Grand old profiteering

Conservatives accuse Richard Clarke of using 9/11 revelations to peddle his book, but plenty of Republicans are cashing in on the war on terror.


Joe Conason
March 31, 2004 5:06AM (UTC)

While Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist quickly backed away from the most damaging assertions he made during his floor tirade against Richard Clarke Friday, admitting that he had no evidence of contradictions in the former counterterror chief's sworn testimony, he stuck to his depiction of Clarke as a rapacious ex-staffer looking to cash in on his past public service.

"I am troubled that someone would sell a book, trading on their service as a government insider with access to our nation's most valuable intelligence, in order to profit from the suffering that this nation endured on Sept. 11, 2001," said the Senate majority leader solemnly. In fact, what really disturbs Frist and other Clarke critics is the prospect of yet another bestseller that portrays the Bush White House in an unflattering light. Because they have no problem with profiteering, from Washington to Baghdad, when the business at hand suits their own partisan or pecuniary purposes.

Advertisement:

For example, Frist displayed no such qualms when he published his own little tome on bioterrorism in March 2002, titled "When Every Moment Counts: What You Need to Know About Bioterrorism From the Senate's Only Doctor." During the anthrax mail attacks that followed Sept. 11, he showed up almost daily on television news programs to discuss the threat. That allowed him to reap further publicity and royalties from public fears by tapping out the "essential manual" that promised to save the lives of readers and their families in the event of a bioterror assault (for only $29.90 retail). Perhaps the government ought to inform and protect citizens against bioterror, but Frist immediately recognized a promising privatization opportunity.

Republicans like Frist certainly aren't complaining about Karen Hughes, the once and future Bush advisor and ghostwriter whose new book, "Ten Minutes from Normal," will debut tonight on ABC's "20/20." Why should they complain? According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Hughes dutifully "avoids controversial subjects, giving scant attention to the war in Iraq and the exploding federal deficit," while hinting that her boss may well have been chosen by God to combat terrorism, borrowing from the Old Testament Book of Esther to ask whether Bush had "come to a royal position for such a time as this." If that sounds undemocratic and possibly blasphemous, it's just politics -- and business -- as usual among the Lone Star profiteers.

Were Frist truly concerned about profiteering from government service and wartime agony, he might have raised his smooth voice about those former Bush administration officials now seeking their fortunes in Iraq. The best-known is Joe Allbaugh, who managed the Bush-Cheney campaign four years ago, served as head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a few years, and then abruptly quit to form a new company in March 2003, just as our troops were speeding toward Baghdad. New Bridges, his Houston-based firm, is blatantly oriented toward exploiting Allbaugh's crony connections to help "companies engaging the U.S. Government process to develop post war opportunities." In plain English, that means obtaining a chunk of those billions in federal contracts, for a nice fat fee.

Yet even Allbaugh is small-time compared to the latest defector to the private sector, Pentagon comptroller Dov Zakheim, who announced two weeks ago that he will be leaving for a partnership at Booz Allen Hamilton, the technology and management strategy giant that is one of the nation's biggest defense contractors. Although Zakheim is not nearly as familiar as Condoleezza Rice, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, or Defense Policy Board member Richard Perle, he too has been identified as one of the ultrahawkish "Vulcans" who shaped Bush foreign and military policy from its earliest days. Zakheim has bustled through the revolving doors before, serving as a deputy undersecretary of defense during the Reagan administration, where he worked for Perle before leaving government to join a missile-defense contractor.

At the mammoth Booz Allen firm, Zakheim will join R. James Woolsey, the former director of central intelligence and Perle associate on the Bush Defense Policy Board. These were the defense intellectuals who favored invading Iraq long before Sept. 11 -- and long before any U.N. resolutions on the topic were introduced.

So far Booz Allen has yet to win any major Iraq contracts of its own, although it has shared Pentagon boodle for several years with Kellogg Brown & Root, the Halliburton subsidiary that is by far the biggest contractor out there. (At a recent hearing on Halliburton's scandal-scarred performance in Iraq, Zakheim did his best to defend the vice president's old company. "They're not doing a great job," he shrugged, "but they're not doing a terrible job.")

Advertisement:

Booz Allen swiftly jumped on the Baghdad bandwagon last May, when it co-sponsored (with the Republican-connected insurance giant American International Group) a postwar conference on "The Challenges for Business in Rebuilding Iraq" that featured speeches by Woolsey and Undersecretary of Defense Zakheim. (The price of admission for industry executives ranged from $528 to $1,100 a head.) Included was the chance for executives to participate in a "not-for-attribution session that will permit a dynamic, frank exchange of views on the opportunities and challenges businesses will face in post-conflict Iraq."

More recently, Booz Allen was listed as a partner in a controversial $327 million contract to outfit the new Iraqi army. The prime contractor in this murky deal was Nour America Inc., which on closer inspection turned out to be controlled by a close associate of Ahmad Chalabi, the dubious former exile promoted by Perle, Woolsey and their ideological associates as the best possible leader for Iraq after Saddam. Chalabi is a leading member of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council and enjoys enormous influence inside the Defense Department, which issued the Nour contract.

Unfortunately Nour had scant qualifications, if any, for the lucrative contract. After protests from more qualified contractors who had lost out, the contract was withdrawn for rebidding. Meanwhile, Booz Allen denied any role in the Nour affair, aside from a post-bid $50,000 consulting contract.

Such tawdry matters have nothing to do with Dov Zakheim, of course. As he told reporters when he announced his plan to leave government service for the private sector, he departed the Pentagon because he wants to spend more time with his grandchildren.

Advertisement:

Joe Conason

Joe Conason is the editor in chief of NationalMemo.com. To find out more about Joe Conason, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

MORE FROM Joe Conason



Fearless journalism
in your inbox every day

Sign up for our free newsletter

• • •