World
Plot Thickens: Pentagon Now Facing More Scrutiny Over $766 Million Task Force

Senators were already questioning why the Defense Department was restricting a government watchdog. Now there are criminal investigations and questions about retaliation against a whistleblower

 

The Pentagon is scrambling to justify its actions in restricting the government watchdog investigating a $766-million task force in Afghanistan 2014 with more controversy seemingly erupting by the day. Now there are allegations that Defense Department officials retaliated against a whistleblower and news of several ongoing criminal investigations.

 

Earlier this month, we reported that the Pentagon was making it difficult for the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction to investigate reports of gross waste and mismanagement by the now-defunct, five-year Task Force for Business Stability Operations. One of its projects, a gas station, cost 140 times what it should have.

 

How U.S. Commanders Spent $2 Billion of Petty Cash in Afghanistan Read more.

 

Boondoggle HQ

The $25 Million Building in Afghanistan Nobody Needed Read more.

 

Since then, several members of Congress have demanded that the Pentagon cooperate fully with SIGAR.

 

The Defense Department has been unable to provide a reasonable explanation for why it only restricted SIGAR when the inspector general turned his attention to the troubled task force and how the department will work with SIGAR in the future. The DOD has been legally required to provide free access to the inspector general since SIGAR'S inception in 2010.

 

Here's the background: After receiving numerous complaints about the task force, called TFBSO, SIGAR launched an investigation. As it typically does, the inspector general requested task force documents. But the Pentagon refused to comply, telling SIGAR that it was placing new rules and restrictions on access. The Pentagon told SIGAR that it must review the documents in a DOD-controlled "reading room" in Washington and any documents SIGAR wanted to take must first have names redacted. The DOD said it believed SIGAR had inappropriately released documents with names of service members in response to an unrelated Freedom of Information Act request from ProPublica.

 

In response to questions from ProPublica, Lt. Col. Joseph Sowers, a DOD spokesman, insisted this wasn't a new policy, but a "common sense safeguard."

 

That safeguard, however, has only applied to task force documents 2014 not any other material requested by SIGAR that contained names. That contradiction prompted SIGAR to call DOD's explanation a "red herring."

 

When ProPublica asked the Pentagon why the restrictions weren't applied across the board, the agency fumbled to find an answer.

 

First DOD officials said that "the same ground rules" would apply to all future SIGAR requests. But when asked how this would work in Afghanistan, where SIGAR has 35 people and there is no reading room, officials backpedaled. They couldn't answer questions about where SIGAR staff would read the documents, who would redact the sometimes thousands of pages in a SIGAR request, or even whether Army Gen. John Campbell, who oversees the military in Afghanistan, was involved in the decision.

 

The Pentagon then said the restrictions would not, after all, apply to every future SIGAR request. Instead the Pentagon would decide on a "case by case basis." DOD officials wouldn't say what criteria would be used to decide whether the documents would be restricted or who would make the decision.

 

Sowers said that regardless of the reading room requirements, SIGAR has "unfettered access" to do its job and evaluate the TFBSO. SIGAR, however, called the restrictions borderline obstructive and said at the very least they violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the inspector general act and the law that established SIGAR.

 

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and several other senators have said they are concerned not just with the Pentagon's policy for SIGAR, but also with the wasteful spending of the task force. That includes building the gas station, which cost $43 million dollars when it should have cost between $200,000 and $500,000. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., has called a hearing next month on the gas station. Grassley has demanded the Pentagon turn over all the task force documents to his office, and has asked the DOD inspector general to launch its own investigation into the task force.

 

In addition to auditing the task force, SIGAR's criminal division is also conducting several investigations into the task force, but cannot comment on specifics, according to Grassley.

"I expect the Pentagon to cooperate fully with the inspector general and with my office in all inquiries involving the task force," he said in a statement. "With the poor track record reported on the auditing side, there's reason to be skeptical on the level of cooperation with the inspector general on the criminal side."

 

Grassley is also seeking answers about the allegations of Army Col. John C. Hope, the former director of operations of the task force. Hope said he is being retaliated against for "speaking the truth" about a lack of accountability with the task force in an official Army report, according to a letter Grassley wrote to Defense Secretary Ash Carter this week. Hope claims his evaluation is being purposefully withheld, which jeopardizes his next assignment and affects possible promotion.

 

Brian McKeon, the deputy under secretary of defense who made the decision to restrict SIGAR's access to the documents, is Hope's senior evaluator. McKeon, as well as the former task force director, Joseph Catalino, are responsible for completing Hope's evaluation.

 

"Neither has reportedly signed [the evaluation]," Grassley wrote to Carter, and "both would have received Hope's highly critical [report] about a total 2018lack of accountability' at TFBSO."

The Pentagon said it was agency policy not to speak about individual officer evaluations. "We welcome continued review by SIGAR in their effort to ensure the TFBSO activities are properly assessed and analyzed," Sowers said.

 

Grassley has asked Carter to step in personally.

 

"If the Pentagon is retaliating against someone for speaking out on poor accountability and wasteful spending, that's unacceptable," Grassley said in a statement. "It's detrimental to the individual and to the taxpayers."

 

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Bengaluru girls embarrass Rahul Gandhi

When Gandhi asked students of the all-women Mount Carmel College if Modi's ambitious programmes were working, they responded with a loud yes much to his discomfiture and leaving Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and state Home Minister G. Parameshwara red-faced

 

Girls of a convent college here embarrassed Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday by endorsing Prime Minister Narendra Modi's pet initiatives Clean India (Swacchha Bharat) and Make in India.
 
When Gandhi asked students of the all-women Mount Carmel College if Modi's ambitious programmes were working, they responded with a loud yes much to his discomfiture and leaving Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and state Home Minister G. Parameshwara red-faced.
 
Gandhi was interacting with about 500 students in the reputed autonomous institution on "Role of youth in building a vibrant India", amid tight security, as even media was kept away from the auditorium, ostensibly to avoid witnessing such embarrassment and discomfort.
 
A perturbed Congress lawmaker in the Lok Sabha, however, differed with them and said "you might see it but I don't see a vision that the BJP is projecting".
 
The hour-long interaction was part of Rahul's outreach programme to campus students across the country.
 
When a bemused Gandhi again asked students if Make in India was also working, they replied in unison with 'yes'!
 
Emerging out of the packed auditorium, Rahul told waiting reporters that the response to his twin questions was not clear, as half the audience said nothing had happened, while the rest said something had happened on the Clean India mission.
 
Making most of Rahul's discomfort, BJP's national spokesman Sambit Patra said in New Delhi later that the response to the Congress leader's posers exposed the disconnect with ground realities, as he was shown through a mirror what the country's youth aspire for.
 
"When asked about Clean India and Make in India, the youth said these concepts were moving ahead and Rahul was shocked. Why? Because of the fact that he has a great disconnect, he does not know vibrations on ground. Leave aside the country, he cannot lead even the youth," Patra told news channels.
 
BJP secretary Siddharth Nath Singh said Rahul's interaction with students in Bengaluru should caution his party and its leadership that Indian youth is not willing to accept "obstructionist and negative" agenda of the Congress.
 
"We hope RG and Congress will learn from the interaction that the youth want Parliament to function and therefore they would not disturb the winter session," Singh said.
 
Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala, however, said Gandhi answered questions unlike Modi and it was the way for the country's leader to interact.
 
"... (Rahul ji) believes in democratic functioning of the country, the right to agree or disagree," Surjewala said. 
 
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.
 
 

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Public Interest Exclusive
Do consumers delink Snapdeal from Aamir Khan’s comments?
With Snapdeal under pressure after Aamir Khan’s comment about “unsafe” India, a PR firm commissioned a survey to show support for Aamir. Unfortunately, a simple Twitter poll with three times the respondents, shows how badly Snapdeal is perceived
 
Updated on 26 November 2015 to display final tally of the poll conducted by Sucheta Dalal on Twitter.
 
Endorsements are a risk that is monetised and built into each contract. So when a celebrity like Aamir Khan chooses to speak out, it is not merely about his freedom of expression, but a conscious decision on whether or not it will affect his "legal contract" with brands that he endorses. Snapdeal, the e-commerce site, under attack over an allegedly controversial comment of its brand ambassador Aamir Khan, seems to have used a survey to push its point. Only thing is, the survey finding are so one sided that it appears as if it was a paid job.
 
For example, the survey conducted by Airloyal says, "37% of the respondents out of 500 felt that it is unfair to make comments in public about free India. As an actor of this high stature, Aamir Khan is looked upon by many people and this sends across a deceiving image about our nation."
 
 
This is completely in contrast with a flash poll conducted by Sucheta Dalal, Managing Editor of Moneylife on Twitter. The poll question was, "cross checking a PR poll on whether it was fair to target Snapdeal for Aamir Khan’s comments."
 
Till writing this story, 1,651 people have responded to this survey within two hours and it shows, 75% people think it was fair to target Snapdeal for comment by its brand ambassador Aamir Khan. 
 
 
Globally, all companies that use film stars, models and sport stars to endorse their products and hope to cash in on their popularity are aware of the risks and mitigate it with an ironclad contract that gives them the right to terminate the contract on various grounds. There have been many global instances where the brands have even sued their brand ambassadors when things go wrong. Sometimes they have won, or settled out of court and sometimes they have lost. 
 
Many sponsors even have an insurance cover, in case of issues, scandals or injury affecting their star endorser. Drunken brawls, drug and doping related issues, crime and extra-marital affairs are the usual issues that lead to cancellations. An Aamir Khan kind of situation, where a statement leads to hurt and anger is rather rare, but not unusual. 
 
Nike cancelled the endorsement of Oscar Pistorius, one of the world's most popular sports personalities when the scandal over the shooting of Reeva Stenkamp broke. The most famous crime-related end to endorsements was off course OJ Simpson in the 1990s. Lance Armstrong, the cycling champion lost over $150 million worth of endorsement deals, then there is the case of Tiger Woods.
 
Here are more insights on the findings from the Airloyal survey. It says, "60% of the respondents have said that they will continue to shop on Snapdeal as the comment was made by an actor who is entitled to have his own opinion and has no personal association with the brand."
 
However, there are several comments on Snapdeal's app on Google Play Store, where at the last check (as on 25th November, 6.15pm) about 91,793 people has given the app one star. The Snapdeal app that time had a rating of 4.1 out of 5 and downloaded by about 10 lakh people.
 
 
Here are some reactions from people on Ms Dalal’s survey…
 
 
Remember, actor Charlize Theron was sued and lost her endorsement with Raymond Weil for wearing a Dior watch to an advertisement. And so it goes on. This is probably the first time that a company is trying to counter the negative publicity by hiring a PR firm and serving up an independent survey. Will this strategy work? Or will it only cause more damage by keeping the issue in the public eye for much longer than necessary? It remains to be seen.
 

Update:
The poll conducted on Twitter by Ms Dalal was valid for 24 hours, which ended on 26 November at 4.12pm. As per the final count, 79% out of the total 4,206 votes said, it was fair to target Snapdeal for comments by Aamir Khan. Rest 21% disagreed with this view.

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COMMENTS

karthik

1 year ago

when amir khan and snapdeal are targetted, why should scroll.in should rush to write article..

Pierre omidyar firms invests in Scroll.in
seems Pierre omidyar is also an angel investor in snapdeal through ebay

so one plus one equals three !!

jaideep shirali

1 year ago

I think a poll should have been conducted to find out how many people actually saw Aamir's interview before commenting or acting against Snapdeal. The results would be interesting!

Rajendra Ganatra

1 year ago

The results are logical and convincing.

Do the stars really enhance sales? Frankly, I never give a damn to celebrity endorsements!

Nilesh KAMERKAR

1 year ago

There's no compulsion on anyone to boycott SnapDeal.

Those who disagree may please feel free to throw away their cash at SnapDeal.

Remember, you can't insist that those who are protesting peacefully must buy from SnapDeal . . . That's surely intolerance

Raj K Swamy

1 year ago

Amir Khan, just like all of has many identities- he is an Indian also he has the identity of a Muslim. As a Muslim, does he support the Charlie Hebdo killings-Why was he silent then? Is co-ordinated intolerance by Muslims acceptable to Aamir and all those others who speak of intolerance now? They only raise their voice now because Hindus will not do anything and be tolerant except for reacting on twitter/net. I think we are all missing the big picture. The intolerance bogey needs to be understood based on what is going on India and globally. 1. The BJP govt seems to have given a free hand to CBI to go after Blackmoney- NDTV/Sharad Pawar saga/PC-vasan eyecare/Sharukh Tax raids/Sonia/Rahul money abroad -citizenship and so on. (2)The Govt having arrested Chota RAJAN is going after Dawood with int'l support- dawoods Mafia has well known connections to B'wood and can pressurise them to talk (3) ISIS' raise and call to all Muslims (including the 200 odd millions in India) for Islamic Caliphate throught the world. (4) The Intensifying global war against ISIS & Islamic terrorism (5)The Pope calling this the 3rd world war.
What kind of intolerance or threat and from whom did AK receive sitting in his plush Bungalow in Mumbai?
SOme experts needs to piece all this together and explain to the public.

Lalit S Kathpalia

1 year ago

Excellent article. And also well researched on how the PR polls are also biased. And I endorse fully that a company cannot be delinked from the comments of its brand ambassador. Here is a Wharton paper on how "Social media outrage, it seems, is a beast with the fangs of a rattlesnake, and the attention span of a gnat". Here is the link - http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/artic...

Bapoo Malcolm

1 year ago

Dad always said that bad publicity is better than no publicity. So there is something called Snapdeal and it does some selling. Hurrah!

Is there not any other coherent, intelligent argument other than to send the whole world to Pakistan? Or Syria? Or wherever?

Always maintained that hatred will win over many converts. Love, none.

The very tone and sterile comments, intellectually, make a case for intolerance (a k a hatred), rather than against it.

If you hate the other side so much, why not join the army and carry the fight to the border and across it? Rather than pick on individuals here.

Please put brain in gear before opening mouth; or hitting the keys.

Soon people will be abusing and fighting their very own. That's the law of nature. We are on a slippery slope and gaining speed. May God bless you because I doubt He will.

Chandulal Devji Patel

1 year ago

Amirkhan act itself is an antinational act to gain
publicity stunt nothing else

Chandulal Devji Patel

1 year ago

a shameful act by the actor who was well received by every indian citizen

Amirkhan act itself is an antinational act to gain
political exposer

Bosco Menezes

1 year ago

The problem today is that people believe WhatsApp forwards blindly & forward them onwards without verifying the contents .... if anyone bothered to read the comments, they would realise that Aamir never said he was thinking of leaving the country, but said that he was shocked (disasterous is the word he used) to hear his wife pose such a question.
The sensible reaction to his comments would have been to show him & Kiran the stats that prove otherwise, but as is the norm nowadays, the trolls & abusers were immediately at his throat .... almost making the case for his wife's question.

REPLY

dvn

In Reply to Bosco Menezes 1 year ago

He has purposefully played mischief. Why others have to justify with stats. Does he not understand that giving false statements has its consequences. If he has freedom of speech others also have the same.

Arun

1 year ago

Snapdeal has to think about his business. Whatever clarification be given by Snapdeal, if Amir to continue as their ambassador, they would see the sale graph by them self.

Prakash Joshi

1 year ago

The thug Amir khan who is milking money should be sripped of allcontracts and should be sent to Syria and fight for ISIS then he will know what is tolearance. The Indian public should boycott his films and products endorsed by him,

REPLY

Bosco Menezes

In Reply to Prakash Joshi 1 year ago

Nice tolerant message Joshiji, good that we are such tolerant people :-)

dvn

In Reply to Prakash Joshi 1 year ago

I agree with you. He played mischief with PK and got away and thinks he can comment anything stupid and get away. Why he is not speaking about ills in his community. He knows he will be finished if he comments regarding his muslim brothers.

nginx

1 year ago

Aamir Khan is a traitor and any company using this traitor as its brand ambassador to earn crores must be boycotted.

R Balakrishnan

1 year ago

Till the next elections, it will pay to have Yogi Adityanath, Mohan Bagwat etc as brand ambassadors. And Smriti Irani,

REPLY

dvn

In Reply to R Balakrishnan 1 year ago

Please do not comment like a stupid person.

Anand Vaidya

In Reply to R Balakrishnan 1 year ago

Unfair to link BJP ministers here. The twitter storm was mostly by people using their own brains (me too) and not co-ordinated by the named BJP ministers/MPs.
Everytime you make such uncalled for attacks, you lose a bit of respect (from us, your readers)





Anand Vaidya

In Reply to R Balakrishnan 1 year ago

Unfair to link BJP ministers here. The twitter storm was mostly by people using their own brains (me too) and not co-ordinated by the named BJP ministers/MPs.
Everytime you make such uncalled for attacks, you lose a bit of respect (from us, your readers)





Nilesh KAMERKAR

In Reply to Anand Vaidya 1 year ago

Not fair to expect fairness in this battle of perception built around false propaganda

If you challenge such biases, then you are intolerant.

whereas, if you tolerate unwarranted charges, then they stick & seem justified.

Very cunning and clever strategy this.






dvn

In Reply to Nilesh KAMERKAR 1 year ago

This is all congress orchestrated. The film people are playing along. These people had no qualms when the films were financed by underworld particularly by enemy of the country Dawood.

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