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State Dept. official’s brother has Blackwater ties

The inspec­tor gen­er­al says he will step aside from any future probe of the secu­ri­ty con­trac­tor because his sib­ling is a mem­ber of its advi­so­ry board.

by Paul Richter
Los Ange­les Times [1]

WASHINGTON — The State Depart­men­t’s inter­nal watch­dog, accused of politi­ciz­ing his office, told a con­gres­sion­al pan­el Wednes­day that he will step aside from any future probe of Black­wa­ter USA because his broth­er serves on the advi­so­ry board of the con­tro­ver­sial secu­ri­ty con­trac­tor.

The tes­ti­mo­ny by Howard J. Kro­n­gard, the depart­men­t’s inspec­tor gen­er­al, came as a sur­prise at a con­gres­sion­al hear­ing about his per­for­mance. At first, Kro­n­gard denied that his broth­er, for­mer CIA offi­cial Alvin B. Kro­n­gard, had any inter­est in Black­wa­ter, the State Depart­men­t’s pri­ma­ry pri­vate secu­ri­ty con­trac­tor in Iraq being inves­ti­gat­ed for deaths of civil­ians.

How­ev­er, mem­bers of the House pan­el sug­gest­ed he was in error. Dur­ing a hear­ing break, Kro­n­gard called his broth­er and said he learned that, in fact, Alvin Kro­n­gard agreed ear­li­er this year to be a mem­ber of Black­wa­ter’s advi­so­ry board, a posi­tion that pays trav­el expens­es for meet­ings and offers $3,500 for each gath­er­ing attend­ed.

“I had not been aware of that,” Kro­n­gard said after the break. “I want to state right now on the record that I recuse myself from any mat­ters hav­ing to do with Black­wa­ter.”

Kro­n­gard, a for­mer cor­po­rate lawyer, has been under fire from Rep. Hen­ry A. Wax­man (D‑Beverly Hills), House Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Reform Com­mit­tee chair­man, for imped­ing State Depart­ment inves­ti­ga­tions, includ­ing a Black­wa­ter probe.

Repub­li­cans on the com­mit­tee have argued that the accu­sa­tions were polit­i­cal­ly moti­vat­ed, but the dis­clo­sure by Kro­n­gard’s broth­er put them on the defen­sive and under­mined their defense of the inspec­tor gen­er­al.

“He has done you tremen­dous dam­age,” Rep. Christo­pher Shays (R‑Conn.) told Kro­n­gard. “I don’t know what kind of con­ver­sa­tion you had with him, but I would have been one unhap­py guy.”

Black­wa­ter has been the depart­men­t’s prin­ci­pal secu­ri­ty con­trac­tor in Iraq. It has become the tar­get of sev­er­al inves­ti­ga­tions in the after­math of a Sept. 16 inci­dent in Bagh­dad that killed 17 Iraqi civil­ians.

Wax­man has accused Kro­n­gard of poor man­age­ment and of imped­ing sev­er­al inves­ti­ga­tions to pro­tect the Bush admin­is­tra­tion from polit­i­cal embar­rass­ment. He and oth­ers on the com­mit­tee have charged that Alvin Kro­n­gard’s ties to Black­wa­ter were the rea­son Howard Kro­n­gard side­lined an inves­ti­ga­tion into weapons smug­gling charges.

Democ­rats pro­duced a let­ter from chief exec­u­tive Erik Prince invit­ing Kro­n­gard to join the pan­el, which advis­es Black­wa­ter on how to expand its busi­ness.

Howard Kro­n­gard has denied the charges lev­eled at him by sev­en cur­rent and for­mer State offi­cials. “I want to say in the strongest terms I nev­er imped­ed any inves­ti­ga­tion,” he said.