Clinton-era Filegate appears to have closed, 14 years on

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By Al Kamen
Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Filegate, one of the many "-gates" of the Clinton administration, looks to be over -- after a 14-year run. It began after congressional Republicans found out in 1996 that the Clinton White House had sought the FBI file of Billy Ray Dale, who was fired as head of the White House travel office in the Travelgate affair.

The new information led to allegations that the administration conspired to use the FBI for a political witch hunt. The alleged conspirators included then-White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum and aides Craig Livingstone and Anthony Marceca. Several people whose personnel files were involved then sued White House officials and the FBI, saying their privacy had been violated.

But Tuesday, U.S. District Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth tossed the case. "After years of litigation, endless depositions, the fictionalized portrayal of this lawsuit and its litigants on television," Lamberth concluded in a 28-page opinion, "this court is left to conclude that with the lawsuit, to quote Gertrude Stein, 'there's no there there.' "

The plaintiffs, he wrote, "after ample opportunity . . . have not produced any evidence of the far-reaching conspiracy that sought to use intimate details from FBI files for political assassinations that they alleged.

"The only thing that they have demonstrated is that this unfortunate episode -- about which they do have cause to complain -- was exactly what the defendants claimed: nothing more than a bureaucratic snafu."

Took a while to clear that up.

The Iranian city of Dublin?

The news media, citing Census Bureau statistics, reported in 2008 that U.S. companies were exporting hundreds of items, including military equipment, to Iran in violation of the general ban on exports to that country. Some of the items included civilian aircraft, military rifles and parts, aircraft parts, and trucks and other vehicles.

This news naturally upset members of Congress, who demanded to know what was going on.

Well, turns out, not much. The Government Accountability Office last week issued a 47-page report about the matter. It found that, of the 278 types of goods exported to Iran from 2004 to 2008, 97 went to other countries.

The rifles went to Iraq, the GAO found, and the aircraft parts went to Ireland, Israel and Iraq. The GAO checked census export statistics for 2002 that said aircraft launching gear had been sent to Iran. Turns out that the shipment had gone to Italy, not Iran.

In fact, "the remaining types of goods in the export statistics for Iran are primarily agricultural, medical, humanitarian or informational," the report said, and can be licensed for export to Iran.

Hmmm . . . Italy, Ireland, Israel and Iraq? All "I" countries?

Yes, the GAO found that the exporters, in filling out the two-letter international country codes for the recipients, sometimes got it wrong. For example, when they were shipping stuff to Iraq, they should have written "IQ." Instead they put in "IR," which is the code for Iran. Ditto with Ireland (which is "IE"). The GAO found shipments addressed to "improbable" places such as "Dublin, Iran." The Census Bureau "did not detect or correct" the errors, the report said.

This is something like the story of the newspaper copy editor who shouted to his colleagues, "Hey! Iraq, Iran, what's our style on that?"

As Emily Litella used to say, "Never mind."

'Outta There' or not

Remember, Wednesday midnight is the deadline for the Loop "Outta There" contest. Just pick the Cabinet member or top official who you think will bolt or be pushed out first. Included in the pool are Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, OMB Director Peter Orszag, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, Ambassador to the United Nations Susan E. Rice and economic adviser Christina Romer.

Also included: national security adviser James L. Jones, Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair, CIA Director Leon Panetta, press secretary Robert Gibbs, economic adviser Lawrence H. Summers, health-reform chief Nancy-Ann DeParle, climate-change czar Carol M. Browner and advisers David Axelrod, Valerie Jarrett and Pete Rouse.

Send your entry to You must include a phone number -- work, home or cell.

Afghan ID program

One especially difficult problem in Afghanistan is telling the good guys from the bad. They seem to go back and forth in those roles from day to day -- maybe even from morning to evening.

That may be why the Army last week, in a "request for information" spotted by our colleague Walter Pincus, was exploring whether it might be possible to set up a system of Afghan national ID cards. At least then you'll know who is constantly switching allegiances.

"The Kabul Regional Contracting Center," the notice said, "is conducting market research in an effort to identify sources capable of providing personnel to staff biometric enrollment positions for the Afghan NID Program."

This national ID card program, we're told, "is the main program of the Ministry of Interior. The program requires up to one thousand (1000) Afghan nationals to perform biometric data collections (at least 165 per week for 6 weeks). A 4-day training course will be provided."

That works out to 990,000 cards. In a nation of, giveor take, 28 million, not a bad start. But best be careful. Too much modernization can make it harder to steal elections.

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