On Thursday, Aug. 5, the United States Senate confirmed Richard
Holbrooke as ambassador to the United Nations. Holbrooke’s nomination
had been held up for 14 months, most recently because of a hold Sen.
Charles Grassley placed on his nomination to protect the career of a
little-known State Department employee named Linda Shenwick. Sen.
Grassley made it clear that by lifting the hold on Holbrooke he is not
giving up on Shenwick. In fact, he told his colleagues that he is
raising the stakes by placing holds on three recent State Department
How did Shenwick become the central figure in a tug-of-war between
the administration and Congress? Shenwick may be little known to the
public, but for years this dedicated public servant has been a valuable
source of information on waste, fraud and abuse at the United Nations.
Government officials, elected representatives on both sides of the aisle
and members of the media have used her facts and figures in an attempt
to keep this bloated international agency accountable to U.S. taxpayers,
who pay a full 1/4 of its enormous budget.
It’s been an uphill battle. In Bosnia, it was discovered that
accounting procedures were so loose that the United Nations overpayments
on a fuel contract amounted to $1.8 million. Then Kenyan peacekeepers
stole 25,000 gallons and sold it to the Serbs. In May of ’93, when the
United Nations took over the operation in Somalia from us, they turned
the former U.S. embassy complex into an air-conditioned fortress,
complete with golf course. With a $2 million a day budget for that
operation alone, it could afford it.
However, United Nations’ abuse isn’t limited to its activities
offshore. At U.N. headquarters in New York City where Shenwick worked,
United Nations employees make almost twice the going U.S. rate. On top
of that, they get cushy allowances to send their children to private
schools and are reimbursed for their taxes. Furthermore, there is no
code of conduct for these employees, no requirement that officials
recuse themselves from matters in which they have conflicts of interest
and nothing to prevent nepotism. As a result, one senior U.N. diplomat
placed his common law wife on staff at a salary of more than $60,000 per
Shenwick’s timely and accurate information to Congress led to reforms
and more effective control of the U.N. budget. She was not a snitch, as
some have claimed, but she did take seriously her job as a budget
analyst at the United States Mission to the United Nations. Never a
push-over, always fair-minded, she was so respected by her peers that
she was elected to the U.N. budget committee, a position won by an
internal United Nations vote. In 1996, this valuable seat on the
committee was lost when Madeleine Albright refused to nominate her again
for the post. Now Shenwick has been unceremoniously booted out of the
job she had performed so well.
Shenwick went to work for the State Department in 1979, right out of
law school. In 1985 she was transferred to the United States Mission to
the United Nations and had received glowing evaluations of her work as
an administrative and budget officer, B.A., before Albright. In 1989,
Vernon Walters, the chief American delegate, described Shenwick as a
woman of “unshakable integrity and courage.”
A.A., after Albright, things began to change. In fact, none of her
new superiors appointed by President Clinton seem interested in her
reports of wasted money. They simply didn’t want to hear about it. In
1993, when Shenwick reported to Ms. Albright, who was then U.S.
Ambassador to the United Nations, that she had seen photographs of
stacks of cash left out on tables at a United Nations site in Somalia,
nothing was done. Things begin to unravel a year later, after the U.N
in Somalia reported that $3.9 million in cash had been stolen.
When Shenwick continued to give reports to the media and answer
questions from Congress, Albright and other Clinton appointees tried to
silence her. When a law was passed to tie U.S. contributions to the
United Nations to reforms, Albright was said to hold her directly
responsible for the level of detail in that legislation.
As the senior official responsible for analysis of the United Nations
budget, Shenwick had to make a choice: keep a lid on U.N. abuse or
continue to give Congress accurate information. Shenwick told the
New York Times that she thought about looking the other way at
what she considered wrongdoing, “but there comes a point where you
either do what you’re supposed to do or ultimately you will be the one
having to defend your actions.” Shenwick claims that she was threatened
at various times, not only with the loss of her job but with the loss of
her reputation, by U.N. Spokesman Jamie Rubin, Ambassadors Edward Gnehm,
Richard Sklar, Herbert Gelber and Albright herself. Senator Grassley,
as the author of the Whistleblower’s Act, is determined to see that both
are restored. He feels it is essential in order to protect “the
people’s right to know the truth.”
According to Grassley, “The message the State Department wants to
send (through its treatment of Shenwick) is one of fear. Every other
employee of the USUN Mission has his eyes firmly fixed on this case.”
Grassley says it is important for Congress to send its own message to
every government employee, “Those who help Congress know the truth will
be protected, not punished.”
Grassley now has a hold on Peter Burleigh, who is Clinton’s choice
for ambassador to the Philippines. Burleigh had served as acting U.N.
ambassador during the Iraq and Yugoslavia debacles. He also placed
holds on Carl Spielvogel as ambassador to the Slovak Republic, and J.
Richard Fredericks as ambassador to Switzerland.
Why was Grassley willing to trade three mid-level ambassadors for the
high profile U.N. job? Grassley says that he suddenly realized that his
effort to have Shenwick re-instated at State was going nowhere because
Madeleine Albright was not anxious to have Holbrooke at the U.N. where
he could eclipse her as the administration’s foreign policy voice.
Therefore, Grassley simply transferred his hold on Holbrooke to three
ambassadorships he believes she really cares about.
Albright remains adamant that she doesn’t want Shenwick back at
State. Only time will tell.