Colonel Accused of Corruption in Iraq

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The Los Angeles Times has a story today about Kimberly D. Olson, an Air Force colonel now accused of using her high position in the Coalitional Provisional Authority in Iraq for financial gain (she’s the highest-ranking officer to be accused of wrongdoing in connection with reconstruction):

One of the first female pilots in the Air Force, she was a hard-charger with an unblemished reputation for honesty, a high profile in the Pentagon and a commitment to the U.S. goal of creating a democracy in the Middle East.

Today, Olson is at the center of accusations of audacious impropriety in the corruption-plagued reconstruction of Iraq….

Pentagon investigators allege that while on active duty as one of the most powerful figures in Iraq, Olson established a U.S. branch of a South African security firm after helping it win more than $3 million in contracts to provide protection for senior U.S. and British officials, as well as for KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton Co.

Disgusting, I guess, although you sort of have to strain to find any meaningful difference between what Olson did and what passed for “business of usual” throughout the reconstruction. Basically, an American-run administration was installed in Iraq and tasked with privatizing the country’s industries and handing off reconstruction contracts to whoever had the slickest and best-connected lobbyists. In early 2005, government watchdogs reported that $9 billion worth of reconstruction funds had somehow up and vanished. Without excusing Olson, the invasion created the perfect atmosphere for looting and corruption; stories like these are the inevitable result.

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It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

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We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

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Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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