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The Rosett Report

Homeland Security: With Talent Like This…

January 4th, 2010 - 1:51 am

Uh-oh.

From the Homeland Security system that “worked,” we now have word that Secretary Janet Napolitano is mobilizing a broad response to the underwear bomber. As part of this security “review,” Napolitano is dispatching her deputy, Jane Holl Lute, “on a broad international outreach effort” to review security procedures with “leaders from major international airports in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and South America.”

Who is Jane Holl Lute? Or, more precisely, what kind of hands-on experience is presumed to qualify Lute for the serious responsibility of serving as the #2 official at Homeland Security?

Why, the United Nations, of course. Before joining the Obama Department of Homeland Security, Lute worked for six years as an assistant-secretary-general in the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations. During that stretch, UN peacekeeping expanded at speed, and so did the related procurement corruption and peacekeeper sex scandals.

Here’s a Washington Post article from 2007, “U.N. Finds Fraud, Mismanagement in Peacekeeping,” which details some of the peacekeeping corruption uncovered by a special UN task force (which the UN has since dissolved). The task force reported findings of “multiple instances of fraud, corruption, waste and mismanagement at U.N. headquarters and peacekeeping missions.” These included 10 “significant instances of fraud and corruption with an aggregate value of $610 million.”

On the sex-scandal front, Jane Holl Lute was one of the senior UN officials who promised “zero tolerance” of UN peacekeepers sexually exploiting people (in some cases, children) they were sent to protect. Here’s a post from 2008, with a link to her zero-tolerance promise in 2007 — as well as to details that surfaced the following year about allegations of continuing sexual exploitation, gang rape and whatnot by UN peacekeepers in Cote d’Ivoire, Haiti and Sudan. 

None of this is to accuse Lute herself of corruption, or of indifference to the rape of minors. The problem, rather, concerns the questions all this raises about her management skills. She held a senior slot in which she repeatedly either made excuses or promised to clean things up; but the fraud and sex scandals rolled on.

Lute had a long career before that, of course. Immediately prior to joining the UN, she worked as chief operating officer of Ted Turner’s UN Foundation; before that she served on the National Security Council, and in the U.S. Army. But the big fat credential here, the stand-out item you’ll find in her Homeland Security bio, is her experience in UN peacekeeping.

Last April, Lute got some enthusiastic endorsements at the confirmation hearing for her Homeland Security post. But it’s worth noting the dissenting comments by Senator Tom Coburn, who for years now has spent much more time than most senators trying to exercise due diligence over what the UN does with the billions in taxpayer dollars that Washington pours yearly into Turtle Bay.

Coburn pointed out that years of supervising UN peacekeeping operations amounts to a pretty dim credential, given that these operations overall are “saturated in fraud and abuse.” On the credentials of Lute herself, Coburn had serious doubts, centered on her own waffling account of what she had actually achieved, or even been responsible for, at the UN:

“After reviewing the parts of her U.N. record that had to be leaked for any of us to know about it, it is clear that Ms. Lute is either not qualified or not experienced to manage the DHS. When pressed to explain the mismanagement, fraud, and corruption that took place under her watch at U.N. Peacekeeping Operations, Ms. Lute consistently diverted blame to other U.N. officials or departments–making it appear she really didn’t manage much of the U.N. If accurate, she is not experienced. When pressed to explain how she is experienced enough to manage DHS, Ms. Lute then claims she was at the center of Peacekeeping Operations, managed the internal operations–making it appear that she was responsible for everything. If accurate, this means she is also responsible for the mismanagement and waste. Ms. Lute cannot have it both ways.” [You can read Coburn's entire statement here -- in which he provides several pages of detail to substantiate his concerns].

On the bright side (sort of), perhaps Lute was a light hidden under a great sagging bushel of UN sludge — and freed of the UN system she will blossom under the leadership of … Janet Napolitano? Though Lute has already spent months as deputy head of Homeland Security – long enough to be part of the system in which Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, trailing warning signs, lacking luggage and paying cash for his ticket, came close to taking down a packed plane in U.S. air space.  No doubt Lute means well, and I don’t question that she will do her best to act with integrity in the interest of her country. But the prospect of Jane Holl Lute embarking on “a broad international outreach effort,” on which American lives might depend, is not a vision that fills me with confidence.

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