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FBI begins probe in awarding of contracts to Halliburton

Army officer seeks protection to tell about no-bid deals

WASHINGTON -- The FBI has begun investigating whether the Pentagon improperly awarded no-bid contracts to Halliburton Co., seeking an interview with a top Army contracting officer and collecting documents from several government offices.

The line of inquiry expands an earlier FBI investigation into whether Halliburton overcharged taxpayers for fuel in Iraq, and it elevates to a criminal matter the election-year question of whether the Bush administration showed favoritism to Vice President Dick Cheney's former company.

FBI agents sought permission this week to interview Bunnatine Greenhouse, the Army Corps of Engineers' chief contracting officer who went public last weekend with allegations that her agency unfairly awarded KBR, a Halliburton subsidiary, no-bid contracts worth billions of dollars for work in Iraq, according to documents obtained by the Associated Press.

Asked about the documents, Greenhouse's lawyers said yesterday their client will cooperate but that she wants whistle-blower protection from Pentagon retaliation.

''I think it [the FBI interview request] underscores the seriousness of the misconduct, and it also demonstrates how courageous Ms. Greenhouse was for stepping forward," said Stephen Kohn, one of her lawyers.

''The initiation of an FBI investigation into criminal misconduct will help restore public confidence," Kohn said. ''The Army must aggressively protect Ms. Greenhouse from the retaliation she will encounter as a result of blowing the whistle on this misconduct."

FBI agents also recently began collecting documents from Army offices in Texas and elsewhere to examine how and why Halliburton, a Houston-based oil services conglomerate, got the no-bid work.

''The Corps is absolutely cooperating with the FBI, and it has been an ongoing effort," said Carol Sanders, a spokeswoman for the Army Corps. ''Our role is to cooperate. It's a public contract and public funds."

The FBI declined to comment yesterday, but a law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the investigation does not involve anyone in the White House, including Cheney's office.

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