WASHINGTON – Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is expanding his probe into the Department of Defense (DoD) Office of Net Assessment’s (ONA) contract compliance after reviewing troubling documents related to contracts awarded to Professor Stefan Halper. Those documents call into question ONA’s stewardship of taxpayer dollars as well as its contract management and internal controls.
ONA is the Pentagon’s internal research organization that awards contracts for academic reports intended to assist the military in producing long-term trends and prospects of military capabilities compared to other countries to identify future threats. However, documents reveal that reviews of Halper’s research proposals prompted criticism of the quality and necessity of his work product. Other contracts show that Halper listed a Russian intelligence official as a consultant for an ONA project. That same Russian official was also listed as a source in the debunked anti-Trump dossier, which was used to spy on Carter Page. Halper was also in contact with Page and another Trump campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, raising questions about whether Halper used U.S. taxpayer dollars to seek connections with Trump campaign officials. The interactions also raise questions about what role, if any, Halper had in the Russian election interference investigation, which found no collusion with the Trump campaign.
to ONA Director James Baker, Grassley requested additional data on ONA contracts for the past five years, including details on their purposes, costs and efforts to ensure proper oversight and compliance. Grassley also questioned why ONA issued other contracts unrelated to Halper that appear to have no relation to ONA’s purpose and mission.
In early-2019, Grassley
that the DoD Inspector General (IG) review allegations of mismanagement by ONA contracts for political, improper or wasteful activities. Grassley later
about ONA contracting processes following a
DoD IG audit
of the program, which found that ONA could not provide sufficient documentation that Halper conducted all of his work in accordance with applicable laws and regulations. The Pentagon issued a
corrective action plan
for ONA in august.
January 22, 2020
VIA ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSION
Mr. James Baker
Office of Net Assessment
Department of Defense
Dear Mr. Baker:
On July 12, 2019, I wrote to Secretary Esper and requested “all records related to Professor [Stefan] Halper’s contracts with DoD” no later than July 25, 2019.
On July 25, 2019, your office provided a one page response that failed to provide any of the requested documents. On August 9, 2019, after I raised your failure to comply with a congressional request with Secretary Esper, your office provided documents to my office that purported to respond in full to my initial request for “all records.” However, upon review, this production of documents still did not include all records requested. For example, you failed to provide all Halper-related documents that you delivered to the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General (DoD IG) for their review. On November 14, 2019, after several months of back and forth with your office, I received an additional production of documents, pursuant to my original request. The delay was unacceptable and I urge you to provide a timely response to this letter.
In my July 12, 2019, letter to Secretary Esper, I noted how the DoD IG’s review exposed significant flaws in ONA’s contract management and oversight processes that clearly indicate weak or non-existent internal controls.
The November 14, 2019, ONA production sheds additional light on those findings.
In one contract, awarded in May 2012, pre-award evaluators identified several weaknesses in Professor Halper’s proposal, noted concerns that Professor Halper planned to contract out some of the work, and questioned the importance of the proposed research paper.
For example, one review stated that “[t]here is actually not much substance to the proposal…” and another said “[w]e’ll want to advise the author to do a better job on this project.”
Additionally, the award decision memorandum noted concerns about Professor Halper’s full-time work at Cambridge University and his ability to adequately perform the work required of the contract.
It is unclear if these problems were mitigated.
In another contract, awarded in September 2015, Professor Halper lists former Deputy Foreign Minister for Russia, Vyacheslav Trubnikov, as a consultant and advisor to a paper delivered to ONA.
Trubnikov is a known Russian intelligence officer, who was listed by Christopher Steele as a source in the now-debunked Steele dossier, which was used as a predicate to obtain a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to surveil Trump Campaign adviser Carter Page.
It is unclear from the contracting officer file whether Professor Halper paid Trubnikov for his assistance in gathering information for this paper, or in what capacity Professor Halper interacted with Trubnikov during the course of performing work for this contract. Further, reports indicate that Halper offered George Papadopoulos $3,000 for assistance in completing an energy study and met Carter Page at a Cambridge conference.
Given Professor Halper’s intelligence connections and government funding, it is reasonable to ask whether he used any taxpayer money in his attempt to recruit Trump campaign officials as sources.
Halper’s file for a contract, awarded in September 2016, also contains unusual references to unknown third parties paying for portions of his travel and hotel expenses for a trip to Japan where he conducted several interviews with Japanese officials for a government project relating to the relationship between China and India.
This begs the question as to who exactly paid for the travel and hotel expenses and why? These information gaps are not a new phenomenon in Halper’s contracts. In Halper’s India-China study, he stated he would interview former high?level U.S. and foreign government officials. According to the DoD IG, of the 348 footnotes attributed to source material, none of them cited interviews. Further, ONA was unable to provide DoD IG with any evidence that these high?level officials contributed to the study at all. These and multiple additional deficiencies resulted in DoD IG finding that ONA “could not provide sufficient documentation that Professor Halper conducted all of his work in accordance with applicable laws and regulations.”
Another document obtained by the Committee, titled “On the Nature of Americans as a Warlike People: Workshop Report,” was authored by the Long Term Strategy Group (LTSG) and appears to be, at the very least, of questionable importance to ONA’s overall mission.
The workshop paper highlights the “level of American belligerency . . . [which is] the result of the persistence of Scotch-Irish culture in America, with its emphasis on violent responses to challenge[.]”
It further states that “[t]he role of Scotch-Irish culture must also be understood as having been reinforced by slaveholding, and American Protestant religious beliefs,” and that the Scotch-Irish culture was “shaped by endemic warfare that placed high value on violent and immediate personal responses to challenges and high loyalty to clan and kin.”
The paper continues by stating that the Scotch-Irish culture placed value “on violent immediate responses to challenges [which] shaped [their] views, and thus of the United States as a whole, toward war.”
ONA has also funded a paper titled, “A Technical Report on the Nature of Movement Patterning, the Brain and Decision-Making,” which focuses largely on Vladimir Putin’s neurological development and potential Asperger’s diagnosis.
The fact that taxpayer money was used to support these projects calls into question ONA’s ability to be a proper steward of the people’s money and whether ONA has acted consistent with its mission and purpose.
In an effort to better understand ONA’s contracting practices, please answer the following questions, on a question-by-question basis, no later than February 5, 2020:
ONA is required to conduct a yearly Net Assessment of DoD’s military capabilities as compared to the military capabilities of other countries.
When was the last time ONA completed a Net Assessment?
Please provide a list of all contracts issued for each year over the last five years, the title of each funded project, and the total cost of each contract to the taxpayer. Of those contracts, which ones called for classified research?
Please provide a list of the top five individuals or entities, in terms of dollar amount, over the last five years that have received awards, including the names of awardees, number of contracts awarded, dates of award, dollar amount per award, the project to be funded, and the authorizing official(s).
Please describe ONA’s process for how it evaluates research proposals and oversees the process of editing and managing the research paper. In your answer, please address the following:
What role do pre-award evaluations play with respect to ONA’s decision to award a contract to an individual or entity?
Does ONA conduct any assessment of the validity of citations or supporting research used in the research paper? If not, why not?
When entering into contracts, does ONA require that research papers be peer reviewed to assure that the views within the deliverable are adequately vetted and not affected by bias or outside influence? If not, why not?
Does ONA believe that, for a research paper to be of significant value to furthering ONA’s purpose of providing assessments of the standing, trends, and future prospects of United States military capabilities and military potential in comparison with those of other countries, statements within research papers must be accurate and adequately vetted? If not, why not?
Does ONA currently require contractors to provide the name and dollar amount contributed by third parties to ensure that a contractor’s work is in no way influenced by foreign individuals or entities, or any other potential conflict of interest? If so, please provide this policy. If not, does ONA intend to develop or institute such a policy? If not, why not?
For each of Halper’s contracts, did ONA perform a post-contract evaluation? If so, please provide each evaluation. If not, why not?
If a contract has an exercisable option, which individual within ONA makes the determination as to whether that option is exercised? If ONA has the discretion to exercise an option in a contract, is the strategic value to ONA considered when that option is exercised? If not, why not?
In response to DoD IG recommendation #3, ONA stated that “not every contract requires exhaustive or significant verification of the methods used to derive analytic content.”
Further, ONA stated, relating to Professor Halper’s contracts, that “[t]he Government received deliverables that were high quality and conformed to the requirements set forth in the contract.”
ONA further states that quality controls will be established, based on ONA’s minimum needs.
If a contractor does not actually interview individuals that they say they interviewed, or provide accurate sourcing, the deliverable does not meet contract specifications and the contractor should not be paid. Accepting and paying for a defective deliverable may be a violation of law. If ONA does not take any steps to verify a contractor’s work product, how can ONA rely on that contractor or deliverable to provide accurate information in order to make a net assessment?
What quality controls does ONA seek to establish in order to verify that contractors are adhering to, and fulfilling, every requirement in a given contract?
After a research paper is completed, are the papers shared outside ONA? If so, please describe the process by which research papers are shared within the federal government or private sector. If not, why not?
Did Professor Halper ever disclose his relationship with former Deputy Foreign Minister for Russia Vyacheslav Trubnikov to yourself or any other ONA official prior to completion of contract number HQ0034-15-C-0100 (The Russia-China Relationship: The Impact on the United States’ Security)? Does this relationship with a Russian intelligence officer suggest that there may be biased and unreliable information contained within the deliverable?
Can ONA state for certain that Halper did not use taxpayer money provided by DoD to recruit, or attempt to recruit, sources for the FBI investigation into the now-debunked theory of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia?
Are you, or any other ONA official, aware of any other relationships Professor Halper had with foreign intelligence officers?
Does the research paper titled, “On the Nature of Americans as a Warlike People: Workshop Report,” authored by the Long Term Strategy Group, and the research paper titled, “A Technical Report on the Nature of Movement Patterning, the Brain and Decision-Making,” further ONA’s purpose and mission as stated in DoD Directive 5111.11?
How much did ONA pay Long Term Strategy Group for the research paper “On the Nature of Americans as a Warlike People: Workshop Report”? How much did ONA pay for “A Technical Report on the Nature of Movement Patterning, the Brain and Decision-Making”?
Does ONA share workspace with contracted, non-government, or detailed employees? If so, please provide a list of individuals, and what entity that individual worked for, to the Committee. Would these employees have been privy to ONA’s assessment of its future needs, in terms of future research projects? If so, do you believe that having a contractor’s employee privy to the future needs of ONA creates an appearance of a conflict of interest, and inappropriate access to ONA internal discussion?
Documents provided to my office suggest that ONA has spent a significant amount of money on Asia studies over the last 20 years.
How many studies related to Asia have been conducted over the last 20 years, and how much money has been spent on Asia studies?
Have those studies significantly aided ONA in its mission to conduct net assessments of Asian countries’ military capabilities? Please explain.
I anticipate that your written reply and most responsive documents will be unclassified. Please send all unclassified material directly to the Committee. In keeping with the requirements of Executive Order 13526, if any of the responsive documents do contain classified information, please segregate all unclassified material within the classified documents, provide all unclassified information directly to the Committee, and provide a classified addendum to the Office of Senate Security. Although the Committee complies with all laws and regulations governing the handling of classified information, it is not bound, absent its prior agreement, by any handling restrictions.
Should you have questions, please contact Joshua Flynn-Brown or Quinton Brady of my Committee staff at (202) 224-4515. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.
Charles E. Grassley
Committee on Finance
The Honorable Mark Esper
Secretary of Defense
Mr. Glenn Fine
Acting Inspector General, Department of Defense
Letter from Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Chairman, S. Comm. on Finance, to Mark Esper, Sec’y of Def., dated July 12, 2019.
Exhibit B, at 2-3.
10 U.S.C. § 113; Dept. of Def. Directive 5111.11, dated December 23, 2009.
Department of Defense Office of Net Assessment, Response to DoD IG Research Project on DoD Office of Net Assessment Contract Management (Project No. D2019-D000AX-0104.000), dated June 27, 2019.
Dept. of Def. Directive 5111.11, dated December 23, 2009.