretary Kloske was criminal. (The attached letter to the editor from Director Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. published last month by the Washington Post is but one example of the Center’s efforts to hold the Bush Administration as a whole and specifically the Commerce Department accountable for reckless mismanagement of export administration responsibilities.) Particularly worrisome is the fact that the problems for American interests arising from ill-advised transfers of dual-use technology to Iraq are trivial compared to those that will flow from the wholesale dismantling of controls on such exports to an unreformed Soviet Union — steps set in train in recent years by Kloske and company.
Consequently, the press conference at Commerce today should go beyond an examination of the Department’s efforts to cover-up its myopic behavior towards Iraq. It should also probe the extent to which even more shortsighted policies are setting the stage for still greater strategic problems elsewhere. Toward this end, the Center suggests the following be among the questions put to Secretary Mosbacher and his colleagues:
- The Inspector General’s report clearly states that Kloske "concurred with all changes to the data" submitted to Congress. Did he authorize those changes, including the destruction of information in the permanent data base?
- What did Secretary Mosbacher know about falsification of data submitted to Congress pursuant to a subpoena — and when did he know it? When he says, as he did Friday on CNN that there were "no criminal changes," what does he mean? Does he believe that that is his call to make rather than the Justice Department’s?
- Secretary Mosbacher also said on CNN: "Any changes that we made, frankly, are unacceptable." When asked to repeat his statement he modified it by saying, "Any changes that would be of any significance are totally unacceptable." Which is it? What and who determines "significance"?
- Acting Under Secretary of Commerce Joan McEntee, who served under Kloske throughout the period in question, has actually contended that the changes were made to the data "for pure clarification reasons." When, for example, the description of anexport license for $1 billion worth of trucks — advertized by their manufacturer as being "designed for military use" – was changed to identify them as "commercial utility cargo trucks" is that a "clarification"? What was Ms. McEntee’s role in the doctoring of information sought by Congress?
- According to the Inspector General, his investigation was hampered by significant — indeed incredible — mechanical problems:
- Evidently, the Commerce Department did not have a single copy of the material actually submitted to Congress; the IG had to get it from Capitol Hill.
- Since the Bureau of Export Administration had altered the original records, the IG had to scrounge up an incomplete magnetic tape that only had data up to the latter part of May 1990 — over two months before the embargo was imposed on Iraq.
- What is more, other agencies seemingly do not keep their own records of the positions they have taken on licensing decisions. Consequently, the IG was obliged to obtain them from Commerce — complicating further his ability to assess whether Commerce had misrepresented those positions in its report to Congress.
- Such practices do not inspire great confidence in the present administration of export controls and beg several questions: Were additional changes — beyond the 63 identified by the IG — made with regard to export licenses approved during the period from late May to early August 1990? Will it be possible to document the quantity and gravity of any such changes? Or has the permanent record for this period been purposefully eliminated, an act amounting to destruction of evidence that raises further criminal implications?
- Evidence that Dennis Kloske was involved in an apparent effort to conceal Commerce’s role in transferring dangerous technologies to Iraq is particularly noteworthy given the extraordinary events of last April. In the course of an 8 April hearing before a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee chaired by Rep. Sam Gejdenson (D-CT), Kloske averred that he and his department had aggressively tried to block dual-use exports to Iraq in the months prior to the invasion of Kuwait. When it subsequently appeared that the Bush Administration was retaliating for that testimony by forcing Kloske from his job, Rep. Gejdenson protested with spectacular — and ironic — demagoguery:
- Finally, what are the lessons to be learned from this incident for the far more strategically significant question of technology transfers to the USSR and other potential adversaries?
"The firing of a government official because he comes before the United States Congress and tells the truth is an outrageous act that bastardizes the process by which a democratic government functions….What this indicates to me is that at least this Administration is involved in the cover-up of fundamental facts in their activities regarding the situation in Iraq prior to the invasion of Kuwait…."
Was this bit of theater actually a part of the real cover-up, namely that apparently perpetrated by Dennis Kloske? Rep. Gejdenson had worked closely with Kloske in their common effort to dismantle the existing export control regime. This collaboration went so far as to involve Commerce Department assistance to Gejdenson in drafting the Export Facilitation Act of 1990 — legislation formally opposed by the Bush Administration. Had it become law, it would have given Kloske’s office essentially exclusive governmental purview over export decontrol. What did Rep. Gejdenson know and when did he know it?
Is it likely that individuals and agencies that would engage in this sort of dissembling and subterfuge would be any more conscientious about the sale of militarily relevant technology to formidable adversaries like an unreformed Soviet Union — especially when the U.S. government posture of the moment toward such exports is every bit as forward-leaning as it once was toward Iraq?