Joe Conason's Journal

Will the Senate investigate top hawk Richard Perle's questionable conduct at the Defense Policy Board?

Published March 26, 2003 5:30PM (EST)

A Perle of great price
Two weeks ago I suggested that Richard Perle's commingling of public service and private profit deserves the scrutiny of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Evidence has been growing since then that Perle, the chairman of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, is using his immense clout in the Bush administration as a business calling card. Yesterday, the New York Times reported that Rep. John Conyers has asked the Pentagon inspector general to investigate Perle, and that an unnamed "prominent Democratic member of the Senate" is "considering making a similar request." But rather than simply punting Perle over to the inspector general, the Senate itself ought to act in this case.

The first exposé of Perle's business affairs appeared in a New Yorker article by Seymour Hersh, who Perle then memorably smeared as a "terrorist" for having the temerity to report on his peculiar dealings with Adnan Khashoggi, the billionaire Saudi arms dealer, oilman and Iran-contra scandal figure. (Iran-contra scandal figures are a key talent pool for the Bush administration, the latest example being neocon publicist Michael Ledeen. Josh Marshall provides a photo of Ledeen and Perle at a Washington kaffeeklatsche, along with some of Ledeen's inane commentary, but omits his unsavory role in the arms-for-hostages fiasco.)

Following the Hersh story, which examined Perle's role in a defense-oriented venture called Trireme Partners L.P., other aspects of his business portfolio have emerged, including a directorship in Autonomy, a British information technology contractor for the Defense Department, the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies; a directorship in DigitalNet, a Virginia-based communications company with U.S. Army and Defense Department contracts; and a consulting deal with bankrupt Global Crossing, which is paying him big money to grease its acquisition by Hong Kong's Hutchison Whampoa Ltd.

While all of these relationships are controversial because of Perle's Pentagon position, the latter might raise eyebrows among his conservative admirers, if only they were intellectually honest. Global Crossing's management apparently hired Perle to help overcome national security concerns within the Pentagon about the Hutchison takeover. Those concerns arise from long-standing ties between Hutchison's wealthy owner Li Ka-Shing and the Chinese government, including its armed forces. Defense security officials are not eager to see a Chinese-connected firm take control of Global's enormous fiber-optic networks, which are used by American military and defense agencies.

Republicans have remained silent so far about Perle's work on behalf of the Hutchison deal, but they weren't so quiet a few years ago when the Hong Kong firm took control of shipping through the Panama Canal. Right-wing alarms went off at press conferences and in the conservative media, warning that the Chinese Communists would soon be shipping nuclear weapons into the canal and aiming them at our cities.

That was merely a cynical ruse to expand the phony "China scandal" attack on the Clinton administration, in which Senate Republicans Trent Lott and John Warner played starring roles. Lott, then the majority leader, asked Warner, then and now the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, to hold hearings on Hutchison's control of shipping through the Panama Canal. And of course Warner obliged. Having gotten cheap headlines, the Republicans dropped the issue. But will Warner act, now that Hutchison is a real issue and a prominent Republican is involved? Will he and the senators on his committee hold Perle accountable for ethical conduct at the Defense Policy Board? They all should be asked whether and when they intend to investigate Perle, starting with the chairman himself and the ranking Democrat, Carl Levin, and including such high-minded critics of Pentagon impropriety as John McCain, Edward Kennedy, and Joe Lieberman -- along with the other distinguished members listed here.

Perle and swine
Arianna Huffington today locates Perle in the same sty with the other subjects of her new bestseller, "Pigs at the Trough." [Watch for her column, to go up shortly in Salon.] In the good old days, Washington influence-peddlers sold themselves and their contacts after departing government through the revolving door. "Today's new breed of public servants," she writes, "prefers to cash in while still stalking the halls of power." (By the way, I have to admit that I was wrong to doubt Arianna's conversion to progressive values. She might argue that she hasn't changed all that much, but I'm glad to say she has.)
[10:04 a.m. PST, March 26, 2003]

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