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FIRST ON FOX: Records obtained by Fox News show that the Special Inspector General of Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) expressed opposition to the Biden administration’s order to scrub once publicly available information on weapons and training provided by U.S. officials to Afghan security forces in the days leading up to the American final. withdrawal from Afghanistan on 31 August.
The Conservative government watchdog group Judicial Watch obtained 119 pages of documents through a request for the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), showing SIGAR John Sopko’s opposition to the State Department’s request to remove hundreds of pages of public reports on Afghanistan.
“We request urgent assistance to identify and temporarily remove (and potentially edit in the longer term) any potentially sensitive and identifying information about US Government assistance programs / projects in Afghanistan. Many of your historical publications contain comprehensive details of activities and partners that may endangering individuals in the current environment, “wrote Carole Clay, an official at the State Department’s Office of Control and Global Financial Services, in an email on August 16 to SIGAR official Matt Dove.
Clay, on behalf of the State Department, also requested the assistance of the Office of the Government Accountant (GAO) and the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) in their efforts to remove documents.
“Because SIGAR is probably the most comprehensive source of supplier and other information in Afghanistan through the information available to your site, it may be easiest to disable the site’s functionality to access reports and other publications and announcements. Of course, we request this as soon as possible. “, wrote Clay.
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Sopko, who was once informed of the email, told Dove that Clay’s reason for removing the reports was “not sufficient” in an email on August 16.
“I want it from the secretary or the deputy secretary or at least her boss,” Sopko said. “She’s just an office director. What’s the basis for her conclusion that reports that have been public for years now pose a risk. I repeat that you are not pulling anything down until we get a better and more authoritative request. “
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He added in another email on August 16 to SIGAR staff that removing or editing reports makes “no sense as they have been available for years” and “violates IG law.”
Sopko then issued a formal request from the State Department inspector, “outlining the request, the reason for the request, and how / why the ministry came to the conclusion that reports that have already become publicly available now pose a new / increased risk. Be ready to to chat if you feel like discussing, “according to an email from Dove to Clay.
His opposition continued into August 18, telling Clay that the request was “highly unusual” and “without any explanation or justification.”
“Many of the records you talk about have been on our web for 10 or more years, and my IT people tell me that even if we delete them, they’re still out there on the Internet, as there are several programs readily available. , who regularly search and capture such material, “he wrote. “I would prefer that a person from the state, who is politically appointed, explain in writing why you are making such a request, as well as what is the basis of the threat, and how this very laborious request will achieve anything other than wasting taxpayers’ money. “
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The State Department’s e-mails from August to SIGAR argued that it was necessary to remove reports for the sake of the security of Americans and US allies in Afghanistan before the US military completely withdrew its forces from the country by 31 August, putting some people in danger of abuse under Taliban rule.
State Department inspector Jeffrey Mounts wrote in an email on August 19: “We recognize that the information has already been made publicly available, but we have reason to believe that this week’s events represent extraordinary circumstances with increased risk, and that temporary removing access to reports with identifying information could potentially protect some of these individuals from harm. “
After finally accepting the Foreign Ministry’s request, GAO removed 400 reports from SIGAR’s website. In addition, a spokesman for SIGAR said on August 31 that the agency eventually withdrew the requested reports from the public website.
“In recent days, some SIGAR reports have been temporarily removed from the agency’s public website due to ongoing security issues in accordance with instructions received from the U.S. State Department. This is consistent with actions taken by other U.S. federal agencies and is out of an abundance. of caution. ”
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Sopko’s office did not respond to a request from Fox News, but in a statement issued Oct. 29 on SIGAR’s website, Sopko criticized what he described as a “bureaucratic tendency to try to restrict public information.”
“The protection of Afghans at legitimate risk of harm is not a problem to quarrel over, and something our agency has respected since my appointment 10 years ago,” Sopko said in the statement.
“But despite repeated requests, the state was never able to describe any specific threats to individuals that were allegedly contained in our reports, nor did the state explain how removing our reports could now protect anyone, as many were years old. “old and already widely spread all over the world. Nevertheless, with great reservations, I complied with the state’s first request because it was made at the height of the emergency evacuation from Afghanistan,” Sopko said.
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He added that even very “recently”, the State Department sent him a letter saying the agency reviewed materials from SIGAR’s website and included a 2,400-entry spreadsheet that they wanted edited.
Materials that the Foreign Ministry wanted edited included the name of former Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani; a reference to “Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Alabama; and the name of a U.S.ID official who gave public testimony in 2017. The department also restricted the public release of information on the performance of Afghan security forces,” Sopko said.
“Given how hard the department reportedly worked to evacuate Americans from Afghanistan and resettle Afghan refugees, I was surprised that they took the time to review each and every one of our reports and compile such an exhaustive list,” Sopko said.
While SIGAR is working to find out why Afghanistan collapsed despite a $ 146 million investment from the United States and why Afghan security forces collapsed, Sopko said he believes “the full picture of what happened in August – and all the warning signs that could have predicted the outcome – will only be revealed if the information that the Ministries of Defense and State have already restricted from public disclosure is made available. “
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“These extraordinary emails document a cover-up and unprecedented government censorship to protect Joe Biden and his administration from further humiliation over their surrender in Afghanistan,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton told Fox News.
The State Department told Fox News that it recognizes the importance of SIGAR’s work to advance the effectiveness of US reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan and is aware of the challenges it has faced in approving requests to remove once public reports from its website. . The agency highlighted safety and security issues related to ongoing evacuation efforts in the country, adding that SIGAR can recover reports when IG deems it appropriate to do so.
The Biden administration has received criticism for ordering the U.S. military to make a hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan by August 31 after spending two decades in the country to help Afghan forces gain power over the Taliban.
Hundreds of Americans and Afghan allies were left stranded in the country, leaving U.S. citizens and officials to coordinate efforts to rescue the bereaved.