Changes in United States foreign policy and military assistance programs that seemed so urgent after the September 11, 2001, attacks have paid off in the capture of dangerous terrorist suspects and the disruption of possible attacks. But five years on, the influence of foreign lobbying on the U.S. government, as well as a shortsighted emphasis on counterterrorism objectives over broader human rights concerns, have generated staggering costs to the U.S. and its allies in money spent and political capital burned.
For more than a year, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) conducted an investigation to assess the impact of foreign lobbying and terrorism on post-9/11 U.S. military training and assistance policies.
Among the findings:
- Attracted by the gusher of new U.S. military aid, governments ― including Ethiopia; the Philippines; and Indonesia, which hired former senator and 1996 GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole ― spent millions on Washington lobbyists to persuade Congress and the Pentagon to open the spigots. In doing so, they took advantage of a policymaking process that was ad hoc if not chaotic, as the Defense Department grabbed power over military aid decisions from the State Department.
- Deals to provide military aid to what are perceived as often corrupt and brutal governments have set back efforts to advance human rights and the rule of law, particularly in Asia and East Africa. Billions in new military aid dollars have flowed to countries whose record of grim human rights practices had led to pre-9/11 decisions by the U.S. to cut off or curtail aid. Neither the Defense Department nor Congress has done as much as it could to make sure the money was spent as intended, providing what one seasoned congressional aide described as "a blank check."
- Two longtime U.S. allies, Italy and Germany, have indicted or issued arrest warrants for Americans they identify as CIA agents on charges of kidnapping people off their streets and transporting them to secret prisons or to other countries known for torturing prisoners. Two other friendly governments, Sweden and Canada, empowered special commissions to investigate this extralegal practice, which is known as "extraordinary rendition." The U.S. does not acknowledge the practice, but European governments and human rights groups, which have documented many renditions, say they number in the dozens. The controversy has strained the trans-Atlantic alliance at a time when the U.S. is struggling to maintain international coalitions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In their investigation, 10 ICIJ reporters on four continents explored what Vice President Cheney has described as "the dark side" of American counterterrorism policy since the 2001 terrorist attacks.
They found that post-9/11 U.S. political pressure, Washington lobbying and aid dollars have reshaped policies towards countries ranging from tiny Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, to Pakistan and Thailand in Asia, to Poland and Romania in Europe, even to Colombia in South America. ICIJ reporters also combed through official reports as well as new sources detailing cases of extraordinary renditions and other "dark side" practices and found the United States following the lead of Israel in some controversial post-9/11 tactics.
In addition, we sifted through thousands of Department of Justice lobbying records and human rights reports and used Freedom of Information Act requests to assemble a comprehensive database to analyze both old and new forms of U.S. military training and assistance to foreign governments and security forces before and after the 9/11 attacks.
The most compelling findings will be presented in 20 articles to be published starting today, and linked to from the sidebar in this article.
Money trail leads to the Pentagon
As with so many issues in Washington, the best way to understand how policy is made is to follow the money ― and there is a lot of post-9/11 money to follow, much of it set in motion by the urgency of the 2001 attacks.
"Decision-makers had a lot of unexpected needs," Lincoln P. Bloomfield Jr., former assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, told ICIJ in an interview. "None of what they needed was in the budget, because the budget system is so nailed down. We spent our days trying to figure out how to do something legally and trying to hot-wire [the budget] to address things that needed to get done. So you twist the wires, and you reconnect them in so many ways. At the end of the day, who had the money? It was the Pentagon."
The wire-twisting resulted in three new, important programs with billions to distribute ― Coalition Support Funds (CSF), the Regional Defense Counterterrorism Fellowship Program (CTFP) and a military training program called Section 1206 (named for a section in a defense authorization bill).
The Pentagon gained new power in training and equipping foreign military and security forces, a process historically managed by the State Department. That shift, coupled with foreign lobbying campaigns that emphasized counterterrorism priorities over human rights concerns, greatly increased Pentagon influence.
Intelligence agencies also gained power and changed tactics. As the CIA's former head of counterterrorism, Cofer Black, famously told Congress in 2002, "After 9/11 the gloves came off." That echoed the sentiment of Vice President Cheney when he talked with Tim Russert on NBC's "Meet the Press" just days after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
CHENEY: We do, indeed, though, have, obviously, the world's finest military. They've got a broad range of capabilities. And they may well be given missions in connection with this overall task and strategy. We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We've got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we're going to be successful. That's the world these folks operate in, and so it's going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.
RUSSERT: There have been restrictions placed on the United States intelligence gathering, reluctance to use unsavory characters, those who violated human rights, to assist in intelligence gathering. Will we lift some of those restrictions?
CHENEY: Oh, I think so. I think the ― one of the byproducts, if you will, of this tragic set of circumstances is that we'll see a very thorough sort of reassessment of how we operate and the kinds of people we deal with. There's ― if you're going to deal only with sort of officially approved, certified good guys, you're not going to find out what the bad guys are doing. You need to be able to penetrate these organizations. You need to have on the payroll some very unsavory characters if, in fact, you're going to be able to learn all that needs to be learned in order to forestall these kinds of activities. It is a mean, nasty, dangerous, dirty business out there, and we have to operate in that arena. I'm convinced we can do it; we can do it successfully. But we need to make certain that we have not tied the hands, if you will, of our intelligence communities in terms of accomplishing their mission.
The work of the untied hands has not always been accomplished "quietly, without any discussion." If fact, some of the "dark side" work undertaken by the U.S. routinely made the top of the news in friendly countries.
One result is that public opinion polling around the world shows significant damage to the credibility and reputation of the United States. For example, a BBC poll of 26,381 people in 25 countries after last November's midterm elections found that only 29 percent of respondents said U.S. influence on the world is "mainly positive," down from 36 percent a year earlier and 40 percent a year before that. Respondents disapproved of how the U.S. managed all six foreign policy areas explored by the poll.
Goldmine of lax oversight
By far the largest ― and among the most poorly monitored ― of the three new military aid programs is the so-called Coalition Support Funds, created by Congress to reimburse "coalition of the willing" countries for their assistance in counterterrorism operations as well as for military support in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The largest CSF recipient is Pakistan, which took in more than $3 billion in U.S. taxpayer money in the first four years after 9/11; at one point, it was billing the U.S. government for almost $200 million per quarter for assistance in hunting down terrorists on the Afghan-Pakistan border. Because of CSF, Pakistan now ranks as one of the largest recipients of U.S. military aid and assistance, rivaling longtime U.S. favorites Israel and Egypt.
"With the possible exception of Iraq reconstruction funds, I've never seen a larger blank check for any country than for the Pakistan CSF program," Tim Rieser, a key adviser to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and the majority clerk on the Senate Appropriations Committee's subcommittee on foreign operations, told ICIJ. "CSF is a backwater of lax oversight and poor accountability."
When Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., returned from an October 2006 trip to Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, he noted that "the Defense Representative Office [at the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan] recommends changing the Coalition Support Fund program to paying for specific objectives that are planned and executed, rather than simply paying what the country bills."
The Coalition Support Funds program was created in the series of emergency supplemental appropriations that Congress passed after the 9/11 attacks. Unlike ordinary U.S. military training and financing programs, such as the International Military Education and Training program (IMET) or the Foreign Military Financing program (FMF), which provide grants, CSF reimburses approved governments for the cost of fuel, ammunition, security and airlift and the like for counterterrorism operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The governments submit invoices to the U.S. Embassy in their country; in some cases, the embassy has helped host government craft CSF invoices, according to U.S. officials familiar with the process. The embassy forwards the invoice to the region's senior U.S. military officer, who vets it for accuracy and then submits it for approval by both the Pentagon and the State Department. Not all submitted costs are reimbursed, but the Pentagon acknowledges that there is no formal auditing mechanism to verify costs.
Through a Freedom of Information Act request, ICIJ obtained a full listing of CSF reimbursements to coalition countries from fiscal 2002 through fiscal 2006. Most offer scant detail or description of the costs incurred.
For example, for a three-month period in 2003, U.S. taxpayers reimbursed Pakistan $192.7 million. The Pentagon simply told lawmakers, "This payment is based on the bills submitted from the Government of Pakistan (GOP) for the support it provided to U.S. military operations during April through June related to the global war on terrorism (GWOT)."
Later that year, the Defense Department approved a $195 million payment to Pakistan with apparently little or no actual costs in hand: "This estimate is based on anticipated support that will be provided by Pakistan, and reflects the historical average monthly rate of $65 million."
In a written response to ICIJ questions about the vetting of Pakistani CSF bills, the Defense Department said, "Each claim for reimbursement from Coalition Support Funds is evaluated to ensure the country expended its resources, the support was essential to U.S. military operations, and that the claim is reasonable and credible with documentation that adequately accounts for the support provided."
As for Congress, the CSF legislation requires the Pentagon and the State Department to notify Congress every time a CSF payment is approved, detailing how the money was spent. The reports go to the Appropriations and Armed Services committees of the House and Senate. Whether anyone in Congress notices is open to question.
A clerk for the defense subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee told ICIJ in 2006 the reports were not public information. The Senate Armed Services Committee keeps copies available for public review but only for the current year; other years' reports are filed away off-site and are "not retrievable," a clerk said. In the House, one clerk said that reports were simply passed on to staffers, "who throw them away."
Human rights and military training
Another new funding vehicle entrusted to the Pentagon was the Regional Defense Counterterrorism Fellowship Program (CTFP), which is designed to train foreign forces in counterterrorism techniques. Operating since 2002 with budgets of $20 million to $25 million per year, the CTFP appears in many ways nearly identical to the U.S. government's long-standing IMET program, which also trains foreign military officers. In fact, many of the courses offered under CTFP are virtually the same as those offered under IMET.
So why the duplication? Part of the explanation may be linked to human rights issues. The largest recipient of CTFP training through fiscal 2005 was Indonesia, a country whose military and security forces have a long, sordid record of human rights abuses. At various times since the early 1990s, the U.S. has curtailed or completely cut off military training of Indonesian forces. Over time, certain programs, such as courses focusing on teaching human rights principles to Indonesian officers, were reinstated, but it was not until the end of 2005 that full military training and assistance (including IMET and FMF) were again allowed.
Yet from 2002 to 2004, the same Indonesian forces that were prohibited from receiving anything beyond the most vanilla of IMET courses on human rights were simultaneously receiving tutelage on "Intelligence in Combating Terrorism" and "Student Military Police Prep" under CTFP, according to Defense Department documents obtained by ICIJ under a Freedom of Information Act request. In fact, in 2002 and 2003 Indonesia pulled in close to $4 million in CTFP funding, making the troubled Southeast Asian nation the No. 1 recipient of such funds.
Because CTFP was not specifically prohibited under the IMET/FMF ban, such training was allowed to continue under the Pentagon's purview despite the U.S. government's ostensible policy of cutting off most military training until human rights concerns had been satisfactorily addressed by Jakarta.
"There was a general sense that there was some sort of magic to [the word] 'counterterrorism,'" according to Matt Easton, an Indonesia expert with the advocacy group Human Rights First, which lobbied Congress on restricting military assistance to Indonesia. Counterterrorism training, he said in an interview with ICIJ, was "a sacred cow."
Meanwhile, to increase the flow of U.S. money, the Indonesian intelligence agency used the charitable foundation of a former Indonesian president to hire lobbyists to pressure Congress on keeping the spigots open. As a report in this series uncovered, the Indonesian government has engaged in a concerted lobbying effort of Congress since the 9/11 attacks using high-powered influence peddlers, including Dole, to free up as much American military assistance to Indonesia as possible.
All U.S. foreign military training programs, including the CTFP, are subject to congressionally mandated human rights restrictions commonly known as the Leahy Amendment for its original sponsor in the Senate. The State Department and the Defense Department, depending on the particular program, must certify that there is no "credible evidence" that the foreign military units and individuals to be trained have committed "gross violations" of human rights.
Unfortunately, such vetting is not always carried out, as the Government Accountability Office has reported on numerous occasions. In Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines, the GAO said in a July 2005 report, it found "no evidence that U.S. officials vetted an estimated 6,900 foreign security trainees" — 4,000 Indonesian, 1,700 Thai and 1,200 Filipino police officers — trained by the Justice Department with law enforcement assistance from the State Department in fiscal years 2001 through 2004. Among the trainees, the GAO said, were 32 Indonesians trained over time from a notorious special forces police unit that had been prohibited under State Department policy from receiving U.S. training funds because of the unit's human rights abuses.
The GAO reported a similar pattern a year later in North Africa. In a July 2006 report examining U.S. military assistance to Morocco and Tunisia, the GAO found "lapses in the vetting of trainees during fiscal years 2004 and 2005."
Pentagon spending authority
The third new military training program is "Section 1206" training, a reference to the section in recent defense authorization bills that has granted the Pentagon the power to train foreign military forces outside the traditional orbit of the State Department. Beginning in 2006, Congress gave the Defense Department authority to use up to $200 million of its own appropriated funds for that year to train and equip foreign forces (the 2007 defense authorization bill now requires State Department concurrence).
Until then, the majority of such training and aid, particularly through the traditional IMET and FMF programs, was structured around a process whereby the State Department was appropriated the funds while the Defense Department carried out the actual training of soldiers. The thinking was that by granting the State Department ultimate authority and control over the funds, broader foreign policy and human rights concerns could be factored in when deciding how to allocate military aid; strictly military rationale would not dominate what were, ultimately, political decisions.
The Pentagon defended its push for the new authority by pointing out the need for quicker funding decisions in a post-9/11 environment that didn't allow for the usual two- to three-year federal budgeting cycle process. But some disagreed.
A report that Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., sent to colleagues on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in December 2006, when he was the chairman, noted inconsistencies in the rationale behind the Section 1206 program. "Overall in fiscal year 2006," the report notes, "$200 million in funding was appropriated. Only $100 million of that amount has been obligated, an indication that the initially claimed urgency for the funding was questionable."
Not surprisingly, the two largest intended recipients of the Pentagon's new 1206 training were Pakistan and Indonesia, which are among the largest recipients of other post-9/11 military training and assistance programs. In Pakistan, more than $23 million was earmarked in fiscal 2006 for "Improving Counter Terrorism Strike Capabilities"; in Indonesia, "Securing Strategic Sea Lanes" was the objective at a cost of more than $18 million.
For fiscal 2007, Congress increased the amount of Section 1206 authority to $300 million. Over the long run, it remains to be seen whether such authority becomes a permanent part of the way the U.S. carries out military training.