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Paul Wolfowitz Busy Neo-Conning the World Bank: Staff Rebellion Brewing

This simmering tension between Wolfowitz and his staff seems to be deeper and more serious than even the drama of staff reorganization can explain.
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Paul Wolfowitz, architect of America's failing foray into Iraq as Rumsfeld's former Deputy at the Pentagon, now heads the World Bank and finally seems like his true self is coming out of the closet.

In recent months, picking up steam in recent weeks, there has been a massive exodus of top talent from the World Bank. According to reports, the senior Ethics Officer at the Bank has departed. Also on the exit roster are the Vice President for East Asia & Pacific, the Chief Legal Counsel, the Bank's top Managing Director, the Director of Institutional Integrity (which monitors internal and external corruption), the Vice President for Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Development, and the head of ISG (Information Solutions Group).

According to one senior insider who feels as if Wolfowitz is gut-punching the most talented teams at the bank and indicated that morale is plummeting, "Wolfowitz just does not talk to his Vice Presidents. He speaks to a few close advisors -- Kevin Kellems, Robin Cleveland, Karl Jackson, some others -- but a lot of very good people are leaving."

What Wolfowitz has done that has started a serious wave of negative sentiment against him among his ranks is that he has appointed Kevin Kellems -- Vice President Cheney's former Communications Director and Spokesman -- as a "director" of the bank, which formally reports to a Vice President of the Bank -- while at the same time making him Senior Advisor to Wolfowitz.

In other words, Wolfowitz is forcing a political appointment at the "director level" of the bank -- which is never done. "Director" positions are fairly low in the World Bank bureaucracy and are filled by a competitive process and the merits of one's work -- not political imposition.

However, Wolfowitz on Jan. 10 made Kellems Director of Strategy in the External Affairs, Communications and United Nations Affairs Vice Presidency while at the same time Senior Advisor to the President of the Bank.

In addition, the senior Bank staff are bristling at the behavior and antics of Robin Cleveland, a long-time aide to Senator Mitch McConnell who was considered by this writer to be one of the few genuinely monstrous personalities among Congressional staff. She has been shaking World Bank staff and programs on governance and anti-corruption agendas "in her normal, predictable tirade-style" according to one senior World Bank official.

The irony here is that Robin Cleveland was herself deeply involved in the Boeing tanker ethics mess. While soliciting then Secretary of the Air Force James Roche to help her brother get a job at Northrop Grumman, Roche wroter her a reply after receiving his resume:

Be well. Smile. Give tankers (Oops, did I say that? My new deal is terrific.) :) Jim.

While the Financial Times reported that Roche was found guilty of breaching defense department ethics rules, the Pentagon inspector general did not have the authority to investigate Robin Cleveland.

Senior bank staff see Wolfowitz withdrawing from his team and senior players -- and relying instead on a group of political zealots -- Wolfowitz's "dobermans" one staffer told TWN.

Here are some comments that have been shared with TWN this morning and yesterday:

"Wolfowitz is not talking to his VPs. He is withdrawing -- and instead using Robin Cleveland and the likes of Kevin Kellems to do his bidding, and they are building massive ill will inside the Bank."

"He is appointing political hacks into positions that should be filled by highly qualified personnel through competitive and transparent processes."

"Cleveland and Wolfowitz talk about anti-corruption and good governance, but she herself was in the midst of the Boeing tanker scandal and he is appointing a hack at the director level, circumventing the VP, and making this same hack his Senior Adviser. Cleveland in particular rankles as she is the single most arrogant and abusive person at the senior level of the bank without anything to be arrogant about. She makes John Bolton look sheepish."

"Wolfowitz is Sovietizing the bank by placing his political watch dogs in key positions in the bank -- and is more interested in political symbolism than the substantive work and challenges of the Bank."

What is clear to TWN is that whatever honeymoon Paul Wolfowitz had at the World Bank -- externally and internally -- is over. ANY major bureaucracy will resist change and attempt to thwart some of the more extensive objectives of its leader. So, some of this resentment of Wolfowitz may be similar to the same kind of resistance that James Wolfensohn encountered when he was shifting things around inside the institution.

However, after having recently listened to Karl Jackson at an informal lunch where Jackson recounted his work on Indonesia and interaction with Paul Wolfowitz, with whom Jackson is very close, I have concerns about the quality of interaction between Wolfowitz and other senior level personalities in the Bank's hierarchy. I can't comment on Jackson's precise comments as they were not for attribution -- but I got a "feel" for some of the problems that others have been describing.

Jackson now serves as an advisor to Wolfowitz and is a former colleague at the Johns Hopkins/Nitze School of Advanced International Studies where Wolfowitz served as Dean. But after just mentioning the names Robin Cleveland and Kevin Kellems to a few Bank staff in phone interviews, people gushed with resentment against them and Paul Wolfowitz.

This simmering tension between Wolfowitz and his staff seems to be deeper and more serious than even the drama of staff reorganization can explain.

Wolfowitz may be showing his stripes now -- and may be finally tilting the Bank into a groove where it becomes a harsher instrument of U.S. foreign policy -- rewarding friends and punishing those who don't fall into lockstep behind George W. Bush's vision.