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Who killed Dale Stoffel?


The above cartoon—published in the Iraqi newspaper Al-Mutamar last October—shows an insurgent shaking hands with a civil servant carrying suitcase labeled "Administrative Corruption."

The intersection of these sinister forces has now resulted in an American murder mystery—one that could have far-reaching implications for the Iraqi Ministry of Defense and whatever government  emerges from the January 30 elections.

The Los Angeles Times reports :

An American contractor gunned down last month in Iraq had accused Iraqi Defense Ministry officials of corruption days before his death, according to documents and U.S. officials.

Dale Stoffel, 43, was shot to death Dec. 8 shortly after leaving an Iraqi military base north of Baghdad, an attack attributed at the time to Iraqi insurgents. Also killed was a business associate, Joseph Wemple, 49.

The killings came after Stoffel alerted senior U.S. officials in Washington that he believed Iraqi Defense Ministry officials were part of a kickback scheme involving a multimillion-dollar contract awarded to his company, Wye Oak Technology, to refurbish old Iraqi military equipment.

The FBI has launched an investigation into the killings and whether they might have been retaliation for Stoffel's whistle-blowing activities, according to people familiar with the inquiry. The FBI declined to comment.

Stoffel, of Monongahela, Pa., made his allegations in a Dec. 3 letter to a senior Pentagon official and in a meeting with aides to Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). Soon after, Stoffel was summoned to the Taji military base in Iraq by coalition military officials to discuss his concerns about his contract. He complained about payment problems with a mysterious Lebanese businessman designated by the Iraqis as a middleman, sources said.

As Stoffel, Wemple and an Iraqi interpreter left the Taji base in a car Dec. 8, another vehicle rammed theirs head-on. Two masked men jumped out and executed the two Americans in a fusillade of bullets, according to news accounts at the time. Their interpreter fled and is missing.

Here's where the story gets interesting:

The attackers stole Stoffel's computer from the scene. About a week later, a video showing photographs and identity documents of Stoffel and Wemple was posted on a website frequently used by insurgent groups. A group calling itself the Brigades of the Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the killings. The group was not previously known to terrorism experts.

The timing and the unusual details of the killings have raised suspicions in the U.S. and Iraq that the video was a ruse to disguise an assassination.

"The video was very unusual," said Evan Kohlman, a terrorism consultant who examined the video.

"It didn't show bodies or the killing, but only photos, documents and materials taken from the bodies. It is certainly possible that someone [other than insurgents] manufactured the video." [The video is available for viewing at this website, but a free registration is required for viewing.]

But what really intrigues me are the companies that Stoffel and Wemple worked for:  Wye Oak Technology and CLI Corporation.

The company's web site describes Wye Oak Technology as "a team of engineering professionals who can meet your project needs today and into the future. With over 50 years of development and engineering experience we can analyze your needs, create a plan and rapidly move your organization into it next stage of technical impact." This could be just about anything technology related, though the home page then goes on to describe services such as "programming solutions," "web development," "database solutions" and a nebulous category called "special projects." I don't know about you, but I think it's pretty unusual for a bunch of webheads to be over in Iraq refurbishing outdated Soviet tanks. It's also pretty unusual for a web design firm to be registered as a lobbyist by the U. S. House of Representatives. Listing Wye Oak Technology as his employeer, Stoffel also contributed $2,000 each to the campaigns of Nevada Senator John Ensign and Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha. (I find it curious that I can't locate any information about Wye Oak Technology's domain name, webrenovators.com, in the WHOIS database.)

Dale Stoffel is also described as "executive vice president of  international development " for  CLI Corporation (based in Canonsburg, PA). CLI, according to its website, "provides engineering, construction, equipment and management services in the field of coal and mineral processing (solid-liquid separation and waste removal)." David Hartley and Robert Irey of CLI each contributed $1,000 to Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Spector's recent campaign.

Again, what does "coal and mineral processing" have to do with refurbishing tanks?

These paragraphs from the Times' story are very revealing, however:

Stoffel's killing drew scrutiny from investigators not only because of his whistle-blowing activities but also because of his mysterious and controversial past. Stoffel worked on a top-secret U.S. program in the 1990s to buy Russian, Chinese and other foreign-made weapons for testing by the U.S. military, according to documents and interviews.

Stoffel's Iraq contract was the first large-scale contract issued and funded directly by the Iraqi government for military purposes, and was crucial for training and equipping the Iraqi army, considered a key component of the U.S. strategy for exiting Iraq.

All in all, something about this whole thing doesn't smell right.

I wonder if—as the de-Baathification effort in Iraq has stalled—a nexus of former Saddam loyalists in the MoD, with ties to Lebanon (most likely via Syria), has managed to insert itself into the contracting process. The alleged kickback scheme via a Lebanese third party certainly has all the hallmarks of an oil-for-food-like set-up. And the Saddamites are certainly very skilled at manipulating the terrorists into doing their dirty work.

This is definitely one to keep an eye on.

UPDATE: The Washington Post has more on the story: "Stoffel had negotiated a project to rehabilitate Soviet-era tanks, armored personnel carriers and other armored machinery for Iraqi security forces to use, according to colleagues at CLI USA Inc., a Pennsylvania-based consulting firm where Stoffel was executive vice president. The project was the first of its kind issued by the Iraqi Ministry of Defense and was part of the effort to bolster Iraqi forces, a key element of the United States' exit strategy in Iraq. Stoffel was administering the umbrella contract through his own firm, Wye Oak Technology, but CLI was poised to do much of the work, colleagues said."

UPDATE: This website offers a photograph of the investigation, credited to the USMC, which features a man in a business suit:


The man in the business suit would appear to be the same guy we see in these photographs of Stoffel from the video:



Any ideas out there who the man in the suit might be? (The man immediately on Stoffel's left would seem to be Ahmed Chalhabi.)

UPDATE: Stoffel's obituary in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette contains this intriguing passage:

Wye Oak, which was based in a house Mr. Stoffel owned in Alexandria, Va., is described on its Web site as "a development and engineering company." But at Wye Oak, Mr. Stoffel marketed himself as an international weapons dealer.

One of his biggest successes was landing an $11.5 million contract with Boeing Co. Boeing hired Mr. Stoffel to obtain Russian X-31 missiles.

But the missile deal fizzled and a contentious court case followed.

Boeing subsidiary McDonnell Douglas Corp. sued Mr. Stoffel last year in St. Louis, seeking return of $6 million it had paid him. McDonnell Douglas claimed Mr. Stoffel delivered just five of the 32 missiles he had promised.

Mr. Stoffel countered that he would not return the money, which he said was essential to his efforts to secure more missiles.

The lawsuit was before U.S. District Judge Richard Webber in St. Louis. One of the judge's staff members said yesterday the case was closed Sept. 27. The outcome, though, is unknown, as Webber sealed the file.

Court documents obtained by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before the case was closed said Mr. Stoffel intended to obtain the missiles through contacts he had in Ukraine, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Russia itself.

As the lawsuit implies, Mr. Stoffel previously worked for the U.S. government. The nature of his government job and how long he held it were not clear yesterday. [My emphasis.]

A news account of the Boeing arms-deal-gone-awry can be found here. The story describes Stoffel as "an obscure weapons dealer."

This account, which appeared in the Monessen Valley Independent last December, adds some details of Stoffel's background and what he was purportedly doing in Iraq:

It was learned later that Stoffel, who was a partner of Robert Irey at CLI Corp. in Cecil, was a resident of Carroll Township. Stoffel was the company's executive vice president of International Development for the company

"We are just stunned and devastated by what has happened," said Irey. "It is hard to believe that Dale is no longer with us."

"Dale was my partner since January of this year," said Irey. "He came to me and my other partner, Bill Stein, one day and said, 'I want to go to Iraq.' He was driven. He had an unbelievable passion for what America is doing in Iraq."

Irey said that Stoffel was driven by a desire to make things right in that country.

"You don't go there just to collect a paycheck," said Irey.

CLI Corp is an engineering and construction firm with Irey serving as chief executive officer. The firm has been involved in a project to construct a center in Taji, which would perform work for the Iraqi civil defense force. [My emphasis.]

Stoffel and Wemple reportedly had just left Taji when their vehicle was ambushed.

Irey explained that CLI is doing work in the Green Zone, a fortified safe area near Baghdad, and in Taji.

"They had left Taji and were driving back to the Green Zone for a meeting," Irey said. "They were 10 minutes from the Green Zone when they were ambushed."

Irey described Stoffel, who had a strong military background, as "bigger than life."

"He was an experienced military Special Forces guy who knew what he was doing, how to handle weapons and was always heavily armed," said Irey. "He always felt if ever there was an altercation, he'd get them before they got him.

Something or someone must have lulled Stoffel and Wemple into a false sense of security; I'm betting it was their interpreter who helped tee up the hit.

UPDATE: This article from The New York Times may shed some light on the Lebanese connection:

Earlier this month, according to Iraqi officials, $300 million in American bills was taken out of Iraq's Central Bank, put into boxes and quietly put on a charter jet bound for Lebanon.

The money was to be used to buy tanks and other weapons from international arms dealers, the officials say, as part of an accelerated effort to assemble an armored division for the fledgling Iraqi Army. But exactly where the money went, and to whom, and for precisely what, remains a mystery, at least to Iraqis who say they have been trying to find out.

The $300 million deal appears to have been arranged outside the American-designed financial controls intended to help Iraq—which defaulted on its external debt in the 1990's—legally import goods. By most accounts here, there was no public bidding for the arms contracts, nor was the deal approved by the entire 33-member Iraqi cabinet.

As the article goes on to describe, the Iraqi defense minister, Hazim al-Shalaan, seems to be the one who created the arrangement—and who may have ordered the hit on Stoffel and Wemple. Why has no news organization begun to connect the dots?

UPDATE: I've created a photo album of screen shots from the "Brigades of the Islamic Jihad" video here.

UPDATE: Steven Vincent, author of In the Red Zone, has some good insights on the Stoffel/Wemple murders.

UPDATE (4-05-05): A second video claiming responsibility for the murders has been released. I've discussed it in a separate post here. An album of still images from the video can be found here.

Posted by Rodger on January 22, 2005 at 02:15 AM | Permalink


you are one hell of a reporter. Kudos to you, my friend!

Posted by: Carlos | Apr 6, 2005 12:46:39 PM

RE: Dale Stoffel:I grew up in Canonsburg, Pa.--a town of c.8,500. It is better known as the site of a quarter millon tons of radioactive debris stored within the town limits. I have extensive timelines on both the CLI & radioactive history. If interested, I can send electronic copies of both --it is not-for-publication and personal research project devoted to history of the town. No obligation.

Posted by: dave patterson | Nov 6, 2005 12:47:35 PM

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