By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 25, 2007
The State Department's security chief was forced to resign yesterday after a critical review found that his office had failed to adequately supervise private contractors protecting U.S. diplomats in Iraq.
Richard J. Griffin, a former Secret Service agent who was once in charge of presidential protection, was told by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's deputy, John D. Negroponte, to leave office by Nov. 1. Griffin's chief deputy, Gregory B. Starr, will become acting assistant secretary for diplomatic security.
Griffin is the first senior official to lose his job over the widening private-contractor scandal. Under fire from Congress, the U.S. military and the Iraqi government after the Sept. 16 contractor killing of 17 Iraqi civilians, Rice on Tuesday ordered extensive changes in diplomatic security arrangements in Iraq and pledged stronger oversight. A high-level panel she appointed to review the Iraq operation recommended Griffin's departure along with the other changes, according to State Department sources.
"I don't rule out . . . that there may even be other things that we must do," Rice told the House Foreign Relations Committee yesterday before Griffin's resignation was announced. She said she has designated Negroponte to recommend further steps after consulting with his Pentagon counterpart, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon R. England.
As she has concentrated on the Middle East peace process, Iran and Russia, Rice has increasingly turned major responsibility for hot-button issues -- including North Korea, Pakistan and Iraq -- over to Negroponte. He has taken the lead on management problems, such as the contractors, along with his longtime Foreign Service colleague Patrick Kennedy, a senior management official who served as Negroponte's management deputy when Negroponte was director of national intelligence, before he took the No. 2 post at the State Department.
The White House has nominated Kennedy to replace Henrietta H. Fore as undersecretary of state for management. That shift took a major step forward yesterday when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to send Fore's long-delayed nomination as director of foreign assistance to the Senate floor. Senate aides said the committee may act on Kennedy's nomination as early as next week.
But the changes in security policy for Iraq and in her team are unlikely to temper rising criticism of Rice's management style. She is due to testify today before the House oversight committee, whose chairman, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), has accused the department's prime security contractor in Iraq, Blackwater Worldwide, of tax evasion; charged the department with papering over evidence of widespread corruption in the Iraqi government; and accused the State inspector general of failing to monitor shoddy work and overspending in construction of a new, $600 million U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
Griffin's departure was widely seen as a positive move within the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS), where many senior agents have expressed growing concern over the dependence on and lack of supervision of private contractors. Several agents, who were not authorized to discuss internal matters publicly, said that DS was unprepared for the rapid rise in contractor use and described the agency as overwhelmed by the demands being made on it.
Those undercurrents were laid bare after the Sept. 16 incident involving Blackwater contractors in Baghdad's Nisoor Square. Although the military and the Iraqi government had previously complained about the use of excessive force by contractor security personnel, the incident sparked public outrage in Washington and Baghdad.
Although DS employs more than 30,000 people worldwide as technicians, building guards and couriers, it has only about 1,400 "special agents" trained in law enforcement and personal protection. Most of them are assigned to Washington and U.S. field offices, with fewer than half based at embassies and consulates overseas. The agency began contracting with private security companies to protect U.S. and other officials abroad in 1994, a practice that expanded with the reestablishment of a U.S. diplomatic presence in Afghanistan following the 2001 ouster of the Taliban government.
Protecting U.S. diplomats in Iraq, however, put far greater strains on DS resources. More than 1,000 private contractors from three U.S. companies -- Blackwater, DynCorp and Triple Canopy -- now provide security for all official U.S. civilians there. The contractors had been supervised by 36 DS agents until Rice doubled their numbers this month.
The dispatch of additional agents -- taken from a force of 100 SWAT team members normally held in reserve for worldwide security emergencies -- was one of the recommendations made by the panel, headed by Kennedy, along with the proposal that DS receive funding to hire 100 new agents. The panel also included Eric J. Boswell, a former DS chief whom Negroponte also brought into the National Intelligence Directorate.
It was Negroponte who carried to Rice the team's recommendation -- and his own -- that Griffin be fired. Rice agreed and sent Negroponte to carry it out.
After joining the Secret Service in 1971 in Chicago, Griffin eventually rose through the ranks to become deputy director. From 1997 to 2005, when President Bush nominated him as DS chief, he served as inspector general of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Griffin announced his resignation at a meeting of his senior staff yesterday morning. In a memorandum to Bush, and a later e-mail to DS colleagues, he offered no reason for his departure.