They've got muck; we've got rakes. TPM Muckraker

A quick update on the security clearance debacle: I should have noted that, as the Washington Post reported, the Pentagon dug for change in its sofa cushions and came up with enough to cover the cost of investigating processing "Secret"-level clearance requests. Right on the eve of a Congressional hearing. What a coincidence.

But it won't help much: "Secret" clearances are among the lowest levels of classified access, just above "Confidential." Any project of serious intelligence or strategic value generally happens above the "Secret" level. To illustrate: according to the Post, the cost of a background investigation for a "Secret" clearance is just $156.

Also, as a couple readers pointed out, I should have noted in my post that only private contractor employees are affected by the OPM's move to abruptly curtail background investigations. It's a small comfort to know the government can still clear its own employees. However, many new operations -- indeed, even existing programs -- are being outsourced, in whole or in part, to private companies; and private companies are being called on to fill the legions of empty analyst seats at the CIA, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and elsewhere. So the band-aid doesn't quite cover the gaping wound.

Is the K Street Project really dying? Looks like it.

Yesterday, Roll Call reported that lobbyists were acting like scared little lambs.

And today, Franklin Foer of The New Republic adds some anecdotal evidence that things just aren't the same any more:

TNR shares its building with a lobbying outfit that was a prime cog in K Street Project machine. (Yes, our office space is that sweet.) This firm contains several of DeLay's ex- staffers. But apparently, their juice has dried up. Riding down in the elevator, I heard the firm's head kvetching about how DeLay's downfall had been bad for business. "We're hurting," he moaned. "The whole industry is hurting."

According to a piece in The Hill last week, the tide seems to be turning with Tom DeLay's departure - lobbying firms have begun to hire more Democrats.

So it seems that we might actually be at something of a turning point. Could it be?

Harper's blog reports Mother Goose, Brothers Grimm up for Medal of Freedom honors:

A number of current and former intelligence officials [say] that the administration's war on internal dissent has crippled the CIA's ability to provide realistic assessments from Iraq. "The system of reporting is shut down," said one person familiar with the situation. "You can't write anything honest, only fairy tales." . . .

"I spent 30 years at the CIA," said one former official, "and no one was ever interested in knowing whether I was a Republican or a Democrat. That changed with this administration. Now you have loyalty tests." . . .

"The CIA's ability to speak honestly is gone," concluded the official, "which is extraordinarily dangerous to our country."

OK, so James Tobin came away with 10 months in prison. That's the longest sentence given to any of the players in the phone jamming - Chuck McGee got seven months and Allen Raymond got five - but there are a number of unhappy TPMm readers out there, who've followed this case for over three years. They wanted more than just 10 months.

Of course, so did prosecutors, who asked for two years. And the judge, if he chose, could have departed from the sentencing guidelines and given Tobin the maximum sentence of seven years.

But perhaps there's some solace in this: the judge denied Tobin's appeals and took the unusual step of denying his bail pending appeal. That means that Tobin is heading straight to prison - he's due to enter June 23rd. In most cases, he would have been allowed to stay out until his further appeals ran their course. Appeals can last months, even years. Apparently the judge doesn't think that his appeals have much merit.

So where does this leave the phone jamming case?

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So the Feds may bust former CIA Executive Director Kyle "Dusty" Foggo for hoarding Cuban cigars, CNN tells us.

I'm hardly an apologist for Foggo. But while we savor the irony of a hardened anti-Communist puffing on a Cohiba, we should recall that Cuban cigars, like dopey nicknames, are an occupational weakness for CIA executive directors. His predecessor, A. B. "Buzzy" Krongard, was said to have kept a walk-in safe stocked with them. And we never heard about G-men busting through his place.

Late Update: An earlier version of this post linked to an LA Times story from today reporting the FBI's seizure of Cuban cigars at Foggo's home. In fact, CNN broke the story yesterday evening.

I did some more digging on my earlier question about National Security Letters. I think I have an answer -- but it just raises more questions.

I spoke with Bart Gellman, the Washington Post reporter who wrote that the FBI issued 30,000 secret National Security Letters last year -- more than three times the number reported to Congress by the Justice Department.

Gellman stood by his 30,000 figure. He also pointed out -- as did Hill staff I spoke with -- that the Justice report does not include NSLs requesting "subscriber information." That's the identity of an individual associated with a phone number, an email or an IP address.

The Justice report also excludes requests for information on foreigners, but I suspect the majority of these unreported letters were for subscriber information. Which leads one to wonder -- if the FBI is submitting thousands of requests to identify people at certain telephone numbers or IP addresses, what effort is generating these requests? Somewhere, something is churning out numbers that the FBI wants names for, and they don't want to go to court for permission. Is it the NSA program? How tangled is this domestic spying web they've woven?

In Raid of Foggo's Home, Gumshoes Snag Vacay Snaps Along with bank records and Cuban cigars, federal agents took family photo albums from "Dusty" Foggo's Virginia home during a raid last week. That's leading some to speculate that prosecutors are focusing on Foggos' trips with longtime pal, defense contractor Brent Wilkes. Prosecutors suspect Foggo helped Wilkes secure contracts with the CIA, Foggo's former employer. They're also curious about how he got those Cuban cigars. (LA Times)

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It's alive! It's alive!

From the AP:

With a burst of activity that ended 16 months of inaction, the House ethics committee on Wednesday opened investigations of a Republican and a Democrat who are subjects of federal bribery inquiries - including one lawmaker connected to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

So, it looks like we've got Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) and Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) on the docket, as well as "a preliminary inquiry of whether other lawmakers were involved in a bribery scandal that led to the conviction of former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif."

Huh, a "preliminary inquiry." That doesn't inspire confidence. This from a commmittee that's been dead for more than a year.

Oh, and:

In another announcement, the committee said it would have investigated overseas travel by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, but it won't do so because he is soon leaving Congress.

Won't have Tom DeLay to kick around any more, no sir.

A minor billing dispute between the Pentagon and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is threatening operations throughout the U.S. national security community.

Last month, OPM -- which currently handles background investigations and issues security clearances for the defense/intelligence community -- abruptly announced it was shutting down the clearance process for new employees.

The decision didn't register a blip on most Americans' radar, but it sent shockwaves through the "cleared" community. They know better than anyone how critical those clearances are for keeping national security projects moving forward.

The government has actually been suffering for a while from a shortage of cleared employees. Since Sept. 11 and the Iraq invasion, it's been creating top-secret intelligence and defense jobs faster than it can vet and approve people to fill them. So OPM's decision made a bad situation that much worse.

Baffled by the news of OPM's decision, Congress asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to find out what happened. Today, the GAO gave its answer. And it's something just short of unbelievable.

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