Alleged Abuse of Arlingtion Nationion Cemetery

Statement by Eric J. Boswell Assistant Secretary Bureau of Diplomatic Security U.S. Department of State Before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Committee on Veterans' Affairs U.S. House of Representatives
January 28, 1998

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in this hearing on the granting of waivers to the eligibility regulations for burial at Arlington National Cemetery. As the Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security, I am here to address matters surrounding the waiver granted for Mr. Maurice Larry Lawrence, who was U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland when he died on January 9, 1996.

From the eternal flame at the grave of a U.S. President to the Tomb of the Unknowns to the thousands of simple, but eloquent, white headstones that dot its landscape, Arlington National Cemetery is the home of heroes and truly hallowed ground. It is a very important symbol to the Nation and to our friends and allies throughout the world. On behalf of the Department of State, I want to pledge to you our strong support for developing and maintaining policies and practices that reflect and perpetuate that important symbol.

Let me take a moment to briefly outline the functions of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and put into perspective its role in this matter. Our primary mission is one of providing security, to allow safe conduct for foreign affairs. This effort is carried out through programs focusing on the protection of U.S. government personnel, diplomatic facilities and national security information.

In addition, we provide protection for the Secretary of State and other senior government officials, for resident and visiting foreign dignitaries, and for foreign missions in the United States. We also have statutory responsibility for investigating passport and visa fraud.

The Bureau's dynamic mission is carried out by a worldwide cadre of dedicated special agents, security engineers, couriers, security specialists and other professionals, including contract personnel, assigned to 135 posts overseas, field and resident offices in 18 cities throughout the United States, and headquarters here in Washington.

In fulfillment of its mandate to protect national security information, each year we conduct thousands of personnel security investigations of employees, applicants, contractors, and others seeking access to Department of State information or facilities. Most positions in the Department are designated as sensitive, requiring a full field background security investigation and, every five years, an update investigation. These investigations are carried out in full accord with U.S. Government-wide standards.

The investigations include checks o f available sources of relevant information, such as education, employment, criminal, legal, military, medical, financial, professional and residential records. Interviews are conducted of the candidate, individuals named by the candidate as references, and other so-called “developed sources, ” who may have personal or professional knowledge about the candidate. The investigators' reports are used by DS to determine whether an individual is eligible for a security clearance and then are evaluated by the Bureau of Personnel to determine whether the employment of an applicants — or the retention of an employee — is warranted.

As with most other Department positions, background investigations on candidates for an ambassadorship, whether the individual is Foreign Service, Civil Service, or a political appointee, are the responsibility of the Diplomatic Security Service. Thus, we conducted the background investigation on Mr. Lawrence when he was under consideration for an ambassadorship in 1993. Mr. Lawrence was confirmed by the Senate as Ambassador to Switzerland in February, 1995. He died in office on January 9, 1996.

In December, 1997, we also were tasked with conducting two inquiries relating to Mr. Lawrence's claim to service in the Merchant Marine. The focus of those investigations was to verify that claim of service and to determine the basis for the Department's waiver request. Copies of the Investigation Reports have been provided to the Committee.

During the initial background investigation in 1993, Mr. Lawrence advised that he served on several ships as a volunteer merchant mariner. He told them that the last ship he was on, the S.S. Horace Bushnell, was sunk, and that he sustained head injuries and was sent home to his parents to recover. During this interview, he advised that as a volunteer one was not deemed to be enlisted in the Merchant Marine.

At that time, the Department checked with the Military Records Center in St. Louis, which referred investigators to the U.S. Coast Guard here in Washington. The Department was advised that no record of Mr. Lawrence's claimed Merchant Marine service existed and that it was unlikely that any record would exist with the Coast Guard for volunteer civilian service such as claimed by Mr. Lawrence. Consequently, no further attempt was made to verify his claimed service as a volunteer seaman some 50 years ago. Moreover, investigative requirements only called for verification of active duty service, reserve service, or service with the National Guard.

As part of the government-wide standards for a background check, the most recent education or the highest degree attained is verified. In Mr. Lawrence's case, investigators went back as far as his attendance at the University of Arizona, the most recent institution he attended. This transcript does reflect that he attended Wilbur Wright Junior College in 1944 and 1945. At the time, the Department did not connect Mr. Lawrence's attendance at this junior college with his claimed volunteer affiliation as a merchant mariner.

In addition to education record checks, investigators also looked into legal proceedings involving Mr. Lawrence and confirmed his previous business and professional activities through a variety of sources who could speak directly to his character, based on their personal experience. More than 50 friends and business associates who knew Mr. Lawrence over his lifetime were interviewed and none raised any question about his Merchant Marine service. A recent newspaper article quoted one of those interviewed as saying that she clearly informed the State Department of her doubts as to Mr. Lawrence's Merchant Marine service. However, the August 4, 1993 investigative report covering that interview contains no information to support that allegation.

In the August 13, 1993 security summary, which was forwarded to the Office of White House Counsel, Mr. Lawrence's claimed service as a merchant mariner was not confirmed or alluded to. This claimed voluntary affiliation was deemed less important when weighted against his full adult life history.

The background investigation of Mr. Lawrence was performed in accordance with interagency standards for Presidential appointee investigations and Executive Order 10450. The Department is constantly looking for ways to improve its investigative product, and will continue to do so in the future.

As I mentioned, the focus of the most recent investigations has been to verify Mr. Lawrence's claim of Merchant Marine service and to determine the basis for the Department's request for a waiver to Department of Army regulations to permit Mr. Lawrence to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Those efforts revealed that Mr. Lawrence was, in fact, in school during the claimed period of service, according to junior college transcripts. We concluded that he had not served in the Merchant Marine as he had alleged.

The investigation into the burial waiver indicated that the request to to permit Mr. Lawrence to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery was based primarily on Mr. Lawrence's claimed wartime service. The State Department's Bureau of Administration, headed by Assistant Secretary of State Patrick Kennedy, has the responsibility to consult with family members and assist with making necessary arrangements upon the death overseas of any State Department official. Assistant Secretary Kennedy, conveying the burial request of Mrs. Lawrence in a letter to Secretary of the Army West, relied on information in a memorandum from then-Assistant Secretary for European and Canadian Affairs Richard Holbrooke providing an account of Mr. Lawrence's claimed service. The letter noted that such service in the U.S. Merchant Marine during wartime arguably could have made Mr. Lawrence eligible for burial in Arlington National Cemetery without need for a waiver.

The memorandum outlining Mr. Lawrence's claimed service, which was sent to the Army along with Mr. Kennedy's letter, was based on statements made to Mr. Holbrooke by Mr. Lawrence, with whom he was personally acquainted, and on a framed newspaper article that was hanging on Mr. Lawrence's office wall at Embassy Bern during his tenure as Ambassador there. That article, from the San Diego Union-Tribune, described Mr. Lawrence's decoration in January 1993 by the Russian Government for his claimed service in the Merchant Marine in World War II.

I would note that none of the State Department officials who relied on accounts of Mr. Lawrence's service indicated any knowledge of information that might reasonably lead them to doubt the claim.

Mr. Chairman, that concludes my statement. Let me again emphasize the Department's strong support of policies and practices that appropriately reflect and perpetuate Arlington National Cemetery's deep and unique meaning to our nation and the world, and to thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I will be pleased to try to answer any questions you or your colleagues may have.

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