Thursday, July 26, 2007



In the early 80s I read the first of the Robert Caro books on the life of LBJ. Maybe I was naive but I really was shocked to learn about the absolute, unadulterated venality of how Big Business-- not in the 1920s but in my own time-- intersected with politics. LBJ's career was also the story of Brown and Root which became KBR which became, in effect, Halliburton. Vietnam may have torn the country apart-- it did-- and destroyed Johnson's presidency and his legacy but it was a real honeypot for his cronies. A few days ago James Glanz told the more contemporary story of KBR and Halliburton in the NY Times, Bribery Network to Bloat War Coasts Is Alleged. No more Vietnam; now it's Iraq. And for LBJ we have Cheney and Bush.

Every soldier, every contractor and every journalist I know who has been to Baghdad says Halliburton and a handful of other Bush Regime-connected companies are raking in billions of dollars. No one calls the Green Zone anything but the Greed Zone. And the Times is reporting that "Federal
investigators have uncovered what they describe as a sweeping network of kickbacks, bribes and fraud involving at least eight employees and subcontractors of KBR, the former Halliburton subsidiary, in a scheme to inflate charges for flying freight into Iraq in support of the war, according to court papers unsealed yesterday."
At the core of the case is a contract that KBR, previously known as Kellogg, Brown & Root, won before the war to supply the American military with food, fuel, housing and other necessities. The value of the contract soared with the Iraq invasion, and has so far paid KBR some $20 billion.

The company hired Eagle in a subcontract to fulfill part of that mission, carrying military goods from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to Baghdad. But the scheme by the Eagle executives began in November 2003 when a plane operated by a rival carrier, DHL, was struck by a missile and landed in Baghdad with its left wing in flames. The Eagle executives used that incident to charge a fraudulent “war-risk surcharge” of 50 cents for every kilogram (2.2 pounds) of freight on its own flights, the papers say.

Between November 2003 and July 2004, Eagle made 379 flights as part of the subcontract, charging some $13.3 million-- an amount that included $1.1 million in overcharges. It is not clear whether KBR knew of the overcharging scheme, but the papers say that Mr. Smoot and an Eagle subordinate delivered nearly $34,000 in gratuities to KBR employees “to obtain or reward favorable treatment” in connection with the contract.

According to the papers, the gratuities included “meals, drinks, golf outings, tickets to rodeo events, baseball and football games and other entertainment items.”

On Tuesday the House Judiciary Committee voted to make this kind of excessive overcharging, or biling, in Iraq and Afhanistan a "war profiteering" cime. Not a single Republican member of Congress dared to object, although the Bush Regime objects strenuously. If the bill passes the House-- it will-- and the Senate-- where McConnell plans to use his obstructionist tactics to bury it for as long as he can-- and then can overcome a Bush veto, it would make it a crime to overcharge on contracts during a war or reconstruction. The felony would carry penalties up to 20 years in prison and fines up to $1 million or twice the amount of illegal profits, whichever is higher. If you think Cheney was incensed over Scooter Libby, just watch him on this one!

Jim Webb and Claire McCaskill have introduced a similar bill in the Senate. Another freshman senator, Amy Klobuchar of Minneaota-- a former prosecutor-- in announcing her support for the bill explained that he office's motto was "follow the money and you'll find the bad guys. That's what we're trying to do with the legislation."


According to yesterday's NY Times "One of the largest American contractors working in Iraq, Bechtel National, met its original objectives on fewer than half of the projects it received as part of a $1.8 billion reconstruction contract, while most of the rest were canceled, reduced in scope or never completed as designed, federal investigators have found in a report" just released, "first of a planned series of audits of Western contractors that have received large slices of the roughly $40 billion in American taxpayer money that has been spent on the troubled program to rebuild Iraq."

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At 1:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope they do it, and go after war in general, not just Iraq. But it's difficult to expect that from our corporate-owned Congress.


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