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Congress' Afghanistan watchdog will continue oversight

Andrew Clevenger, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

Much of this information should not come as a surprise to those who have followed Sopko’s quarterly reports.

Sopko described how he faced “gale force” headwinds from “people in Washington whose careers were made on happy talk.”

“There was just a constant drumbeat of ‘Success is almost here, just give us another appropriation,’” Sopko said.

And when Sopko’s reports ran afoul of that rosy picture, officials started classifying documents to keep the real picture from public view, he said.

Many of the documents were stamped “NATO Classified,” and not many congressional staffers have that specific clearance, he said, making it even more challenging for lawmakers to get an accurate portrait of the state of play.

“I remember actually briefing members on this, and they couldn’t bring their staff in,” he said. “So the member knows this, but he can’t talk to anybody about what he just saw.”

 

Noting that he has been in Washington since the 1980s — Sopko previously worked as chief counsel for oversight and investigations for the House Energy and Commerce Committee when it was chaired by Michigan Democrat John D. Dingell — he said that in his experience the government doesn’t classify good news, and if it does by mistake, it finds a way to leak it.

So when the government begins to overclassify certain information, Sopko said it’s a good guess that there’s a bad news story lurking behind it.

And when they couldn’t classify certain types of information, they stopped collecting it. After Sopko’s reports on districts and population under government control began telling a grim story, U.S. officials stopped tallying that data, he said.

“At some point, the U.S. government said that information is no longer relevant,” Sopko said. “What’s relevant is peace. I actually had a general tell me that.”

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