Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and Senate Finance Committee chairman, is seeking to cut in half the budget for an in-house Pentagon think tank, citing in part dubious contracts awarded to the FBI’s main spy in its Trump-Russia probe.
Mr. Grassley’s target is the Office of Net Assessment (ONA), which gauges foreign threats and the military’s ability to defeat them.
Stefan Halper, whom the FBI wired and deployed to try to persuade Trump associates to implicate themselves in a Russia conspiracy, has received over $1 million in ONA contracts for various studies on China and Russia.
“That office has lost its way,” Mr. Grassley said in a floor speech last week.
The Washington Times reported in 2018 that a number of national security experts whom Mr. Halper cited as sources for one study said they never contributed and never heard of the study.
“It’s been reported that some of the individuals that Halper cited as sources in his research have denied contributing to his work,” Mr. Grassley said.
“Oddly, ONA Director James Baker has repeatedly told me that Halper’s deliverables were ‘high quality’ and ‘conformed to the requirements set forth in the contract,’” he said. “What planet does ONA live on?”
Mr. Grassley said, “When I began to review Stefan Halper’s contracting work for ONA, something didn’t look right. So, I asked the inspector general to look into it.”
The Pentagon IG in 2019 found that Mr. Halper failed to document that he had spoken to the experts he had proposed in his statement of work before winning the contracts.
“ONA didn’t require Halper to submit evidence that he actually talked to the people he cited in his work, which included Russian intelligence officers,” Mr. Grassley said.
Mr. Grassley cited Mr. Baker’s testimony at an administrative hearing where he said ONA had not done a net assessment since 2007.
He said that in April the Pentagon changed an ONA directive, striking the word “shall” from a phrase about producing net assessments.
As a result, Mr. Grassley has proposed an amendment to the fiscal 2021 defense budget striking $10 million from ONA’s $20 million budget.
Mr. Baker defended his stewardship in a February letter to Mr. Grassley.
“The ONA team is a very small and capable organization busy doing what it is chartered to do,” he said. “It remains widely respected by its customers, including the senior-most policymakers and military leaders in the country.”
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