Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen and his aides reviewed employee e-mails in May to see if someone in the office was leaking damaging information to the media, according to an ex-employee familiar with the agency's internal probe. The former agency employee said the review of e-mails lasted two days and did not violate federal law.
The source also said the method of finding the leak was consistent with an agency policy that says employees "imply their consent to disclosing the contents of files or information" on agency equipment they use. The former employee described the internal probe to counter charges by other former employees that Bowen and top aides engaged in a far more extensive open-ended review of employee e-mails over a period of months. Some ex-employees said they believed their e-mails were reviewed to dig up dirt on their activities or to assess their loyalty. Those allegations and other charges have generated an FBI investigation of Bowen and other officials, CongressDaily reported Thursday on its Web site.
In an exclusive interview Thursday, Bowen called the charges baseless.
"We do not improperly monitor e-mails," said Bowen, a former White House lawyer. "We have a clear and explicit policy, closely followed, and there has been no wrongdoing here."
Citing legal advice, Bowen declined to comment on the FBI investigation or on reports that a federal grand jury in the Western District of Virginia last month subpoenaed agency documents.
The source who described the internal review of employee e-mails did not say what damaging information Bowen and other top officials believed was leaked to the press. But in early May, multiple news organizations first reported that Bowen was under investigation by the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency, an organization of inspectors general and other senior officials appointed by President Bush.
That administrative investigation has focused on whether Bowen's top deputy, Ginger Cruz, signed off on an exaggerated estimate of savings generated by the agency in documents sent to the Office of Management and Budget, on charges the agency improperly paid Deloitte Consulting for work outside the scope of the company's contract, and that Bowen wasted taxpayer money on a book about Iraq's reconstruction.
FBI agents have also questioned former employees about the book project and the savings estimate sent to OMB, multiple sources said. In addition, the FBI is reviewing whether Bowen and Cruz inappropriately used agency funds to pay legal expenses resulting from the PCIE investigation, the Associated Press reported.
In his interview, Bowen defended the book project as a useful effort to summarize lessons learned in the reconstruction of Iraq. He attributed the complaints that generated the investigations of his office to disgruntled former employees. But he argued most former and current staffers are happy at the agency. Ten current employees returned after leaving for a period, Bowen noted.
"A few people have left unhappy, but the overwhelming number of people at SIGIR have found their jobs rewarding, just as I have," he said.
The disclosure of the FBI investigation into Bowen also generated congressional reaction Friday. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., said all investigations of the agency should conclude as quickly as possible.
"The institution of SIGIR continues to be essential to ferreting out waste and fraud in reconstruction spending, and these allegations need to be resolved so that the office can focus entirely on its core mission," Lieberman said in a statement.