Joe Conason's Journal

The latest Richard Perle outrage: The Bush foreign policy adviser should resign for calling a journalist a "terrorist" -- and the Senate should investigate his fishy business deal. Plus: Another Horowitz outrage.

Published March 10, 2003 5:17PM (EST)

Phony by any measure
With David Horowitz it's always hard to tell where ignorance ends and prevarication begins. He states fraudulent "facts" with the confidence of a man who believes his own bullshit. Consider this example: At the very beginning of his letter quarreling with David Talbot over media bias, he lists more than a dozen daily newspapers that he describes as "by any measure liberal" and thus inclined to endorse Democrats. An innocent reader who has never seen most of those papers might believe Horowitz knows what he's talking about. That would be a mistake. Six of those papers  The Chicago Tribune, The Houston Chronicle, The Dallas Morning News, The Detroit News, The Portland Oregonian and The Seattle Times  endorsed George W. Bush for President in 2000. He also neglects to mention a number of important dailies that endorsed Bush, from Hartford and Cleveland to Indianapolis and San Diego. And he was probably just too busy to consult Editor & Publisher, where he could have found out that most of the daily newspapers in the United States, at all levels of circulation, backed the Republican.

Erratum An astute reader points out that Seymour Hersh's expose of the My Lai massacre wasn't published in 1967, as I wrongly recalled this morning. The massacre occurred in March 1968, and the story appeared in November 1969.
[2:45 p.m. PST, Dec. 19, 2003]

The latest Perle jam
In the higher circles of the Bush Administration, investigative journalism is now regarded as a form of terrorism. At least that seemed to be the definition used by foreign policy adviser Richard Perle during an appearance yesterday on CNN, when he described New Yorker writer Seymour Hersh as a "terrorist." Toward the end of a routine war-promoting television appearance for Perle -- during which he debated former Congressman Tom Andrews, national director of Win Without War -- Wolf Blitzer asked him about an article by Hersh that explores Perle's private business activities.

Posed during the final moments of the program, Blitzer's question may have been incomprehensible to many viewers -- but in an era of press subservience the CNN anchor deserves credit for asking it at all. Perle's response was outrageous, even for him:

BLITZER: ... There's an article in the New Yorker magazine by Seymour Hersh that's just coming out today in which he makes a serious accusation against you that you have a conflict of interest in this because you're involved in some business that deals with homeland security, you potentially could make some money if, in fact, there is this kind of climate that he accuses you of proposing.

Let me read a quote from the New Yorker article, the March 17th issue, just out now. "There is no question that Perle believes that removing Saddam from power is the right thing to do. At the same time, he has set up a company that may gain from a war."

PERLE: I don't believe that a company would gain from a war. On the contrary, I believe that the successful removal of Saddam Hussein, and I've said this over and over again, will diminish the threat of terrorism. And what he's talking about is investments in homeland defense, which I think are vital and are necessary.

Look, Sy Hersh is the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist, frankly.

BLITZER: Well, on the basis of -- why do you say that? A terrorist?

PERLE: Because he's widely [perhaps "wildly"] irresponsible. If you read the article, it's first of all, impossible to find any consistent theme in it. But the suggestion that my views are somehow related for the potential for investments in homeland defense is complete nonsense.

BLITZER: But I don't understand. Why do you accuse him of being a terrorist?

PERLE: Because he sets out to do damage and he will do it by whatever innuendo, whatever distortion he can -- look, he hasn't written a serious piece since Maylie [actually "My Lai," Hersh's 1967 expose of an American massacre in Vietnam].

Actually, Perle has no reason to complain about Hersh's article. The veteran journalist afforded him every opportunity to respond to questions about the conflicts of interest between his role as chairman of the Defense Policy Board, a secretive group that advises Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and his private business activities as a manager of an entity incorporated in Delaware and somewhat ominously known as Trireme Partners, L.P. (For those who have forgotten their classics, the trireme was the ship of war whose invention allowed Athens to dominate the Mediterranean during the fifth century B.C.) Trireme, which also boasts connections with DPB member Henry Kissinger and Gerald Hillman, a New York businessman who also sits on the Pentagon board, invests in "companies dealing in technology, goods, and services that are of value to homeland security and defense."

According to Hersh, Trireme has raised $20 million from Boeing, one of the three largest Pentagon contractors. That's a scandal in itself, although Hersh focuses instead on an embarrassing luncheon in Marseilles where Perle met with Iran-contra and BCCI scandal figure Adnan Khashoggi and another Saudi businessman. These were curious potential partners for Perle, who has frequently excoriated both the Saudis and Americans who do business with them.

"It was normal for us to see Perle," Khashoggi told Hersh. "We in the Middle East are accustomed to politicians who use their offices for whatever business they want." Less sanguine about the meeting was Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador, who accused Perle of seeking a payoff from his government.

"Here he is, on the one hand, trying to make a hundred-million-dollar deal, and, on the other hand, there were elements of the appearance of blackmail -- 'If we get in business, he'll back off on Saudi Arabia' -- as I have been informed by participants in the meeting," Bandar, a close friend of the Bush family, told Hersh.

Now Perle already has done much to embarrass the United States in his privileged role at the Pentagon, where he wields great influence with little accountability. By popping off at various times, he has instigated diplomatic incidents with the Saudis, the Germans and the French. In the past, his financial entanglements with the Government of Turkey and Israeli defense contractors have raised questions about his role in American policy-making, a history that Hersh reviews in the New Yorker. A business relationship between him and Boeing would be unethical on its face and a possible violation of federal rules.

At the moment we have no way of knowing how unethical Perle's conduct may have been, because the minutes of the Defense Policy Board's meetings are secret. (The presence of Dr. Henry "Conflict" Kissinger in this unappetizing scenario is scarcely reassuring; nor is that of lobbyist Newt Gingrich, another DPB member.) A DPB member told Hersh that Perle had failed to inform the board about Trireme.

Perle arguably should be required to resign because of his grossly intemperate public attack on Hersh; and Rumsfeld should certainly demand that he apologize.

But in any case, Perle's mixing of business and policy at the Pentagon deserves immediate scrutiny by the Senate Armed Services Committee. Indeed, what may be in order is a probe of the Defense Policy Board, its influence over policy and procurement, its secrecy and its lax ethical standards.
[9:21 a.m. PST, Mar. 10, 2003]

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