Richard Holbrooke’s FBI file reveals vetting for top jobs

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“[Redacted] advised she would not recommend the candidate for a position of trust and confidence with the United States government, and added that she does not have a great feeling that the candidate represents the United States.”

The FBI released Holbrooke’s FBI file this week in response to Freedom of Information Act requests from The Hill and other media organizations. 

Holbrooke served as President Obama’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan before he died. He also served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, special envoy to Bosnia and Kosovo, and helped negotiate the Dayton Peace Accords during a storied Foreign Service career. 

A former boss of Holbrooke’s recommended him for a position of trust in a 1976 vetting, but did not recommend him for a supervisory role. Holbrooke “was reluctant to give credit to subordinates when it is due” and was “too status conscious,” the ex-boss said.

Others praised Holbrooke’s character, including several senior officials at the State Department. Former undersecretary for management (designate) Richard Moose, undersecretary for political affairs Peter Tarnoff and deputy assistant secretary Kenneth Quinn, among others, recommended Holbrooke in 1993. 

The late Secretary of State Warren Christopher spoke highly of Holbrooke in a 1998 vetting. Holbrooke was a “man of excellent character and a dedicated patriot,” Christopher said while praising Holbrooke’s role as chief negotiator of the Dayton Peace Accords in Bosnia. 

ABC News’s Diane Sawyer, who remained friends with Holbrooke after being romantically involved with him, called him “a very honest, upright individual” who “will be a historical [sic] great ambassador.” He was “a brilliant, serious minded, compassionate, hardworking individual, dedicated to his country … who she could not recommend high enough,” Sawyer told the FBI in 1993. 

An FBI source who requested confidentiality from the FBI said Holbrooke was “sometimes a bit unorthodox and d[id] not avoid controversy.”

While Holbrooke worked in the government much of his life, he was also “the subject of a pending criminal investigation by the [State Department's inspector general],” according to FBI records. The investigation, which he eventually paid a $5,000 civil penalty for in 1999, alleged that Holbrooke “violated conflict of interest laws” from his work for Credit Suisse First Boston.

The inspector general investigation came up when Holbrooke was being vetted for the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations job.

An anonymous letter received by the inspector general's office alleged that Holbrooke helped Credit Suisse at the State Department before moving to the bank. He was also accused of using contacts within government to help the bank once he was in their employ. 

“Within one year of leaving his position ... Holbrooke contacted Department of State personnel in Washington and various U.S. embassies, including Korea. Some of these contacts concerned matters of interest to [Credit Suisse First Boston],” records stated.

Holbrooke left the State Department in February 1996 to become a vice chairman at the investment banking company, according to the records.

During the investigation, the inspector general advised “EXTREME CAUTION ... BE EXERCISED IN DISCUSSING THIS MATTER AS ANY DISCLOSURE OF THE DETAILS COULD JEOPARDIZE THE INVESTIGATION.” Holbrooke was given a “Target Letter” for the investigation in September 1998. 

The White House requested updates in September 1998 on the investigation to determine the status of the inquiry. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright also was briefed on the investigation, according to records.  

Many who are still in politics remembered Holbrooke fondly after his death, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“Tonight America has lost one of its fiercest champions and most dedicated public servants,” Clinton said in a statement after Holbrooke's passing. “He was one of a kind — a true statesman — and that makes his passing all the more painful.”

Friends of Holbrooke compiled a book of essays after he passed away.

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