In January, I wrote about the complicated contracting relationship between Stars and Stripes, the military-backed paper that insists on its editorial independence, and “America Supports You,” a Pentagon public affairs initiative created under Assistant Secretary of Defense Allison Barber that’s been described as a pro-war propaganda.
While details weren’t clear, the paper, which operates with a freer hand in budget matters than other parts of the Defense Department, was issuing contracts on behalf of ASY in a way that made it hard to determine just how much money was being spent, and in a way that might violate spending regulations. Editorial staffers told me they’d had no idea what their business half, now led by acting publisher Max Lederer, had been up to. And Stripes, with the exception of a few small pieces in The New York Times, has done an admirable job of advancing the story and covering itself.
Well, today, the paper writes on a letter they obtained, written by Diane Beaver, a recently departed Pentagon lawyer. The letter, sent to Senator Claire McCaskill’s office, rises out of Beaver’s whistleblower complaint alleging that after she started asking tough questions on the contracts her bosses retaliated by changing in her office space, information access, and work assignments. Her take on the matter?
Ms. Barber’s and Mr. Lederer’s actions violate federal appropriations law and may violate ethics law, including the potential for violation of the conflict of interest criminal statutes. At a minimum, there is an appearance of impropriety by these officials.
The Pentagon’s inspector general is reportedly looking into the matter, and its findings were originally expected this spring. Stay tuned.Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.