Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
October 26, 2014

Should Ex-Spies, Diplomats Be Able to Go Straight to Work for Shady Foreign Governments?

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Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., left, and Wolf leave the House Republican Conference meeting in the basement of the Capitol on Jan. 8. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Two members of Congress — Republican Reps. Frank Wolf and Mike Rogers — have tried to make moves this year toward creating a “cooling off” period for former diplomats and intelligence officials before they can take jobs with shady foreign governments. But there’s some mystery in both efforts.

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The annual State Department and foreign-aid bill, approved by the House Appropriations Committee this week, includes this section of its committee report:

Lobbying restrictions.—The Committee remains concerned about the perception that former senior United States Government diplomatic officials are representing foreign entities or governments that the Department of State has determined to be a state sponsor of terrorism or a country of particular concern after leaving government service. The Committee urges the Secretary of State to examine this matter and to take appropriate steps, either administratively or through a legislative proposal, to ensure that appropriate rules are in place.

The language was added at the behest of Wolf, R-Va. He had sought an actual legislative provision, however, that would mandate a 10-year period before diplomats could go to work for countries that sponsor terrorists or are egregious violators of religious freedom. A spokeswoman for the panel did not respond to requests about why the committee opted to go with the report language’s urging of the State Department to take action, rather than an actual legislative demand.

“I do not believe it is appropriate for people to walk out of government one day and then trade on their service the next, especially for governments who do not share the same values as the United States,” Wolf wrote the panel in seeking inclusion of the 10-year “cooling off” provision.

Wolf has been worried about this subject for a while. In 2012, he won adoption of an amendment to another spending bill, for financial services, that would prevent all former high-ranking government officials — including members of Congress — from working for foreign governments that met that criteria. He cited the case of a CIA station chief who went to work for Burma; former members of Congress who had gone to work for Huawei, a Chinese telecommunications company that has stirred espionage fears; and former U.S. envoys working for Saudi Arabia.

The language didn’t make it into law, however. For fiscal year 2013, Congress cleared a stripped down, full-year continuing resolution to fund most of the federal government at the previous year’s levels, including financial services. “The biggest issue was simply that the fy13 bill ended up going nowhere,” a Senate aide said. “So no legislation went forward.”

Staffers for Wolf also said that they believed the lobbying community fought the proposal.

Wolf opted to renew the “cooling off” proposal this year because he is retiring at the end of 2014 and is making one last stab at getting the idea enacted, his staff said. He also has added in provisions to the fiscal 2015 Commerce, Justice and Science spending measure to boost the number of attorneys at the Justice Department who oversee lobbying registrations by foreign governments, and to pay for a study by the Justice inspector general to review the department’s enforcement of the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA). The IG would then recommend options for improving enforcement.

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House Intelligence Chairman Rogers, R-Mich., wouldn’t answer what specifically inspired his own amendment, which would block — for one or two years, depending on circumstances — high-ranking intelligence community (IC) officials from going to work for a foreign government or foreign government-owned company deemed to be a significant counterintelligence threat to the United States. Some of the countries that spy the most on the United States include Russia, China and Israel, although Rogers’ amendment would require the director of national intelligence (DNI) to compile a list of countries that equal a “significant counterintelligence threat.”

Asked this week what the impetus for his amendment was, Rogers would only say, “Obviously, I have concerns.”

Some have speculated that Rogers was thinking of Huawei with his amendment. Rogers has been very vocal about his worries that the Chinese poses a counterintelligence threat. In December, Theodore Moran resigned as an adviser to the DNI after Wolf lodged objections to Moran’s work for Huawei. (Huawei’s lobbying appears to fall through a loophole on FARA reporting requirements, by the way.)

But, as Emptywheel noted, the Rogers proposal doesn’t read as though it would apply to Moran. A number of sources who watch the intelligence community closely told CQ Roll Call they weren’t aware of any impending job moves like the kind Rogers’ amendment would slow down.

Rogers originally offered a version of the amendment during his committee’s closed-door consideration of a joint fiscal 2014-15 intelligence authorization bill. According to a committee report on action on the bill, this was what the amendment would do:

Chairman Rogers offered an amendment to the amendment in the nature of a substitute to require a “cooling off” period before former Intelligence Community senior employees could work for a foreign government or a company controlled by a foreign government. The amendment would also establish notification and reporting requirements for former IC senior employees.

But Rogers withdrew the amendment during committee consideration.

A former intelligence official who read that summary of the original version of the amendment said, “That’s a strange amendment that Rogers proposed. Does that include contract work for a foreign government? That would block many a former IC officer from working on lucrative contracts in the Gulf and Africa or formerly in Iraq/Afghanistan. Seems like a knee-jerk amendment that the IC caught wind of and briefed Rogers on the ramifications.”

Although exact comparisons between different versions of the Rogers amendment are not possible, the version Rogers offered on the floor to the 2014-15 bill, and that was adopted, specified that the “covered” government and government-controlled companies had to pose a counterintelligence threat.

This week, the House cleared a fiscal 2014 intelligence authorization bill that had been passed in the Senate. That means Rogers’ amendment to the joint 2014-15 intelligence authorization bill is in limbo.

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Benjamin Freeman, author of “The Foreign Policy Auction,” a book about foreign lobbying, praised the steps by Wolf and Rogers. Freeman is currently senior policy adviser for Third Way, a moderate Democrat-leaning think tank. He wrote via e-mail:

This is all very good news, and good legislation for anyone concerned about the undue influence of foreign governments in the U.S. Regarding Wolf’s proposal, in the past we’ve had foreign agents representing governments—like Iran—that we don’t even have diplomatic relations with. If a regime is so toxic that we won’t even allow are diplomats to speak with them, why should we allow those countries highly paid lobbyists, who formerly had access to classified U.S. intelligence, to lobby on their behalf?

Even if these high-ranking officials don’t intend to disclose classified information—as I’m sure they don’t— to foreign governments, there’s a chance they might do so accidentally, and that’s just a risk the American public can’t afford. This is why a cooling off period makes sense to ensure they don’t accidentally divulge actionable intelligence to foreign governments.

One possible explanation for why this hasn’t gone through is that it’s big money for former members and high ranking officials to work on behalf of foreign governments. For example, Bob Livingston, the former Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, launched the Livingston Group shortly after leaving office and has since made millions lobbying on behalf of foreign governments.

CQ Roll Call’s Jonathan Broder contributed to this story.

(Have any more information on this story? Write timstarks@cqrollcall.com.)

  • Charles Wolf

    Should Ex-Spies, Diplomats Be Able to Go Straight to Work for Shady Foreign Governments?
    No, they should keep working for our shady government,
    or better yet give them food stamps and a rent voucher,
    or better yet again, just throw them in prison for conspiracy to pass secrets to their prospective shady foreign employers.

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