THE BLOG

Is Wolfowitz Girlfriend Shaha Riza a Spy?

Last night, I had dinner with a long-time national security systems analyst who has worked in the Department of Defense and now works for one of the larger private think tanks funded mostly by government. She recounted to me how managing and coordinating large purchasing and acquisition networks in the national security business requires methodologies and approaches that few learn during their college education. That said, years ago, she was assigned an assistant who was brilliant and understood how the acquisitions process worked better than nearly anyone -- and who turned out to be a spy.

World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz's girlfriend, Shaha Riza, for whom Wolfowitz arranged not only jobs, incredible pay raises, automatic "outstanding" ratings in performance reviews, but also -- apparently -- a security clearance, is probably not a spy. But our system of national security "secrets management" is not based on trust. It's based on multi-pronged, overlapping constant investigation -- human and electronic.

It would be important for any senior State Department or Defense Department official tasked with maintaining the integrity and security of classified material and information to approach Shaha Riza -- a Libyan national raised in Saudi Arabia -- who was the "girlfriend" of the Deputy Secretary of Defense -- as if she could be a spy.

This is not a matter that those who would know Ms. Riza or who trust Wolfowitz's judgment should say "how dare someone raise that question?!" This should be the question that should have been asked at every stage of Shaha Riza's apparent penetration of the Department of Defense, the Department of State, and the private firm, SAIC.

Sidney Blumenthal has laid out the core fundamental questions about the management of Shaha Riza's security clearance:

Riza, who is not a U.S. citizen, had to receive a security clearance in order to work at the State Department. Who intervened? It is not unusual to have British or French midlevel officers at the department on exchange programs, but they receive security clearances based on the clearances they already have with their host governments. Granting a foreign national who is detailed from an international organization a security clearance, however, is extraordinary, even unprecedented. So how could this clearance have been granted?

State Department officials familiar with the details of this matter confirmed to me that Shaha Ali Riza was detailed to the State Department and had unescorted access while working for Elizabeth Cheney. Access to the building requires a national security clearance or permanent escort by a person with such a clearance. But the State Department has no record of having issued a national security clearance to Riza.

State Department officials believe that Riza was issued such a clearance by the Defense Department after SAIC was forced by Wolfowitz and Feith to hire her. Then her clearance would have been recognized by the State Department through a credentials transmittal letter and Riza would have accessed the State Department on Pentagon credentials, using her Pentagon clearance to get a State Department building pass with a letter issued under instructions from Liz Cheney.

But State Department officials tell me that no such letter can be confirmed as received. And the officials stress that the department would never issue a clearance to a non-U.S. citizen as part of a contractual requisition. Issuing a national security clearance to a foreign national under instructions from a Pentagon official would constitute a violation of the executive orders governing clearances, they say.

Given these circumstances, the inspector general of the Defense Department should be ordered to investigate how Shaha Ali Riza was issued a Pentagon security clearance. And the inspector general of the State Department should investigate who ordered Riza's building pass and whether there was a Pentagon credentials transmittal letter.

Senator Jay Rockefeller, Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, or Rep. Henry Waxman, who is one of the best and most tenacious investigators of government abuses, or some other concerned member of Congress should call for a Department of Defense investigation into Riza's security clearance, Wolfowitz's role in fast-tracking the clearance, and the State Department's seeming absence of any record confirming her clearance when Shaha Riza was granted unescorted access at the Department of State.

This "could" be serious -- and the question of whether Shaha Riza is a spy or not should not be a matter for pundits to debate. Anyone getting access to the nation's secrets is scrutinized as a potential leaker, a potential spy -- but it appears on the surface that Paul Wolfowitz may have helped his girlfriend get in on the inside without much of that scrutiny.

-- Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note