Thursday, May 31, 2007

Security OR Embarrassment on More Abuse of Tax Payer Funds?


Baghdad Embassy Plans Turn Up Online

5:30 PM EDT, May 31, 2007
By MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON -- Detailed plans for the new U.S. Embassy under construction in Baghdad appeared online Thursday in a breach of the tight security surrounding the sensitive project.

Computer-generated projections of the soon-to-be completed, heavily fortified compound were posted on the Web site of the Kansas City, Mo.-based architectural firm that was contracted to design the massive facility in the Iraqi capital.

The images were removed by Berger Devine Yaeger Inc. shortly after the company was contacted by the State Department.

"We work very hard to ensure the safety and security of our employees overseas," said Gonzalo Gallegos, a department spokesman. "This kind of information out in the public domain detracts from that effort."

The 10 images included a scheme of the overall layout of the compound, plus depictions of individual buildings including the embassy itself, office annexes, the Marine Corps security post, swimming pool, recreation center and the ambassador's and deputy ambassador's residences.

U.S. officials said the posted plans conformed at least roughly to conceptual drawings for the new embassy, which is being built on the banks of the Tigris River behind huge fences due to concerns about insurgents' attacks.

Dan Sreebny, a spokesman for the embassy in Baghdad, declined to discuss the accuracy of the posted images.

"In terms of commenting whether they're accurate, obviously we wouldn't be commenting on that because we don't want people to know whether they're accurate or not for security reasons," he said.

Berger Devine Yaeger's parent company, the giant contractor Louis Berger Group, said the plans had been very preliminary and would not be of help to potential U.S. enemies.

"The actual information that was up there was purely conjectural and conceptual in nature," said company spokesman Jeffrey Willis. "Google Earth could give you a better snapshot of what the site looks like on the ground."

Some U.S. officials acknowledged that damage may have been done by the postings and used expletives to describe their personal reactions. Still, they downplayed the overall risk.

"People are eventually going to figure out where all these places are, but you don't have to draw them a map," said one senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about the embassy project.

Few are, and in Baghdad, the construction is under heavy guard and treated with extreme secrecy. It is off-limits to all but those with special passes, surrounded by tall, concrete blast walls and impossible to see except from the air.

The images posted on the Web site show that the $592 million embassy, expected to be completed in September on prime real estate two-thirds the size of Washington's National Mall, will be a spacious and comfortable facility, albeit dangerous.

Identified as the "Baghdad U.S. Embassy Compound Master Plan," the images show palm-lined paths, green grass gardens and volleyball and basketball courts outside the Marine post, as well as the swimming pool.

"In total, the 104-acre compound will include over twenty buildings, including one classified secure structure and housing for over 380 families," the Web site says.

It says the compound will include the embassy building, housing, a PX, commissary, cinema, retail and shopping areas, restaurants, schools, a fire station, power and water treatment plants as well as telecommunications and wastewater treatment facilities.

A U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee report last year said embassy security will be extraordinary: Setbacks and perimeter no-go areas will be especially deep, structures reinforced to 2.5 times the standard and five high-security entrances, plus an emergency entrance-exit.


On the Net:


Associated Press Writer Kim Gamel contributed to this report from Baghdad.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ganim cleared in state probe
Bridgeport Probate Court flaws detailed
Article Last Updated: 02/19/2007 08:59:45 PM EST

HARTFORD — A 26-month investigation into Bridgeport Probate Court Judge Paul J. Ganim cleared him of malfeasance charges on Friday, but the scrutiny isn't over.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal recommends that state oversight agencies investigate at least two issues, including a mysterious $5,000 that appeared in Ganim's 1998 campaign-finance documents. Blumenthal wants the State Elections Enforcement Commission to look into the contribution.

Blumenthal also recommended the Council on Probate Judicial Conduct rule on the propriety of the judge's 2003 requests of Probate Court employees to write letters to a federal judge in support of his brother, Joseph P. Ganim.

The former Bridgeport mayor was convicted of racketeering and bribery conspiracy and is serving a 9-year federal prison sentence.

In a 28-page report released Friday, Blumenthal said the investigation shows the need for added oversight within all the state's probate courts generally and in Bridgeport in particular.

Blumenthal said the campaign-finance issue — which was not part of the overall whistleblower investigation into Ganim's conduct in office — centers on a $32,000 loan Paul Ganim gave to his successful 1998 campaign.

"When the loan was received, records show he received $37,000," Blumenthal said Friday.

The report recommends tighter financial-accounting requirements, prohibiting court employees from working in a judge's private law offices and running personal
errands, and keeping better records on the distribution of financial assistance to needy families.

In reaction, the third-term Ganim, 43, who recently announced interest in running for mayor this year, said he was relieved the investigation is finally over and was unaware of the apparent discrepancy in his 1998 campaign report.

"I don't have an answer for that," he said. "That's up to the treasurer. I certainly don't believe there was one and I have no personal knowledge as to a discrepancy.

"I think they did a very thorough job," Ganim said of the investigators. "It completely exonerated me of these false and malicious allegations levied and I'm very pleased with the findings."

Ganim said he was met with an office that was clogged and disorganized and tried to change its culture.

"I just think there are always people out there who want to kick you and throw punches," Ganim said. "There's always a group of people that are negative in life."

Meanwhile, a leading lawmaker on Friday said Blumenthal's report will be used in this year's effort to reform the 123-court statewide probate system, including the possible closure of underperforming, mostly rural courts with health-insurance costs that are creating a major financial burden, including a projected $5 million deficit this year. The investigation dates back to November 2004, when Blumenthal and the State Auditors of Public Accounts received complaints under Connecticut's whistleblower statute.

Allegations of misconduct against Ganim included the destroying of court files, firing of longtime employees without cause, working as little as one day a week, showing favoritism to lawyers who were political supporters and misusing money intended for needy children. Investigators from Blumenthal's office interviewed more than 20 people, including past and current employees, and reviewed piles of documents dating before Ganim's arrival in the office in 1999.

The review found:

? while Ganim solicited letters of support for his brother, there was no retaliation against employees who did not participate. Blumenthal recommended the Council on Probate Judicial Conduct decide whether the solicitation was appropriate;

? there was no evidence that Ganim destroyed files to deceive the Probate Court administrator. Files that were destroyed were decades old and did not violate regulations;

? there was no evidence that Ganim fired employees for illegal or discriminatory reasons; and

? a court employee did work in Ganim's family law office, but it was on a weekend and the worker was paid for it.

"No court employee could substantiate the claim that Judge Ganim worked only one day per week," the report said. Ganim testified under oath that he regularly worked over 30 hours a week on court business.

Blumenthal said his office had never before reviewed any probate court, part of a system dating back more than 300 years. The courts administrate estates of the deceased and provide guardians for those who cannot legally represent themselves and manage their assets. "Generally, we've noted that this investigation certainly illustrates a number of aspects of Probate Court operations that need to be improved," Blumenthal said.

"Even if we have found insufficient evidence to prove many of the allegations made against Judge Ganim, the nature of record-keeping and other aspects of the probate court operations made difficult the task of investigating and proving the allegations made and the standards for assessing probate court conduct," Blumenthal said.

"So my hope is that our report will lead to reforms and also improvements in this particular Probate Court."

Robert G. Jaekle, of Stratford, one of the state's two auditors, said whistleblower complaints typically yield more shortcomings in government than confirm individual complaints of wrongdoing.

Ganim said the destruction of older court files was needed for more space. "You can't be in business for 300 years and save every document," Ganim said.

On the issue of payments for children through the court's Kinship and Respite Fund programs, Ganim said all grants were made in checks and the accounting included all the names of children and their addresses.

"We certainly have a record of everyone who's had a grant," Ganim said.

Rep. Michael P. Lawlor, D-East Haven, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said with the major funding shortfall in what is supposed to be a self-sustaining system, there will be a major debate this year on its future.

"They're going to run out of money in this biennium and I think that's inspiring different levels of reform," Lawlor said. "It's a statewide issue and not just in Bridgeport. If the courts ask for state funding, it's going to have strings attached, like civil service standards, salary standards and the like."

Last year, an internal report on the entire probate system indicated a $5 million deficit in the fiscal year that began July 1, a $6.2 million deficit in 2007-2008, a $7.6 million deficit in 2008-2009, a $9.1 million shortfall in 2009-2010 and $10.6 million deficit in 2010-2011.

Wed Jun 06, 07:41:00 AM 2007  

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