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    Former journalism adviser in Iraq says U.S. officials steered coverage to themselves By Larry Margasak Associated Press 2/14/2005
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 14, 2005
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      Former journalism adviser in Iraq says U.S. officials steered
      coverage to themselves
      By Larry Margasak
      Associated Press

      WASHINGTON (AP) A journalist who helped Iraq form a new broadcast
      network in 2003 testified Monday that U.S. occupation officials were
      more interested in airing their own activities than stories
      essential to Iraqis.

      Don North, who served as a U.S. government adviser to the Iraqi
      Media Network, said the network became an irrelevant mouthpiece for
      the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority.

      The network was given ''a laundry list of CPA activities'' to cover
      instead of stories on security, the lack of electricity and jobs,
      said North, an independent journalist who has reported for National
      Public Radio and NBC.

      North testified at a hearing of the Senate Democratic Policy
      Committee, a party organization. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., head of
      the panel, said Democrats had asked Republican-led Senate committees
      to conduct hearings on U.S. waste and missteps in Iraq but the GOP
      chairmen refused.

      In addition to North, another former U.S. adviser in Iraq Frank
      Willis testified he thought he was in the Wild West in 2003 as he
      watched colleagues pull $2 million in fresh bills from a vault and
      stuff them in a contractor's gunnysack.

      North told the hearing he wanted the media network to be like the
      Public Broadcasting System in the United States. Instead, he said,
      U.S. authorities told him ''we were running a public diplomacy
      operation'' for the occupation government.

      Willis testified that cash payments that weren't stuffed in sacks
      were made from a pickup truck that bore the name of Iraq's grounded
      airline. American authorities thought the vehicle would ''meld into
      the environment,'' Willis, said.

      Much of the money was Iraqi funds, Willis said.

      Army Lt. Col. Joseph Yoswa, a Defense Department spokesman, said the
      occupation authority ''strived earnestly for sound management,
      transparency and oversight.'' He said U.S. funds were subject
      to ''contract and accounting practices required by U.S. law.''
      Separate standards applied to the Iraqi money, he said.

      Yoswa said he could not comment on the testimony about the Iraqi

      Monday's hearing was designed to spotlight the waste of money in
      Iraq by the former occupation agency, the Coalition Provisional

      Because Iraq had no functioning banking system in 2003, money was
      kept in a basement vault in CPA headquarters, a former palace of
      Saddam Hussein.

      Officials from the CPA, which ruled Iraq from June 2003 to June
      2004, would count the money when it left the vault, but nobody kept
      track of the cash after that, Willis said.

      ''In sum: inexperienced officials, fear of decision-making, lack of
      communications, minimal security, no banks and lots of money to
      spread around. This chaos I have referred to as a 'Wild West,'''
      Willis said in testimony submitted to the Democratic Policy

      ''This isn't penny ante. Millions, perhaps billions of dollars have
      been wasted and pilfered,'' said the chairman of the Democratic
      panel, Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota. He said the hearing was
      arranged because the Republicans who run Congress have declined to
      investigate fraud, waste and abuse in Iraq.

      James Mitchell, spokesman for the special inspector general for Iraq
      reconstruction, said in an interview that cash payments in Iraq were
      a problem when the occupation authority ran the country, and they
      continue during the massive U.S.-funded reconstruction.

      ''There are no capabilities to electronically transfer funds,''
      Mitchell said. ''This complicates the financial management of
      reconstruction projects and complicates our ability to follow the

      The Pentagon, which had oversight of the CPA, did not comment in
      response to requests Friday and over the weekend. But the
      administrator of the former U.S. occupation agency, L. Paul Bremer,
      in response to a recent federal audit criticizing the CPA, strongly
      defended the agency's financial practices.

      Bremer said auditors mistakenly assumed that ''Western-style
      budgeting and accounting procedures could be immediately and fully
      implemented in the midst of a war.''

      When the authority took over the country in 2003, Bremer said, there
      was no functioning Iraqi government and services were primitive or
      nonexistent. He said the U.S. strategy was ''to transfer to the
      Iraqis as much responsibility as possible as quickly as possible,
      including responsibility for the Iraqi budget.''

      Iraq's economy was ''dead in the water'' and the priority ''was to
      get the economy going,'' Bremer said.

      Also in response to that audit, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman had
      said, ''We simply disagree with the audit's conclusion that the CPA
      provided less than adequate controls.''

      Willis, who served in the State and Transportation departments
      during the Reagan administration, worked in Iraq during the last
      half of 2003 and said he was responsible for civilian operations at
      Baghdad's airport.

      Describing the transfer of $2 million to one contractor's gunnysack,
      Willis said: ''It was time for payment. We told them to come in and
      bring a bag.'' He said the money went to Custer Battles of
      Middletown, R.I., for providing airport security in Baghdad for
      civilian passengers.

      Willis' allegations follow by two weeks an inspector general's
      report that concluded the occupying authority transferred nearly $9
      billion to Iraqi government ministries without any financial

      The money was designated for financing humanitarian needs, economic
      reconstruction, repair of facilities, disarmament and civil
      administration, but the authority had no way to verify that it went
      for those purposes, the audit said.

      Willis concluded that ''decisions were made that shouldn't have
      been, contracts were made that were mistakes, and were poorly, if at
      all, supervised, money was spent that could have been saved, if we
      simply had the right numbers of people. ... I believe the 500 or so
      at CPA headquarters should have been 5,000.''

      On the Net:

      Democratic Policy Committee: http://democrats.senate.gov/dpc/

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