Readers have asked some good questions, which I promise to get to, but I wanted first to bring to your attention a report by Greg Miller on the front page of today’s Los Angeles Times. Miller got his hands on a 23-page report by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that the committee has even refused to release to other members of Congress. Democrats joined Republicans two weeks ago to make sure the report stayed hush-hush.
The report wasn’t even an exhaustive look at how Cunningham twisted arms of intelligence committee staffers to ensure that his cronies got their pound of gold. The principal author, Michael Stern, said he couldn’t look at anything under the sun: “The language did not include the culpability or potential involvement of other members.” Even so, it was bad enough to shame a majority of the panel into silence.
So why is the Democratically-controlled Congress still hiding the truth about the Cunningham scandal? Because the truth hurts. The report, cursory at it is, offers a glimpse into how Washington really operates. Cunningham demanded that his contractor friends get the programs he wanted. The committee staff did what he asked “to keep him from going nuclear or ballistic.” And since the committee’s work is classified, they probably figured that no one would be paying much attention.
The story describes an e-mail about a program known as Project Fortress, which I write about in Feasting on the Spoils. Fortress was a counterintelligence program run by Mitchell Wade, a master manipulator who has pleaded guilty to bribing Cunningham. The Times doesn’t describe the program but Fortress was designed to keep tabs on foreign visitors to Air Force bases, a sort of spy vs. spy exercise. By 2005, Wade’s company, MZM Inc., was earning $25 million a year from Fortress.
Cunningham thought the program was critically important, but, as Miller’s story notes, committee staff had doubts about Wade. Senior committee aide Michele Lang sent out a staff e-mail describing Fortress by saying, “HOOAH! Another $5 million of taxpayer money wasted.” It’s worth noting that my sources told me that Fortress was one of the more worthwhile programs run out of Wade’s company.
What’s most alarming about this whole thing is that the report remains secret. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and until Democrats and Republicans shine light into the shadows, Cunningham won’t remain the most corrupt congressman for long.