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Jewish World Review July 28, 1999 /15 Av 5759

Matthew Rees

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Madeleine Albright's Vendetta --
“I HAVE NEVER SEEN SUCH A BLATANT, raw attempt to harass and silence a whistleblower who simply told the truth.”

That’s Sen. Charles Grassley, a normally even-keeled Iowa Republican, thundering in a recent speech about the treatment of Linda Shenwick. A veteran civil servant at the U.S. mission to the United Nations, Shenwick has been the target of a ruthless campaign spearheaded by Madeleine Albright.

Her offense? Providing Capitol Hill and the media with public information about waste, mismanagement, and rule-breaking by officials at the United Nations and the U.S. mission.

Albright and her acolytes have been dogging Shenwick, whose job until recently was to monitor the U.N. budget, for much of the past five years.

But in recent weeks, the stakes have been ratcheted up a few notches. In mid-June, the State Department expelled Shenwick from the U.S. mission, and on June 29 her pay was suspended pending resolution of a dispute over her next federal job. Grassley, in protest of the “outrageous treatment” of Shenwick, announced on June 24 he was placing a “hold” on Richard Holbrooke’s nomination to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

In the weeks since Grassley’s announcement, his spine has only stiffened. He says the State Department, in responding to the Shenwick matter, has provided him with explanations that are “weak, and at times false or misleading.” And he says that in order for him to release his hold on Holbrooke’s nomination, “fairness and civility must prevail.” This won’t be easy.

Linda Shenwick started working at the State Department in 1979 while she was still in law school, driven by a sense of public service and an interest in foreign affairs. In 1984 she was transferred to the U.S. mission to the United Nations, where she first was assigned to handle personnel and budget issues. She quickly carved out a reputation for diligence and hard work, which won her three consecutive “outstanding” ratings—the highest given—between January 1987 and July 1989. Her performance also won her regular promotions, and in 1988 she was admitted to the Senior Executive Service, an elite corps of federal civil servants.

In August 1991 and again in November 1993, representatives of other U.N. member states elected Shenwick to serve on the influential Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), which recommends how U.N. money and personnel should be allocated. These votes of confidence reflected the respect accorded to her by U.N. officials. And her service on the committee helped her acquire a detailed knowledge of the byzantine U.N. budget process.

In recent years, some have tried to portray Shenwick as a tool of Jesse Helms and other Republican critics of the U.N. But this is a caricature. While she has indeed blown the whistle on U.N. malfeasance, Shenwick didn’t shy away from revealing wrongdoing by a senior appointee of a Republican president.

In 1989 she reported to the State Department’s inspector general that Thomas Pickering, then the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., had violated State Department procurement regulations by having his wife make non-competitive purchases of everything from furniture to catering services. Pickering challenged the allegation and tried to get Shenwick’s job-performance downgraded (in an earlier job evaluation, he had praised her as “well organized” and “very analytical”). She countered by accusing him of illegally retaliating against her, and when the matter was finally resolved in November 1992, Shenwick was granted two retroactive promotions, back pay, and reimbursement of $16,000 in legal fees.

This persistence, coupled with Shenwick’s expertise on U.N. budget issues and extensive contacts on Capitol Hill and in the media, led Madeleine Albright to distrust her from the beginning. Shortly after Albright arrived at the United Nations in 1993, Pickering’s ethical problems were rehashed in the press in connection with his nomination as ambassador to Russia. That prompted Albright’s deputy, Ned Walker, to tell Shenwick, “These articles hurt you with Ambassador Albright; she feels uncomfortable with you.”

It’s important to remember that while Albright gained publicity in 1995-96 for being an outspoken critic of the U.N. and its secretary-general, Boutros Boutros-Ghali—he blames Albright for his not being reappointed—this was not always so. Until the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994, she was an enthusiastic supporter of the U.N. and its foreign-policy priorities, enamored of phrases like “assertive multilateralism.” Indeed, she viewed criticism of the institution as criticism of her. And given Shenwick’s success in uncovering specific instances of waste, fraud, and abuse at the U.N.—such as the production of a book commemorating the U.N.’s 50th anniversary at a cost of $715 per page—a clash was inevitable.

The first instance of outright hostility came in June 1994. During a senior staff meeting attended by Shenwick, Albright blamed her for the hold Sen. Larry Pressler, a South Dakota Republican, had placed on the nomination of David Birenbaum for a top management and reform job. “The president wants this nomination,” hissed Albright, “and you are impeding it.” Shenwick’s supposed sin? She had, in full compliance with State Department regulations, responded to requests from Pressler about U.N. budget and management practices, and he had used the information in Birenbaum’s confirmation hearing.

Albright’s deputies adopted a similarly hostile tone. On July 17, 1994, the Washington Post published a brief article about shortcomings in a U.S.-sponsored proposal for a U.N. inspector general. That morning, following a senior staff meeting at the U.S. mission, Albright’s devoted press aide, Jamie Rubin, yelled at Shenwick that she’d be sacked if she ever talked to reporters, or Pressler, again.

When Shenwick didn’t back down, the harassment escalated. In October 1994, Birenbaum—by this time confirmed as deputy representative for U.N. management and reform—relieved her of her authority to assign work to much of her staff, claiming she was too busy with her ACABQ duties. Shenwick disagreed and took the matter up with Edward Gnehm, a senior U.S. mission official. He was no help. “What do you expect after what you did at Birenbaum’s hearings,” he told her. “This is payback.”

In March 1995, Shenwick attended a meeting of top U.S. mission officials, and they criticized her job performance. When she pointed to her favorable personnel evaluations—she’d received an “excellent” and an “outstanding” during the period from July 1992 to May 1994—Albright quickly interjected, “We are looking into changing that.” And when Albright learned Shenwick had shared public information with a Senate Appropriations Committee staffer about shoddy U.N. procurement practices, she ordered her “never to meet with Hill staffers alone again” (Rubin repeated the order a few days later).

All of the complaints about Shenwick notwithstanding, Albright regularly called on her for assistance with U.N. budget issues. Indeed, when Shenwick crafted a proposal in late 1995 to cut over $154 million from the U.N. budget, Albright used it as the basis for the American position in that year’s round of budget negotiations. Albright also retained Shenwick as a lead negotiator during multilateral budget sessions and had her conduct briefings on the U.N. budget for congressional staffers.

N E X T_ P A G E .|. Albright's limit