Today's Article
The State Department
insists on completing
a yearly quota of new
embassies and damns
the consequences,
say U.S. officials.
The American Spark
Criminal Probe Questions U.S. Embassy in Iraq Construction

By Cliff Montgomery - Oct. 20th, 2007

As is true with most problems in Iraq, this one became apparent after a bomb blast.

Last May, a mortar shell ripped into the gigantic new U.S. Embassy currently being built in Baghdad. While at
first glance it only marred a wall and gave some minor injuries to a few individuals inside the structure, over time
it has also revealed a host of problems with the management of the $592 million government building project.

It seems that James Golden, the contractor hired by the State Department to oversee the project, purposely
attempted to hide the extent of damage done by the blast, government officials have told
Newspapers. The State Department's inspector general (IG) may have freely helped Mr. Golden in this
apparent fraud--the IG kept Department officials from looking into the incident, according to documents and

Now a congressional committee will determine if the walls of this unfinished embassy compound--which were
meant to be impervious to blasts--actually were built according to U.S. specifications.

While American Ambassador Ryan Crocker has banned Golden from setting foot in Iraq, the contractor
continues to oversee embassy construction; continues to serve as liaison for the construction subcontractor,
Kuwait-based First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting Co.; and even continues to oversee other
enterprises for the State Department's Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) bureau.

The U.S. embassy in Baghdad--a sprawling 104-acre, Vatican-size complex of 21 structures built to house
around 1,000 American officials, was first slated for a June opening; that was pushed back to September.

But thanks to sprinkler system problems--it is simply the last in a number of failures blamed on First Kuwaiti--no
can can say for certain whether the embassy will be completed this year.

Golden did not immediately return phone calls from
McClatchy reporters seeking comment.

McClatchy also has discovered that:

  • Aspects of the U.S. embassy project currently are being investigated by at least one U.S. government
    criminal probe, say congressional and administration officials speaking on condition of anonymity.

  • To help rush the tardy project, the long-time OBO chief, retired Army Maj. Gen. Charles Williams, officially
    waived normal procedure in July 2005 to allow a sole-source construction contract to be given to First

        "The only acquisition option that can be considered is to issue Sole Source Awards to contractors
        capable of completing the design and construction in accordance with the required schedule, budget
        and performance parameters," Williams stated in a memo first reported by

  • Cosmopolitan Inc. of Columbia, MD, won the lead contract for construction of the embassy's classified
    areas--where officials with the proper clearances store and work with classified information--but was
    apparently fired from the job for poor performance. Kaseman Corp. of Chantilly, VA, has replaced

In August, Gen. Williams told a concerned House Foreign Affairs Committee that the U.S. embassy would be
completed by late September.

"This and other incidents involving separate embassy construction projects raise concerns about the adequacy
of the Department's management of our overseas building operations," wrote committee chairman Rep. Tom
Lantos (D-CA), to Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte on October 4th.

The State Department directed reporters' questions to its Director of management policy, Patrick Kennedy.

Kennedy admitted to reporters the seriousness of the embassy's sprinkler system issues--leaks from
underground water mains are an immediate problem--he claimed that such matters have been discovered
thanks in part to OBO's thorough inspections.

The problem with this gloss is that the sheer number of deficiencies found in the U.S. embassy project seems
to indicate otherwise. For instance, a May test of the electrical system for a nearby guard camp dining facility
revealed serious malfunctions.

Many U.S. officials say these problems often stem from Gen. Williams' questionable building oversight.
Williams is set on completing a yearly quota of new embassies within a set budget and damns the
consequences, they add.

Williams, who "won" his position in March 2001 by being the choice of his good friend, then-Secretary of State
Colin Powell, operates the overseas buildings apparatus like his personal  fiefdom, numerous officials familiar
with Williams' style told

We must remember these harsh statements are mere claims, coming from people who refuse to  discuss
these issues "on the record".

But evidence indicates there may be something to those claims. According to July congressional testimony
and a former top official with direct knowledge of the matter, Williams and his aides  flatly refused to allow
congressional staffers and American diplomats to personally review the unfinished embassy complex in Iraq--
even though American taxdollars pay for the whole mess.

That sounds like a personal fiefdom to us.

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