George Walker Bush
George W. Bush’s presidency is the
culmination of a family dynasty fueled by Texas oil in the 1950s and 1960s,
propelled skyward by Washington hubris in the 1970s and 1980s, and fattened by Saudi
petrodollars in the 1990s. September 11 and the wars that followed brought to light
the hypocrisy of a family whose wealth and power depended in large part on the good
graces of theocratic dictators and casual abusers of human rights.
No country helped the Bushes more than Saudi Arabia, the home nation of 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers. It was the presence of the U.S. military in Saudi Arabia that originally enraged Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda. In the year preceding the attacks, money flowed freely from Saudi Arabia to a good friend of the hijackers in San Diego, some of it indirectly from the wife of Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S.
Not surprisingly, the pursuit of Saudi terrorism links has been repeatedly stalled. The U.S. permitted relatives of Osama Bin Laden to fly out of the country quickly after the attacks, before the FBI could interview them. President Bush redacted 28 pages of the Congressional 9/11 report, most regarding Saudi funding. The reluctantly launched terror financing investigation in December 2002, focused on hundreds of millions of Saudi dollars, has produced few significant indictments.
To scrutinize Saudi Arabia too closely would be to alienate a much-trumpeted “moderate” force in the Middle East, put extremely valuable military bases at risk, and threaten a Bush-Saudi union whose unparalleled wealth and power depend on two things: stability among volatile anti-Western Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia, and continued ignorance in the U.S. of the extent of this policy dictating partnership. Exposing Saudi nationals engaged in terrorism could jeopardize both and bring down a codependent dynasty built, literally, on sand.
Big Footsteps to FollowThe Bush control castle’s foundation goes back three generations, and ties together Wall Street, Germany, Houston, Washington, and Saudi Arabia. In the 1920s Prescott Bush, already wealthy from family ties to the Rockefellers, joined his father-in-law, firm, Harriman & Co. It's holdings included Union Bank and Dresser Industries, whose assets were frozen during WW2 for continuing to do business with Hitler. Prescott remained on the board for 22 years, and served as a U.S. Senator from 1952 -1963). His son George H.W. Bush took one of his first jobs with Dresser in Texas after graduating from Yale in 1948, and in 1953 co-founded the Zapata Petroleum Corporation in Houston. In 1954 he began drilling off islands in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico that were later used as a base for CIA staging and supply raids on Cuba in advance of the Bay of Pigs invasion. (Years later, all Securities and Exchange Commission filings for Zapata Off-Shore between 1960 and 1966 disappeared.) According to internal CIA documents, Zapata emerged from a collaboration between George H.W. Bush and a covert CIA officer who resigned his agency position to go into private business, but who continued to work for the CIA under commercial cover. After making contact with the CIA, George H.W. Bush’s fortunes moved to Washington. In 1966, after stints as president and chairman, he sold his interest in Zapata and was elected as a Texas Congressman.
George W. Bush followed in his father’s footsteps, graduating from his alma mater, Yale, in 1968. That would do it for his father’s footsteps for a while: Although George H.W. Bush had served honorably as a pilot in World War II, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross after being shot down, the younger Bush immediately enrolled in the Texas Air National Guard, avoiding serving in the Vietnam War. George W. Bush got the lowest possible score on the Guard aptitude test, but went right to the top of a substantial waiting list. Bush stayed in the Guard for nearly six years, although there is no record of his performing Guard duties from May 1972 to May 1973. More than thirty years later, flawed news reports about he and his buddy James Bath’s activities during that time rocked CBS News and got Dan Rather fired. In October 1973, Bush left the Guard early with an honorable discharge to attend Harvard Business School.
While George W. Bush was at Harvard, his father was building power in Washington. In 1973, George H.W. Bush became the chairman of the Republican National Committee, and from October 1974 to November 1975 he was the chief of the United States Liaison Office in the People’s Republic of China.
The watershed year in the nascent Bush presidential saga was 1976, when its defining patterns emerged: The father topped off a power structure in Washington, the sons and their friends began managing the import of Saudi money, and George W began his string of business flops and bailouts. George H.W. Bush had just become Director of Central Intelligence, though he’d had symbiotic dealings with CIA heads since the ‘50s, where he first connected with the wealthy and influential Saudis, training the Royal Palace Guard. Back home in Texas, George W. Bush’s National Guard buddy James Bath was installed as the U.S. financial representative of Salem Bin Laden — Osama bin Laden’s brother — and he did the same for Saudi billionaire Khalid bin Mahfouz. George W. Bush finished business school and came home to Texas, where he promptly got a DUI.
In 1977, James Bath, flush with funds from his new Saudi friends, bought a $50,000 stake in Arbusto, a George W oil venture, followed years later by $25,000,000 from the same source, in George W’s Harken Energy debacle. Bath also acquired an aviation company, and brokered around $150 million in private aircraft deals in the 1970s, including one with Ghaith Pharoan. who would own “substantial stock” in the Bank of Commerce and Credit International. BCCI eventually collapsed in the largest bank fraud in history. The bank lost $12 billion in deposits and was involved in weapons trade, drug trafficking, money laundering, and the Iran-Contra scandal. Thanks to his activities with BCCI, Mahfouz would eventually pay a $225 million settlement to avoid being prosecuted on federal fraud and racketeering charges. Pharoan, after being indicted on BCCI-related federal racketeering and conspiracy charges, would flee. In 1977, though, Bath’s clients looked clean enough for George H.W. Bush — just back to Texas after finishing at the CIA — to join the board of the bank where Bath was depositing their money.
In 1978, George W. Bush decided he was ready once again for his father’s footsteps, and he ran for Congress. He lost and returned to Arbusto, which he renamed Bush Exploration after the company developed a reputation for failure.
The Bush family’s fortune multiplied in the 1980s. In 1981, George H.W. Bush was inaugurated as Vice President. The Reagan administration quickly embarked on a covert paramilitary war against the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua, while James Bath strengthened the ties between Texas, Washington, and Saudi Arabia. Bath had, for instance, recently become president of an aviation company owned by BCCI director Khalid bin Mahfouz.
George W. Bush, however, was going nowhere. In 1983, Spectrum 7 — a company run by two major Reagan-Bush supporters — bailed out George W. Bush’s failing Bush Exploration Co. Three years later — despite a Harvard degree and a father in the White House — 40-year-old George W. still had yet to succeed in business. Furthermore, his wife was threatening to leave him over his drinking. His brothers had already made more impressive strides: Jeb, younger by seven years, had already opened overseas branches for a Texas bank, and Neil was making six figures with his own exploration company. But 1986 would be a turning point for George W. Bush. He quit drinking, and he learned how to make money from oil—even if his father’s friends were still bailing him out.
In 1986 his Spectrum 7 skidded to the brink of bankruptcy, and an oil company named Harken absorbed it. Bush joined Harken’s board and received $600,000 in Harken stock in return for his Spectrum 7 shares. A month later, the endowment of George W. Bush’s business school alma mater, Harvard University, bought $2 million worth, or 30 percent, of Harken shares and invested $20 million in Harken projects. In 1987, with Bush on the board and Harvard’s infusion in its coffers, Harken put out a stock offering. The offering was underwritten by a company owned by billionaire Jackson Stephens, BCCI’s pointman in the U.S., and major contributor to George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaign.
Through Stephens, Bush’s interests merged with those of corrupt Saudis. First, Stephens Inc. sold 5 percent of Harken to Union Bank of Switzerland for $25 million in 1987. Union Bank once partnered with BCCI in a Geneva bank, and Union also helped BCCI dodge money-laundering laws by flying cash out of Panama in private jets. When Swiss banking rules forced Union to divest from Harken, Stephens sold Union’s Harken shares to a Saudi tycoon named Sheikh Abdullah Taha Bakhsh.
Bakhsh became Harken’s third-largest investor with a 17 percent stake, and he had — like George W. Bush’s pal James Bath — represented the financial interests of Salem Bin Laden in the 1970s and 1980s. Bakhsh was also an associate of indicted BCCI front man Ghaith Pharoan. It was this triumvirate of Bakhsh, Bath and Pharoan that prompted a federal financial crime unit to investigate in 1992 whether Bath allowed Saudi wealth to influence U.S. policy under President George H.W. Bush.
One of Bakhsh’s first moves at Harken was to put Talat Othman on the board, where he joined George W. Bush on the audit committee. In the 2000s, Othman would give a benediction at the Republican National Convention and sit on a board with Yacub Mirza, a central figure in the largest domestic terror-financing investigation in U.S. history. But in 1990, he’d play an important role in bailing out Harken, which was already losing money, despite having the president’s son on the board.
Bush found his way onto another board in February 1990, thanks to Frederic Malek, a friend of President George H.W. Bush. Malek gained notoriety in the early 1970s as an axe-man for President Nixon. At Nixon’s behest, Malek assembled a list of Jews at a government statistical agency for potential dismissal. (He would later be fined $100,000 by the SEC for a kickback scheme between his Thayer Capital Partners and the treasurer of Connecticut.) Malek convinced The Carlyle Group, a private-equity firm founded in 1987, to put George W. Bush on the board of Caterair, a company Carlyle had bought dirt-cheap. Northwest Airlines, where Malek was a director and vice chairman, was a major customer of Caterair at the time. Dan Briody, author of The Iron Triangle: Inside the Secret World of the Carlyle Group, said that the administration returned the favor through “FAA restrictions and things like that for the airline business.” CaterAir tanked while George W. Bush was on the board.
Later in 1990, Harken, despite having little capital for offshore drilling, beat out Amoco for a huge contract in Bahrain. The billionaire Bass brothers, who had contributed $226,000 to George H.W. Bush’s cause in the past two years, underwrote the cost of drilling in return for a “piece of the action.”
This was a golden contract, as long as the Middle East remained stable. However, in May 1990, the State Department sent a classified memo to National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft saying that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was starting to menace neighboring countries. This did not bode well for Harken — trouble in the Middle East increases insurance costs for oil tankers and drilling equipment, which in turn scares investors. And Harken, like both of George W. Bush’s former oil companies, was already having its own problems. In May 1990, Harken’s financial advisers at Smith Barney wrote a report complaining about the company’s “rapidly deteriorating financial condition.”
In the midst of this chaos, Abdullah Taha Bakhsh’s point man on the board, Talat Othman, met with National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft three times. In June 1990, just a month after the State Department’s memo to Scowcroft, George W. Bush dumped his Harken shares and pocketed $850,000. In August 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait, and Harken, after disclosing a loss of $23 million, watched its shares drop by 25 percent. Bush earned close to $1 million in his time at Harken while the company lost millions.
In August 1990, George W. Bush made a motion to negotiate with the Harvard endowment to offload $20 million in debt and $26 million in assets from Harken’s balance sheets into the endowment, thereby improving Harken’s cash flow. The transaction took place that November. By 1991, Harken’s stock price had risen from $1.25 to $8, and Harvard unloaded shares to the tune of almost $7.5 million. The Harvard endowment’s debt juggling presaged similar machinations ten years later at Enron—no surprise, considering Herbert “Pug” Winokur, who chaired Enron’s finance committee, was on the board of Harvard’s endowment. (Winokur would also go on to invest in a subsidiary of Investcorp, a Bahraini company in which Bakhsh had significant holdings, along with Purnendu Chatterjee, an associate of George W. Bush’s brother Marvin Bush.)
While George W. Bush was drawing on Saudi help to bail out his failing Texas oil companies, his father was taking Saudi money to fund a covert Central American war. In 1984, Congress cut off funding to the Nicaraguan Contras in their covert war against the Sandinistas, so the Reagan/Bush administration began looking to their friends in Saudi Arabia for help funding the Contras. Vice President Bush didn’t see how anyone could object to funding from other countries as long as the White House didn’t promise those third parties anything in return. Quid pro quo, however, is exactly what happened.
President Reagan personally asked the king of Saudi Arabia to replace lost Congressional funding, and Prince Bandar, the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. Bandar and a close friend of the Bush family, told the National Security Advisor that he’d provide $1 million a month in Contra funding. In 1985, Oliver North hatched a plan to sustain the Contra war in lieu of Congressional funding that involved asking Saudi Arabia and other nations for more funds. By mid-1985, the Pentagon was telling the CIA that that Prince Bandar had earmarked $25 million for Contras. Saudi Arabia ultimately gave $32 million to the Contra cause.
Over 1985 and 1986, the U.S. would make six arms shipments to Iran—a country that had already been designated as a state sponsor or terror — and use the revenues to fund the Contras behind the back of the Congress. BCCI helped implement this plan. Adnan Khashoggi, a Saudi weapons dealer and real-life evil Zelig whose name pops up in connection to the bin Laden family, Ferdinand Marcos, and even Princess Di’s boyfriend, used BCCI accounts in France to move revenues from arms sales to Iran.
In 1987, the ugliness of the Iran-Contra affair was exposed in Congressional hearings, but Vice President Bush came out squeaky clean. Bush said he was “out of the loop, no operational role,” even though it would later come to light that he had withheld a diary that said, “I’m one of the few people that fully know the details." In 1988, he was elected president.
George W. Getting His Act TogetherIn the early 1990s, George W. Bush finally found some success. He bought the Texas Rangers in 1989, with the help of William O. DeWitt, Jr., and Mercer Reynolds, III, friends of his father who bailed out Bush Exploration in 1983. (Fred Malek helped out, too.) Bush invested $600,000 in the Texas Rangers and became managing general partner. In 1994, Bush was elected Texas governor. He held onto his shares in the Texas Rangers, and they came in first in their division. He left CaterAir, which quickly collapsed under mismanagement and junk bond tomfoolery, earning the Wall Street nickname “CraterAir.” In 1998—four years into Bush’s governorship—the team was sold, and Bush made $15 million on his $600,000 investment.
Meanwhile, George H.W. Bush was reconnecting with the Saudis, building a lasting, lucrative relationship. He joined the board of the Carlyle Group after losing the presidential election in 1992. Carlyle had by this point become one of the largest private equity managers in the world, with more than $56 billion in assets. The key to its success largely stems from the star power of many of its advisers who also include former British Prime Minister John Major, former secretary of state James Baker and former defense secretary Frank Carlucci.
But once again, it’s not just the political clout that makes Carlyle so powerful - and suspicious. It’s also its connections to Saudi Arabia, and more recently China. The link between Saudi Arabia and Carlyle is so strong that some have called the firm a "front" organization for the Saudi royal family.
In 1995 the bin Laden family invested $2 million with Carlyle in an aerospace and defense fund. Carlyle Group had a major stake in the large defense contractor B.D.M., which had contracts through its subsidiaries worth some $1.2 billion to train and manage the Saudi National Guard and the Saudi air force in the early to mid 1990s, Craig Unger reports in House of Bush, House of Saud. In 1998, Carlyle sold its controlling interest in B.D.M. to defense giant TRW International.
In 2000 George H.W. Bush visited Saudi Arabia’s then-King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud. And Bush twice went to Saudi Arabia on behalf of Carlyle and visited the bin Ladens.
The Carlyle Group has also served as a paid adviser to the Saudi monarchy on the so-called "Economic Offset Program," an arrangement that effectively requires U.S. arms manufacturers selling weapons to Saudi Arabia to give back a portion of their revenues in the form of contracts to Saudi businesses, most of whom are connected to the royal family. The program was terminated in late 2001.
"43"In 2000, George W. Bush campaigned for the presidency, and his family and Saudi connections proved useful. Prince Bandar advised him on foreign policy, and in 2000, ChoicePoint compiled a faulty list that purged 94,000 largely Democratic voters from the rolls in Florida—where Jeb Bush was governor—before that state’s the highly-contested election. For its data-mining operations, ChoicePoint uses the Sybase software program; Winston Partners, co-founded by Marvin Bush, owns a large amount of Sybase.
In November 2000, George W. Bush lost the popular vote to Al Gore, but the count in Florida—the state with the deciding electoral votes and his brother in the State House—was too close to call. Gore contested the results, and the Florida Supreme Court mandated a manual recount. But on December 12, 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that recount unconstitutional, and the next day Gore conceded, making Bush the 43rd President of the United States. That summer, while golfing with his father at the family’s compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, the President met with reporters while wearing a hat that his father had given him. It was inscribed with the number 43.
On September 11, 2001 19 terrorists, 15 of whom were Saudi, hijacked planes and crashed them into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. The contradictions in the U.S.-Saudi relationship came into high relief. What would the GOP want to do with an autocratic regime overseeing a society comprised of adherents to one of the most oppressive sects of Islam? And what would Saudi Wahhabis think of their leaders’ dalliances with the decadent West?
Apparently, they didn’t approve—the most radical Wahhabist sects had been spreading their puritanical doctrine, sometimes with Saudi government money, for nearly three decades. And there wasn’t much of a barrier between radicals and the House of Saud. Although Osama Bin Laden lost his Saudi citizenship in 1994 for supporting Muslim fundamentalist movements, there are still a lot of reasons to question Saudi Arabia’s commitment to fighting terrorism, and a lot of reasons to question the Bush administration’s coddling of the regime:
- The CIA knew as early as 1998 that Saudi Arabia was the “epicenter” of terror money.
- After September 11, Interior Minister Prince Nayef ibn Abdulaziz blamed Jews for the attacks.
- In the days after the attacks, the U.S. government helped fly members of the Bin Laden family out of the country despite a travel ban. One passenger, who may have been interrogated, was a Saudi Prince who an al Qaeda leader later said knew about the attacks in advance.
- Donations from Prince Bandar’s wife ended up in hands of Saudis in San Diego who had befriended two hijackers. The donations increased in the year before the attacks, and one of the recipients made statements supporting al Qaeda.
- The U.S. redacted 27 pages of a Congressional report on the 9/11 attacks, and a U.S. official said that redacted document implicated the Saudi government in the attacks. "If this comes out, it will blow the top off the relations with [the Saudi] government because the American people will just be outraged," said a source familiar with the report.
- Riggs Bank, where Jonathan Bush—the president’s uncle—had a high-level job, was fined $25 million for lax oversight of accounts in which the Saudi Arabian embassy was involved in money laundering.
- Bush said in 2003, “We’re holding regimes accountable for harboring and supporting terror,” but he didn’t seem to mind when, according to Bob Woodward, Saudi Arabia artificially lowered oil prices to coincide with the 2004 election. Bush also opposed the establishment of a 9/11 commission.
The White House was cautious enough to redact information regarding James Bath — Bush’s friend who represented Khalid bin Mahfouz and Salem Bin Laden and invested in Arbusto — from a 1972 memo detailing Bush’s National Guard service. Bath and Bush were suspended within a month of each other, both for missing physical exams, and when this memo was revealed through a 2004 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, Bath’s name was redacted, although it shouldn’t have been. However, the same memo had been FOIA-ed in 2000 with no redaction of Bath’s name.
Turning Point: IraqDespite his connections to the Saudis, Bush wanted to make his legacy the struggle against terrorism. Bush’s first actions after 9/11, taken in the glow of the entire civilized world’s sympathy, seemed to indicate he would indeed follow any lead to anyplace terrorism had taken root. In December 2001, however, the Bush administration began to discuss an invasion of Iraq, which had only the most fleeting and inconsequential contacts with Al Qaeda.
Iraq held the world’s third-largest oil reserves. With Bush’s father at Carlyle and his brothers, uncles, and cousins scattered across the business world, the dynasty stood to profit mightily from an invasion. An invasion would also take attention away from Bush’s coziness with Saudi Arabia, and it would serve the ideological interests of the Project for the New American Century, a imperialist neoconservative organization whose signatories on a 1998 letter urging President Clinton to invade Iraq include many men who would eventually serve in the Bush administration, such as Robert Zoellick, Elliott Abrams, Richard Armitage, John Bolton, Zalmay Khalilzad, Richard Perle, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and James Woolsey.
Were oil, money, secrecy, and ideology the only motives push an invasion? Or was there a more Shakespearean component, with Bush avenging his father’s political death and near assassination by Saddam Hussein’s regime? Bush’s father may have defeated Saddam’s army, but he left Saddam in power, and Saddam’s henchmen had organized an assassination attempt in 1993.
In March 2002, Bush discussed Hussein at a Texas fundraiser. "There’s no doubt he can’t stand us. After all, this is the guy that tried to kill my dad at one time." With this comment, Bush was only trying to explain why Iraq posed more of a threat to the United States than it did to other countries. According to Bush, Hussein’s antipathy toward America was sufficiently aggressive and singular to comprise a casus belli for the United States and the United States alone. “There’s no doubt his hatred is mainly directed at us,” he said, just before offering the assassination attempt as evidence.
In March 2003, the month of the invasion, Bush said during an interview, "The fact that he tried to kill my father and my wife shows the nature of the man. And he not only tried to kill my father and wife, he’s killed thousands of his own citizens." But he denied a vendetta. "Nah, no," he said. "I’m doing my job as the president, based upon the threats that face this country."
One would assume Bush Sr. would want to see Saddam taken out. “Still no feeling of euphoria,” he had written in his diary after the February 28, 1991 ceasefire. “He’s got to go.” And he certainly stood to gain as an advisor for Carlyle, whose holdings included many defense contractors.
But an essay written in 1998 by George H.W. Bush and his former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft called “Why We Didn’t Remove Saddam” suggests the elder Bush wasn’t entirely on the same page as his son:
We were concerned about the long-term balance of power at the head of the Gulf. Trying to eliminate Saddam, extending the ground war into an occupation of Iraq, would have violated our guideline about not changing objectives in midstream, engaging in "mission creep," and would have incurred incalculable human and political costs... We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger and other allies pulling out as well… Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the U.N.’s mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the U.S. could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different--and perhaps barren--outcome.Bush the younger ignored this lesson. He made no effort to build a coalition like his father had assembled in 1991. When the U.S. Army invaded Iraq on March 20, 2003, George W. Bush diverged from his father’s footsteps, although the invasion enriched his father and the rest of the family.
George H.W. Bush retired from Carlyle in October 2003, but, according to the Washington Post, he still retained stock in the firm and gave speeches on its behalf for a fee of $500,000. That same year, Carlyle holdings’overall government contracttopped $2.1 billion.
Bush’s uncle William “Bucky” Bush saw the revenues of Engineered Support Systems Inc., where he was a director, jump 35 percent after the invasion thanks to several no-bid contracts, one of which is under investigation because it was awarded by an Air Force official who would later go to prison for corruption. The SEC is investigating ESSI because it sat on the news of a canceled Pentagon contract for six months. Bucky Bush and other executives some cashed stock options months before stockholders heard the bad news; Bush netted $450,000. In 2005, once ESSI’s revenues had topped $1 billion, a Carlyle subsidiary called DRS Technologies bought it, and Bucky landed $1.9 million in cash and $800,000 in stock. In July 2007, the SEC filed a civil injunctive action against ESSI for a backdating scheme that brought $20 million in "unauthorized and undisclosed compensation" to its executives and directors from 1997 to 2002.
President Bush’s brother Neil co-chairs an investment company with Jamal Daniel, whose father launched the Ba’ath Party in Syria and who himself launched lobbying firm New Bridge Strategies expressly to help companies land contracts in Iraq. New Bridge invested in Dilligence LLC, which provides security for corporate executives in Iraq and has a subsidiary owned by Mohammed Al-Sagar, chairman of the foreign relations committee in the Kuwaiti Parliament. The chair of New Bridge, former Bush campaign manager and FEMA director Joseph Allbaugh, used his lobbying firm Allbaugh Group to help Halliburton and Shaw Environmental Group to lobby Mississippi governor Haley Barbour for Hurricane Katrina contracts. Back in 2003, Barbour joined in funding Daniel’s launch of New Bridge Strategies.
President Bush’s brother Jeb, the governor of Florida, is an investor in the Winston Capital Fund, which is managed by his younger brother Marvin’s Cayman Islands-based company, Winston Partners. That company is a principal stockholder in Sybase, which creates software for ChoicePoint. Federal agencies have spent at least $117 million on contracts with ChoicePoint since 1997, and the company has worked on many high-level government projects, including tracking the 19 al Qaeda hijackers of September 11. ChoicePoint, of course, compiled the faulty list of felons that knocked thousands of eligible Democrats off the voter rolls under Governor Jeb Bush in Florida. ChoicePoint and Sybase provide programs for many of the world’s financial companies to comply with the Patriot Act’s requirements. In 2005, ChoicePoint paid a fine of $15 million to the FTC for selling the personal records of more than 163,000 consumers to inadequately vetted fake businesses.
In May 2003, Nour, a company affiliated with Marvin Bush’s Winston Partners, was set up specifically to bid for business in Iraq. Nour quickly landed a $327 million contract to equip forces in Iraq, but the Army terminated the contract after just five months. Winston Partners also invested heavily in Amsec Corp., which is majority-owned by SAIC, the largest government contractor in America. Marvin Bush’s business partner, Scott Andrews, sat on Amsec’s board. Winston Partners also invests in Indigo Systems Corp., which is backed by The Carlyle Group.
One of the largest beneficiaries of the war in Iraq is Halliburton, whose former CEO is Vice President Dick Cheney, and which merged with the Bush family’s Dresser Industries in 1998. At Halliburton, Cheney sold millions in supplies to Iraq for its oil industry under the auspices of the corrupt UN Oil for Food Program. As Vice President, he headed the Energy Task Force, which held secret meetings that rewarded chosen energy companies. Since the start of reconstruction efforts in Iraq, Halliburton has secured $10.8 billion in no-bid contracts to make emergency repairs to Iraq’s oil infrastructure and run all phases of Iraq’s oil industry. Halliburton bought Dresser Industries, the energy and natural gas company Prescott Bush had taken public in 1928, for $7 billion. In 2001, 50 years after George H.W. Bush took one of his first jobs at Dresser, Halliburton was forced to settle the asbestos lawsuits that it acquired as a result of purchasing Dresser, causing the company’s stock price to fall by eighty percent in just over a year. .Bush family interests, however, retained certain units of Dresser, and Cheney cashed out with $40 million in 2000 when George W. Bush chose him as his running mate for the presidential campaign. Haliburton’s stock soon skyrocketed back, as government orders poured in after 911.
The bin Laden family, a dynasty in its own right in Saudi Arabia thanks to its success in the construction business, partnered with the American Daniels Realty Corporation, a subsidiary of the Fluor Corporation. The bin Ladens’ influence helped Fluor land major reconstruction contracts in Kuwait after its liberation by U.S. forces in 1991, and Fluor has gotten $1.6 billion in contracts after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.
CronyismAs Bush’s family and Saudi benefactors profited from the War on Terror, President Bush lavished appointments and legislative priorities on those who had helped the family accumulate power and wealth. Some were incompetent, and some were downright dangerous, and many went back to the private sector and landed millions in government contracts.
Joe Allbaugh: Allbaugh was Bush’s chief of staff in Texas and his campaign manager in the 2000 election. Despite Allbaugh’s lack of emergency management experience, Bush appointed him as director of FEMA in January 2001. Three months later OMB director Mitch Daniels announced the White House’s intent to privatize more of FEMA’s work, and Allbaugh said that federal government involvement in disasters “may have ballooned beyond what is an appropriate level.” Allbaugh lured Michael Brown, whom he had met 30 years earlier in Oklahoma, away from his post as commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association and made him FEMA’s general counsel. In March 2003 Allbaugh stepped down to launch lobbying firm The Allbaugh Group, and Brown took over as FEMA director. When Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005, Brown botched the response, and Allbaugh’s clients landed hundreds of millions of dollars in Katrina-related contracts.
Michael Griffin. Michael Griffin left NASA contractor Orbital Sciences Corporation to become chief of NASA in May 2005, and two months later, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service raided Orbital’s offices. Four months after that, NASA awarded Orbital a $5 billion launch services contract. The raid came the day after former Air Force Secretary James Roche joined Orbital’s board. Roche resigned after a scandal in which his acquisitions chief was imprisoned for nine months for pushing through a deal to lease 100 Boeing refueling tankers while Boeing was offering her a job. (Roche had written an e-mail to an OMB staffer saying, “Give me tankers now.”) Griffin also oversaw NASA contractor United Space Alliance when it was sued by the Justice Department for concealing fraud by a subcontractor that would eventually plead guilty to 180 felony violations. He also oversaw In-Q-Tel, the venture capital arm of the CIA, while In-Q-Tel employees were running a “pump-and-dump” stock scheme. Griffin got his start in the government as a deputy technology director with President Reagan’s “Star Wars” program.
John Ashcroft. Bush appointed Ashcroft, who had just lost his Missouri Senate seat, as Attorney General at the beginning of his first term. Ashcroft supported most of the Bush anti-terror policies that were hostile to civil liberties. In November 2004 Ashcroft resigned and opened a lobbying firm that focused on homeland security and defense contracts, and brought on his Chief of Staff from the Justice Department as CEO. The Ashcroft Group represents ChoicePoint.
Paul Bremer. Dick Cheney picked Bremer to head the Coalitional Provisional Authority, which governed Iraq for the fifteen months after the American invasion in March 2003. Bremer was an old friend of Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff Scooter Libby, who was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in March 2007, and he spent many years working in the private sector for Henry Kissinger. Under Bremer, $9 billion went missing in fraud, corruption and other misappropriation, and some of it may have landed in insurgents’ hands. Bremer hired inexperienced Young Republicans to help manage the economy. To head up “private sector development,” he hired a Bush “Pioneer” fundraiser and the brother of the President’s former spokesman. Millions in contracts went to cronies, such as a tiny “consulting” firm headed by former FEMA director and 2000 Bush campaign manager Joe Allbaugh, and Halliburton, where Vice President Dick Cheney was CEO in the 1990s.
John Snow and David Sanborn. In 2003, President Bush named John Snow Secretary of the Treasury. Snow had been the CEO of railroad company CSX until that point. While Snow was CEO of CSX, the company donated made nearly $6 million in political donations, mostly to Republicans. Snow personally gave $85,000, and CSX gave more than $25,000 to the Bush-Cheney campaign of 2000. Late in his tenure at CSX, the company negotiated a deal to sell its CSX Lines to the Carlyle Group (where former President George H.W. Bush is a senior advisor and shareholder) for $300 million. Carlyle renamed the unit Horizon Lines, and the following year got more than $100 million in federal contracts to run oceanographic ships for the Navy. A year later, Carlyle doubled its money when it sold Horizon Lines to Castle Harlan LLC, another company with Bush family ties, for $650 million. President George W. Bush had served on Castle Harlen’s board of directors.
In 2005, John Snow’s CSX company sold its port holdings to Dubai Ports World for $1 billion. Dubai Ports World is owned by the government of Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates. According to the Associated Press, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) said the 9/11 Commission found “a persistent counterterrorism problem represented by the United Arab Emirates.” One of onlty three countries to recognized the Taliban regime, Dubai resisted efforts by the U.S. to stop the flow of money to terrorists after September 11th, and it was also the home of two of the September 11th hijackers. Much of the money that paid for those attacks flowed through the U.A.E., and, more recently, the U.A.E.’s own ports served as a stop for stolen nuclear secrets sold by a Pakistani scientist to Iran.
In 2006, Dubai Ports World sought to buy a company that controls the terminals at six major U.S. ports, causing a uproar in the United States. Most of the public and Congress opposed the deal, but after first claiming he knew nothing about it, President Bush threatened to veto (his first in six years) any attempt to stop it. The deal had been approved by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a cross-agency federal panel charged with screening foreign companies proposed ownership of firms with impact on U.S. homeland security. Its Chaired by the Treasury Secretary, who at the time was none other than the very same John Snow, formerly of CSX. After a short review, Snow’s CFIUS found no possible jeopardy to national security in the ports’ operation sale. Snow, who—as Secretary of the Treasury—is the chair of CFIUS, affirmed the committee’s decision and gave the deal a green light. At the time of Snow’s review, the U.S. was negotiating a free-trade deal with the UAE. Until his resignation in June 2006, Snow continued to chair CFIUS.
Snow is not the only CSX veteran to have joined the Bush administration. David Sanborn, who ran the CSX shipping subsidiary Sea-Land Services, Inc. and then worked for Dubai Ports, was nominated in 2006 to be the U.S. Maritime Administrator. Arnold Havens, CSX’s lead in-house lobbyist, became the General Counsel of the Treasury. Joseph Bogosian was a CSX lobbyist when he was was named Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Trade Development Bureau in 2001. That same year, CSX lobbyist Mike Parker was appointed to be Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. (Parker eventually returned to lobbying, where he worked for a client that recently won $500 million in Hurricane Katrina cleanup contracts.) Christopher Koch, who was a senior vice president at CSX in charge of several shipping divisions, was named to the Department of Homeland Security’s National Maritime Security Advisory Committee.
In 2001, Philip Cooney became the chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality. He had been a lobbyist and “climate team leader” for the American Petroleum Institute (API), the principal trade association for the oil industry. A lawyer with a bachelor’s degree in economics and no science background, Cooney edited government reports on climate-change research in 2002 and 2003 to downplay scientific findings about greenhouse gases and global warming.
To extend executive power in the War on Terror, Bush and Cheney needed to hide controversial (and possibly illegal and certainly in defiance of international law) programs from Congressional oversight. Who better than Iran-Contra veterans? John Poindexter, who was convicted for lying to Congress about the illegal arms-for-hostages Iran-Contra deal he helped create, wound up in charge of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. At DARPA, the Pentagon’s futuristic and secretive R&D shop, Poindexter launched Total Information Awareness, a project that would bring together and analyze virtually all of the information stored on computer databases – from emails to small-town court records to national databases of credit card and medical information. Total Information Awareness handed out nearly $1 billion in contracts, some of them to Poindexter’s former employers, before Congress killed its financing after multiple controversies involving the program’s potential for privacy invasion, Poindexter’s past, and his involvement in a proposed futures market that would have, in essence, encouraged speculating on things like assassinations and terrorist attacks.
As the U.S. Ambassador to Honduras in the 1980s, John Negroponte covered up death squads, kidnappings and other human rights abuses by the Honduran government, a supporter of the Contras in Nicaragua. He also contributed to a secret Presidential “finding” backing the Contras and lobbied officials in the Honduran military to aid the Contras. President Bush appointed Negroponte the first director of national intelligence in 2005. He stepped down to become deputy secretary of state in February 2007. He previously served as Ambassador to Iraq.
Elliott Abrams also played down human rights abuses in Central America while he was assistant secretary of state in the Reagan administration, and he pleaded guilty in 1991 to withholding Iran-Contra-related information from Congress.
President Bush appointed Abrams as his senior adviser on the Middle East in 2002.
Porter Goss became chairman of the House Intelligence Committee in 1997, and after the September 11th terrorist attacks, he used his post to help the Bush Administration fend off a Congressional investigation. In 2002, he co-chaired a joint House-Senate inquiry into events leading up to the attacks. That committee issued a report that was silent on the White House’s activities leading up to the attacks; CIA expert Ray McGovern has said its real priority was “providing political protection for the president.” Goss was appointed director of the CIA in August 2004. He resigned days before the FBI raided the home and office of his hand-picked No. 3, Kyle “Dusty” Foggo.
Gale Norton. Gale Norton got too close to corrupt super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff while she was Secretary of the Interior from 2001 to 2006. Abramoff funneled $500,000 in donations from his tribal clients to the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, which Norton had co-founded and where she had worked closely with GOP power broker Grover Norquist. CREA’s president at the time, Italia Federici, pushed those clients’ issues with Interior officials, such as J. Steven Griles. Italia Federici eventually pleaded guilty to obstruction of Congress during its investigation of Abramoff, and Griles pleaded guilty for lying to Congress about his association with Federici and Abramoff. Interior Inspector General Earl E. Devaney detailed appalling ethical lapses under Norton, saying, “Simply stated, short of a crime, anything goes at the highest levels of the Department of the Interior.” For instance, when Griles racked up 25 potential ethical breaches, Interior’s ethics office dismissed 23 of them, and Norton decided not to do anything about the other two. Norton championed the free market over environmental regulation during her tenure, and the environment suffered accordingly. She is now an adviser for Shell Oil.
Grover Norquist. President Bush was particularly kind to those who got him elected, especially to Grover Norquist. Norquist saw American Muslims as naturals for the GOP—socially conservative and wealthier than average—and began a push to bring them into the fold before the 2000 election. In paying a political debt to Norquist, Bush came into contact with people whom his own Justice Department would investigate and even convict on terror charges. Bush had photo ops with and made promises to folks who would turn out to embarrass him later.
Too Close For ComfortPresident Bush is often within one or two degrees of people who have been indicted on terrorism related charges. Sometimes, they find themselves inside the White House. The main vector for Bush terror connections is Grover Norquist. Before the 2000 election, Norquist led an effort to shepherd American Muslims into the Republican Party, citing a tendency among their population to be socially conservative and financially well-off. Norquist’s former lobbying group listed Jamal al-Barzinji, a key figure in a group of Islamic charities and corporations under investigation for terror financing, as a contact, and Abdurrahman Alamoudi, who is now serving 23 years for illegal finance activities with Libya related to a plot to assassinate the leader of Saudi Arabia, as a client. Alamoudi, in fact, had his picture taken with Bush in 2000.
Bush owes part of his election to Norquist, and he even made campaign promises in response to a demand by an important Norquist contact on Muslim and Arab issues. University of South Florida professor Sami al-Arian wanted the Department of Justice to stop using “secret evidence” to deport suspected terrorists. During the 2000 campaign, Bush had his picture taken with Al-Arian, and he brought up the secret evidence issue during a debate with Gore. After the election, the Department of Justice wrote up a proposal to ditch secret evidence. Bush was scheduled to present this proposal to a Muslim advocacy group at the White House at 2 p.m. on September 11, 2001.
Al-Arian pleaded guilty in 2005 to nonviolent support of a terrorist organization, Palestinian Islamic Jihad. (Some believe the U.S. government railroaded Al-Arian in its haste to put away domestic “terrorists.” He was acquitted on half of his charges, the jury deadlocked on the rest, and a defense filing claims the prosecutor made inflammatory anti-Muslim statements.)
Norquist launched the Islamic Free Market Institute, which received seed money from two groups under suspicion in the largest domestic terror financing investigation in U.S. history. The former director of the institute, Suhail Khan, who was the point man at the White House for arranging access for Muslim groups to meet with President Bush and his staff, is the son of an imam at a California mosque that twice hosted Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s right hand man and sometime press secretary.
Saudi Prince Bandar’s wife sent money to two men in San Diego who befriended two 9/11 hijackers living there, one of whom was an outspoken supporter of Al Qaeda. The money went through Riggs Bank, where President Bush’s uncle Jonathan Bush was a high level executive. (Riggs also paid a $25 million fine in 2005 for lax oversight on suspicious Saudi accounts.)
Talat Othman, who joined George W. Bush on the board of Harken in 1990, made a benediction at GOP convention in 2000. Othman now sits on the board of Amana Mutual Funds with Yacub Mirza, a central figure in the largest domestic terror financing investigation in U.S. history.
Another main Bush terror vector is his former Air Force friend James Bath. Bath was the U.S. financial representative for Salem Bin Laden and Khalid bin Mahfouz. It’s no wonder Bath’s name was redacted from a 1972 memo that discussed the fact that both Bush and Bath had missed medical examinations. The memo surfaced during the 2004 campaign with Bath’s information redacted. Unfortunately for Bush, someone had FOIAed the same memo in 2000 without redaction.
The Bush administration has been remarkably slow in pursuing leads that could bring any of these connections to light, especially when it involves Saudi Arabia.
Prince Bandar’s wife, Princess Haifa bint Faisal, sent monthly $3,000 stipends in the form of cashier’s checks from Riggs Bank to a San Diego woman named Majeda Ibrahin Dweikat, who then signed them over to the wife of Omar al-Bayoumi in San Diego. Two months earlier, Bayoumi had befriended two future 9/11 hijackers. He eventually signed for their lease and paid their first two months’ rent. Al-Bayoumi had ties to an overseas imam with al Qaeda connections, and his own writings have been called “jihadist.” When Bayoumi left the country in July 2001, Dweikat began signing the checks over to Osama Basnan, her husband and al-Bayoumi’s friend. Basnan was also friends with the two hijackers in San Diego; he later praised September 11 as a “wonderful, glorious day” and referred to the perpetrators as “heroes.” This information comes from a December 2002 Congressional report; 27 pages of that report related to Saudi Arabia are redacted. Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), chairman of the Congressional committee that released the report, pleaded with President Bush to declassify those pages; the vice chairman, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), said 95 percent of the redacted pages would not compromise national security. Bush refused.
An investigation of IT contractor Ptech hasn’t had anything to show for over four years, and a federal official cleared its name just hours after a big raid.
Ptech’s $3 million in government contracts landed its software in the Pentagon, FAA, and White House, and former Clinton White House Deputy CIO Felix Rausch was IT Chief for Ptech, working at FAA HQ, designing the very airspace system that tripped up the FAA on 9/11. Ptech was founded by Yassin Al Qadi, named a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) for allegedly funneling $3 million to Osama Bin Laden, nearly $1 million to Hamas, and helping to start a bank whose investors included Hamas leader Musa Abu Marzook. Ptech’s board listed Yacub Mirza, a central figure in an investigation of terror funding at a group of Muslim charities and companies in Northern Virginia and a man who gave seed money to GOP power broker Grover Norquist’s Islamic Free Market Institute. Mirza also once acted on behalf of Al Qadi, according to a former CIA counterterrorism chief.
In 2002, Ptech landed in the sights of Operation Green Quest, the largest federal terror financing investigation in U.S. history. But it almost didn’t—a local Boston TV station’s investigative team beat the FBI to the punch. In fact, the FBI knew about Ptech’s potential terror ties in late 2001. And when Indira Singh, who had worked with Ptech while at J.P. Morgan Chase, approached FBI agents in early June 2002 and told them about Ptech’s suspicious affiliations, they didn’t alert a single agency. No action was taken until until the Treasury Department learned that a WBZ-TV reporter named Joe Bergentino was pursuing the story. WBZ-TV held the story for three months at the request of federal authorities citing national security issues, as did ABC and NBC. WBZ-TV only broadcast its findings after the company’s Massachusetts headquarters were raided as part of the same Operation Green Quest that raided Mirza’s northern Virginia organizations several months earlier.
Just hours after the raid, a National Security Agency official was able to assure the public that Ptech’s software was “completely safe.” Ptech has software in the White House and all over government.
- Operation Green Quest has been very quiet about the northern Virginia raids, conducted in March 2002. The affidavit behind the raid claims that dozens of interconnected Muslim non-profits and companies in the area share officers and launder money for eventual dispersal to terrorists in the Middle East.
- Richard Clarke, former
White House counterterrorism czar, says that high-level White House officials
“personally approved the evacuation of dozens of influential Saudis, including
relatives of Osama bin Laden,” shortly after the September 11 attacks. According to
investigative journalist Gerald Posner, one of those Saudis, Prince Ahmed bin Salman
is alleged to have ties to Al Qaeda, and a detainee who was in Al Qaeda and very
close to Osama bin Laden told the CIA that Ahmed knew about the attacks in advance.
Ahmed was never interviewed about any potential connections to Al Qaeda, and he died
of a heart attack at age 43 less than a year later.
- The CIA knew as
early as 1996 that Saudi Arabia, mostly through its “charities,” was the epicenter
of terror money. But the Clinton and Bush administrations, not to mention the Saudi
government, have always been reluctant to investigate. According to U.S. News and
World Report, some intelligence officers believe it’s Saudi wealth that encouraged
U.S. officials to turn a blind eye.
Break from Father, But Dynasty Still Rich and PowerfulThe Bush dynasty is still strong, but George W. Bush has diverged enough from his father’s path to put some cracks in the foundation. After the Iraq invasion and the 2004 election, he replaced Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had been his father’s Defense Secretary, with Condoleeza Rice. Bush has otherwise surrounded himself with incompetent cronies from his Texas inner circle or bull-in-a-china-shop neoconservatives. He has essentially let Dick Cheney run the White House in an unprecedented trampling of balance of power that has wrecked the Middle East; he has ridiculed international law; and he has enriched (or commuted the sentence of) anyone showing sufficient loyalty. When Iraq became disastrous enough to damage him politically, he briefly brought in his father’s team. James Baker and Brent Scowcroft led the Iraq Study Group, but Bush tossed their advice to the curb.
In his book Plan of Attack, journalist Bob Woodward asked Bush if he talks to father about Iraq. “You know,” Bush replied, “he is the wrong father to appeal to in terms of strength. There is a higher father that I appeal to," Bush said.
In the Middle East, where the tendency to appeal to a higher power has gone haywire, the Saudis might be taking their ball and going home.
In March 2007, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah made an explosive comment about the U.S. presence in Iraq. “In beloved Iraq,” said King Abdullah, “blood is flowing between brothers, in the shadow of an illegitimate foreign occupation, and abhorrent sectarianism threatens a civil war.”
King Abdullah’s foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal, backed up the king’s appraisal of the American presence in Iraq. “If that country had chosen to have those troops, then it’s something else,” said al-Faisal. “But any military action that is not requested by a specific country—that is the definition of occupation.”
On July 15, 2007, the Los Angeles Times reported that 45 percent of all foreign fighters in Iraq were from Saudi Arabia. According to a senior U.S. officer, half of the Saudi fighters were suicide bombers.
On July 16, the Pentagon announced 16 detainees at Guantanamo Bay were being released to their home country of Saudi Arabia. “Approximately 75 detainees have been sent to Saudi Arabia in the past few years as part of negotiations between the two governments,” Josh White of the Washington Post reported.
If the Middle East doesn’t work out, there’s always China, as two of President Bush’s brothers have learned. Purnendu Chatterjee, acting for Marvin Bush’s Winston Partners, is a significant shareholder in Cheung Kong Holdings, a gargantuan conglomerate owned by Li Ka-shing, a Hong Kong billionaire with close ties to the Chinese government and military. Cheung Kong currently accounts for approximately 11.5 per cent of the Hong Kong stock market’s total capitalization. Ka-Shing’s other major Hong Kong conglomerate, Hutchison Whampoa, controls the Panama Canal. Cheung Kong’s portfolio includes Visiphor, a company contracted by the Department of Homeland Security to streamline access to sensitive information in the department’s myriad databases. Another Cheung Kong holding is Critical Path, Inc., a California-based software and Internet-messaging services company. Winston Partners has about 5.5 million shares in critical path.
In 2002, Neil took a gig with Grace Semiconductor, which is owned by Jiang Mianheng, son of the former Chinese president. Neil had no background in semiconductors, but he was paid $2 million in company stock over five years, plus $10,000 for every board meeting attended. Just months later, the U.S. became more permissive in allowing Chinese semiconductor companies to acquire military-grade fabrication machinery. In a 2005 hearing, the Commerce Department raised security concerns about China’s semiconductor technology being applied to military weaponry or systems.
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