The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said Friday that after Kabul fell to the Taliban, he was pressured by the State Department to redact information from SIGAR reports. Since 2008, SIGAR has documented the corruption and waste involved in Washington’s failed nation-building project in Afghanistan.
SIGAR chief John Sopko told the annual Military Reporters & Editors Association Conference that the State Department asked him to “temporarily suspend access” to all “audit, inspection, and financial audit … reports” from the SIGAR website. The Department claimed it wanted the information removed to protect Afghan allies of the US, but Sopko said he never got an explanation of how reports that have been on the internet for years could put anyone in danger.
“But despite repeated requests, State was never able to describe any specific threats to individuals that were supposedly contained in our reports, nor did State ever explain how removing our reports now could possibly protect anyone since many were years old and already extensively disseminated worldwide,” he said.
Sopko said he complied with the State Department’s request since it was made during the height of the withdrawal, but now the audits and financial reports are again available online. But after the initial request, the State Department wanted more information to be removed.
“Recently, I received a second letter from the State Department. They stated they had reviewed the relatively few materials remaining on SIGAR’s website and included a spreadsheet containing roughly 2,400 new items they requested redacting,” he said. After reviewing the new requests, Sopko said it became clear that the State Department had “little, if any, criteria for determining whether the information actually endangered anyone.”
Sopko listed a few of the requests that he described as “bizarre,” including a request to redact the name of former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani from SIGAR reports. “While I’m sure the former President may wish to be excised from the annals of history, I don’t believe he faces any threats simply from being referenced by SIGAR,” he said. Out of the 2,400 items, Sopko said he decided to only redact four.
The State Department is not the only federal agency restricting information concerning US operations in Afghanistan. Sopko said that since 2015, the Pentagon had restricted a “range of information” related to the US-backed Afghan security forces. Sopko said in order for the US to learn how the war in Afghanistan was such a failure, all the information that has been redacted by the US government should be released.
While the war is over, SIGAR continues to discover examples of waste by the US government in Afghanistan. SIGAR released a report Friday that audited a sample of 60 US infrastructure projects in the country and found $723.8 million, or 91 percent of what was spent on the projects, “had gone toward assets that were unused or abandoned, were not used as intended, had deteriorated, were destroyed, or some combination of the above.”