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Military officer accused in scandal Print
She denies profit from Iraq chaos

By T. Christian Miller, Los Angeles Times - April 19, 2006

WASHINGTON -- When Jay Garner arrived as the first US administrator in Iraq after the 2003 invasion, he chose a highly decorated Air Force officer named Colonel Kimberly D. Olson as his right arm because he considered her among the best America had to offer.

One of the first female pilots in the Air Force, she was a hard charger with an unblemished reputation for honesty, a high profile in the Pentagon, and a commitment to the US goal of creating a new democracy in the Middle East.

But today, Olson stands accused of one of the most audacious acts of impropriety in the corruption-plagued reconstruction of Iraq -- profiting from the post-invasion chaos by using her position to benefit a private security company that she helped operate, according to interviews and government documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

Pentagon investigators allege that, while on active duty, Olson established a US branch of a South African security company called Meteoric after helping it win more than $3 million in contracts to provide security protection for senior US and British officials, as well as for a subsidiary of Halliburton called KBR.

Olson has spent more than a year fighting the charges. In military proceedings last year, she denied abusing her position to enrich herself or the company but agreed to plead guilty to lesser charges. She was reprimanded and ordered to pay $3,500. The sanction effectively ended her career, but she was allowed to resign with an honorable discharge and no loss of rank.

Olson was banned from receiving government contracts for three years. The ban is not final because she is appealing.

To her defenders, including Garner and other prominent figures, Olson's troubles are evidence that Washington regulators are imposing unreasonable standards of conduct for a war zone. Friends described her as a problem solver who has now been punished for her effort to get things done in a chaotic environment.

Investigators, on the other hand, portray Olson as taking advantage of her position for personal gain. Olson is the highest-ranking US military officer to be accused of wrongdoing in connection with the reconstruction.

Olson did not respond to requests for an interview, but supplied an e-mail response to the charges against her. She said the military's version of events contained ''numerous factual statements and conclusions that are not accurate." She denied steering contracts to Meteoric and said she formed the US company to pursue security contracts with private businesses, not the Defense Department.

In January 2003, Garner, a retired general turned defense contractor, was chosen by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to lead the reconstruction effort in Iraq. Olson, a senior official in the Pentagon's comptroller office, was initially assigned to work on financial matters, but Garner soon made her his executive officer.

As Garner assembled his team in Kuwait in March 2003, before moving into Iraq, he found out that he would need private security to protect him and other senior Americans working there. Garner asked for military protection, but was told there would not be enough troops available.

At about the same time, Pentagon documents say that Olson took steps to open an office in her home in Vienna, Va., for Meteoric, which was based in Pretoria, South Africa. Four months later, she filed formal incorporation papers that made her director of the new American entity.
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