by Maggie Mulvihill, Jack Meyers and Jonathan Wells
December 11, 2001
The Boston Herald
NOTICE: THIS WORK MAY BE PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT
YOU ARE REQUIRED TO READ THE COPYRIGHT NOTICE AT THIS LINK BEFORE YOU READ THE FOLLOWING WORK, THAT IS AVAILABLE SOLELY FOR PRIVATE STUDY, SCHOLARSHIP OR RESEARCH PURSUANT TO 17 U.S.C. SECTION 107 AND 108. IN THE EVENT THAT THE LIBRARY DETERMINES THAT UNLAWFUL COPYING OF THIS WORK HAS OCCURRED, THE LIBRARY HAS THE RIGHT TO BLOCK THE I.P. ADDRESS AT WHICH THE UNLAWFUL COPYING APPEARED TO HAVE OCCURRED. THANK YOU FOR RESPECTING THE RIGHTS OF COPYRIGHT OWNERS.
A powerful Washington, D.C., law firm with unusually close ties to the White House has earned hefty fees representing controversial Saudi billionaires as well as a Texas-based Islamic charity fingered last week as a terrorist front.
The influential law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld has represented three wealthy Saudi businessmen -- Khalid bin Mahfouz, Mohammed Hussein Al-Amoudi and Salah Idris -- who have been scrutinized by U.S. authorities for possible involvement in financing Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network.
In addition, Akin, Gump currently represents the largest Islamic charity in the United States, Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development in Richmond, Texas.
Holy Land's assets were frozen by the Treasury Department last week as government investigators probe its ties to Hamas, the militant Palestinian group blamed for suicide attacks against Israelis.
Partners at Akin, Gump include one of President Bush's closest Texas friends, James C. Langdon, and George R. Salem, a Bush fund-raiser who chaired his 2000 campaign's outreach to Arab-Americans.
Another longtime partner is Barnett A. "Sandy" Kress, the former Dallas School Board president who Bush appointed in January to work for the White House as an "unpaid consultant" on education reform.
In September, a federal grand jury issued subpoenas for Holy Land records around the same time terrorist investigators froze the assets of a North Texas Internet firm hired by Holy Land.
Holy Land shared office space with that firm, InfoCom Corp., which was raided by police on Sept. 5, just days before the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.
Holy Land has denied any link to Hamas.
According to Akin, Gump, the firm represents Holy Land in a federal lawsuit filed against the charity and another suspected Hamas entity by the parents of a man allegedly murdered by Hamas operatives in the Middle East.
In a statement issued Friday, Akin, Gump said it decided last week to decline a request to represent Holy Land in its defense of terrorism-related charges made by the U.S. Treasury Department.
Akin, Gump, which maintains an affiliate office in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, is also a registered foreign agent for the kingdom. It was paid $ 77,328 in lobbying fees by the Saudis during the first six months of 2000, public records show.
In addition to the royal family, the firm's Saudi clients have included bin Mahfouz, who hired Akin, Gump when he was indicted in the BCCI banking scandal in the early 1990s. In 1999, the Saudi's placed bin Mahfouz under house arrest after reportedly discovering that the bank he controlled, National Commercial Bank in Saudi Aabia, funneled millions to charities believed to be serving as bin Laden fronts.
A bin Mahfouz business partner, Al-Amoudi, was also represented by Akin, Gump. When it was reported in 1999 that U.S. authorities were also investigating Al-Amoudi's Capitol Trust Bank, Akin, Gump released a statement on behalf of their client denying any connections to terrorism. One year earlier, the firm had co-sponsored an investment conference in Ethiopia with Al-Amoudi.
Akin, Gump partner and Bush fund-raiser Salem led the legal team that defended Idris, a banking protege of bin Mahfouz and the owner of El-Shifa, the Sudanese pharmaceutical plant destroyed by U.S. cruise missiles in August 1998.
The plant was targeted days after terrorists -- allegedly on the orders of bin Laden -- bombed two U.S. embassies in Africa. The U.S. Treasury Department also froze $ 24 million of Idris' assets, but Akin, Gump filed a lawsuit and the government later chose to release the money rather than go to court. Idris, who insists he has no connection whatsoever to bin Laden or terrorism, is now pursuing a second lawsuit with different attorneys seeking $50 million in damages from the United States.
Charles Lewis, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity, a Washington, D.C.-based non-partisan political watchdog group, said Akin, Gump's willingness to represent Saudi power-brokers probed for links to terrorism presents a unique ethical concern since partners at the firm are so close to the president.
The concern is more acute now, Lewis said, because Bush has faced stiff resistance from the kingdom in his repeated requests to freeze suspected terrorist bank accounts.
"The conduct of the Saudis is just unacceptable by international standards, especially if they are supposed to be one of our closest allies," Lewis said.
Speaking of Akin, Gump partner Kress' office in the White House, Lewis added: "That's not appropriate and frankly it's potentially troublesome because there is a real possibility of a conflict of interest. Basically you have a partner for Akin, Gump . . . inside the hen house."
But another longtime Washington political observer, Vincent Cannistraro, the former chief of counter-intelligence at the Central Intelligence Agency, said the political influence a firm like Akin, Gump has is precisely why clients like the Saudis hire them.
"These are cozy political relationships . . . If you have a problem in Washington, there are only a few firms to go to and Akin, Gump is one of them," Cannistraro said.
Cannistraro pointed out that Idris hired Akin, Gump during the Clinton presidency, when Clinton confidante Vernon Jordan was a partner at the firm. "He hired them because Vernon Jordan had influence . . . that's a normal political exercise where you are buying influence," he said.
Akin, Gump is not the only politically wired Washington business cashing in on the Saudi connection.
Burson-Marsteller, a major D.C. public relations firm, registered with the U.S. government as a foreign agent for the Saudi embassy within weeks of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
One of Burson-Marsteller's first public relations efforts for the Saudis was to run a large advertisement in the New York Times reading: "We Stand with You, America."
The Washington chairman for Burson-Marsteller, which also maintains an office in Saudi Arabia, is Craig Veith, who ran communications for the Republican Party in the 1996 elections.
Other GOP heavyweights who have held top positions at the PR giant include Sheila Tate, the campaign press secretary for the elder George Bush; Leslie Goodman, deputy director of communications for the 1992 Bush-Quayle campaign; Craig L. Fuller, chairman of the 1992 Republican National Convention and elder Bush's vice presidential chief-of-staff.
(Second of two parts)
Many of the same American corporate executives who have reaped millions of dollars from arms and oil deals with the Saudi monarchy have served or currently serve at the highest levels of U.S. government, public records show.
Those lucrative financial relationships call into question the ability of America's political elite to make tough foreign policy decisions about the kingdom that produced Osama bin Laden and is perhaps the biggest incubator for anti-Western Islamic terrorists.
Nowhere is the revolving U.S.-Saudi money wheel more evident than within President Bush's own coterie of foreign policy advisers, starting with the president's father, George H.W. Bush.
At the same time that the elder Bush counsels his son on the ongoing war on terrorism, the former president remains a senior adviser to the Washington D.C.-based Carlyle Group. That influential investment bank has deep connections to the Saudi royal family as well as financial interests in U.S. defense firms hired by the kingdom to equip and train the Saudi military.
Last year, former President Bush visited Saudi Arabia's King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, but a Carlyle spokesman said the two did not discuss Carlyle business as previously reported. The elder Bush is reportedly paid between $ 80,000 and $ 100,000 for each Carlyle speech he makes. The company declined comment on the former president's pay.
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. A company spokesman said yesterday that arrangement was ended "a few months ago," but said he did not know whether it was terminated before or after the Sept. 11 attacks.
A spokesman for former President Bush, reached yesterday, had no immediate comment on his work for the Carlyle Group.
These intricate personal and financial links have led to virtual silence in the administration on Saudi Arabia's failings in dealing with terrorists like bin Laden, said Charles Lewis, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity, a Washington, D.C.-based government watchdog group.
"It's good old fashioned 'I'll scratch your back, you scratch mine.' You have former U.S. officials, former presidents, aides to the current president, a long line of people who are tight with the Saudis, people who are the pillars of American society and officialdom," said Lewis.
"So for that and other reasons no one wants to alienate the Saudis, and we are willing to basically ignore inconvenient truths that might otherwise cause our blood to boil. We basically look away," he said. "Folks don't like to stop the gravy train."
Some foreign policy observers said as long as American power brokers in lucrative business deals with the Saudis do not simultaneously craft U.S. foreign policy, there is no conflict of interest.
"To have Bush Sr. on the board of Carlyle is not necessarily a significant problem because Carlyle has interests all over the world," said Vincent Cannistraro, a former counter-intelligence chief for the Central Intelligence Agency.
Companies regularly entice powerful political figures to work for them, he said.
"It's kind of business as usual. Where it really affects things is when someone with a financial interest in a company also has a policy position in the administration," Cannistraro said.
A significant portion of the millions of dollars U.S. companies and their politically influential executives have earned in deals with the Saudis has been through military contracts.
The Carlyle Group had a major stake in the large defense contractor B.D.M., which has multimillion-dollar contracts through its subsidiaries to train and manage the Saudi National Guard and the Saudi air force, U.S. Department of Defense records show. In 1998, Carlyle sold its controlling interest in B.D.M. to defense giant TRW International.
Meanwhile, the boards of directors of the Carlyle Group, B.D.M. and TRW are all stocked with high-level Republican policy makers.
Frank C. Carlucci, a former secretary of defense under President Reagan, was chairman of B.D.M. for most of the 1990s. Carlucci, who also served as Reagan's national security adviser and a deputy director of the CIA, now heads the Carlyle Group.
Along with former President Bush, other officials from past Republican administrations now at the Carlyle Group include: former Secretary of State James A. Baker III; ex-budget chief Richard Darman; and former Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Arthur Levitt.
President Bush is himself linked to the Carlyle group: He was a director of one of its subsidiaries, an airline food services company called Caterair, until 1994. Six years later, when Bush was governor of Texas, the board of directors of the Texas teachers' pension fund - some of whom were his appointees - voted to invest $ 100 million with the Carlyle Group.
The president of B.D.M. is Philip A. Odeen, a former high-level Pentagon official in the Nixon administration. During the Clinton administration, Odeen chaired the Pentagon task force that planned the restructuring of the U.S. military for the 21st century. Currently, he is the vice-chair of the Defense Science Board, which advises the Pentagon on emerging threats.
TRW, the new owner of B.D.M., has its own noteworthy board members, including former CIA director Robert M. Gates and Michael H. Armacost, who served as undersecretary of state under President Reagan and as ambassador to Japan for former President Bush.
Big Saudi money also makes its way back to Texas and the Bush family. The family of Saudi Arabia's longtime U.S. ambassador, Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, gave $ 1 million to the Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas.
THE REVOLVING DOOR
Another example of the complex web connecting U.S. and Saudi powerbrokers is Dick Cheney, who moved from the Pentagon to the international oil business and back as vice president last year.
After serving as the elder Bush's secretary of defense, Cheney was hired to run oil-services giant Halliburton Co., where he worked until he resigned last year to campaign with the younger Bush. In 2000, his last year with Halliburton, Cheney received $ 34 million when he cashed out from the company.
Not surprisingly, Halliburton's links to Cheney and other Washington power brokers appear to have helped the company's business prospects in the Middle East.
Just last month, Halliburton was awarded a $ 140 million contract to develop an oil field in Saudi Arabia by the kingdom's state-owned petroleum firm, Saudi Aramco, and a Halliburton subsidiary, Kellogg Brown & Root, along with two Japanese firms, was hired by the Saudis to build a $ 40 million ethylene plant.
Cheney isn't the only member of President Bush's inner circle whose work for firms connected to the Saudis has paid big dividends.
The current national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, is a former longtime member of the board of directors of another giant oil conglomerate with business in the Saudi desert, Chevron, which merged with Texaco this year. Rice even has a Chevron oil tanker named after her.
Substantial profits received by U.S. leaders in private sector deals with the Saudis have helped to squelch criticism of the royal family's refusal to address the role its country has played in fueling Islamic terrorism, Lewis said.
"There's a disconnect there," Lewis said. "I'm fascinated that we don't lay this at Saudi Arabia's doorstep. But the chances to cash in and the amount you can cash in for are starting to become absolutely astronomical. Who wants to look like the Boy Scout complaining about it and potentially jeopardize their own post-employment prospects?"
Former advisers to the president's father also hold key positions with U.S. firms which have teamed up with the Saudis on major oil deals.
Former Bush Secretary of the Treasury Nicholas Brady and a former Bush assistant, Edith E. Holiday, are both on the board of directors of Amerada Hess, an American petroleum firm currently teaming up with several powerful Saudi families to develop oil fields in Azerbaijan.
Another company that has done business with wealthy Saudis is international energy firm Frontera Resources Corp. based in Houston. Until recently, Frontera was a 30 percent investor in a $ 900 million project to develop oilfields in Azerbajian. Also investing in the project were Azerbaijan's state-run oil company and Delta-Hess, a joint-venture created by the Saudis' Delta Oil and Amerada Hess.
Randy Theilig, a Frontera spokesman, said the company relinquished its interest in the project in July because it was no longer "economically viable," and has no current business dealings with the Saudis or in Azerbajian.
Members of Frontera's board of advisers, which includes former CIA director John Deutch and former Secretary of the Treasury and U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, have been active financial supporters of the Democratic Party.
Shining a bright light on the web of financial connections between the power elite in the U.S. and Saudi Arabia is critical, Middle Eastern foreign policy experts said.
"I think the fact that they have these connections makes it important for this information to be made public," said Henry Siegman, a senior fellow on the Middle East at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C., a non-partisan group that examines money and politics, said the Bush-Carlyle connection is a concern.
"It is well known that the father is a close adviser to his son and therefore it does raise concerns," Noble said "It's not necessarily that the father has been compromised, but the danger is that it leads people to question George W. Bush. The public has a right to feel their leaders are making independent judgments without the influence of private interests."
Past and present members of recent White House administrations include an elite of American corporate executives with connections to firms that have reaped millions of dollars in business with Saudi Arabia.
Present administration officials:
George W. Bush
Then: Director, Carlyle Group subsidiary
Then: Secretary of defense; chairman, Halliburton
Now: Vice President
Then: Director, Chevron
Now: National security advisor
Former administration officials:
George H. W. Bush
Then: former president, CIA director
Now: senior advisor, Carlyle Group
Frank C. Carlucci
Then: former secretary of defense, national security advisor
Now: chairman, Carlyle Group; ex-chairman, BDM
James A. Baker III
Then: secretary of state
Now: senior counselor, Carlyle Group
Then: budget chief
Now: managing director and senior advisor, Carlyle Group
Then: chairman, Securities and Exchange Commission
Now: senior advisor, Carlyle Group
George W. Bush
Then: director, Carlyle Group subsidiary
Philip A. Odeen
Then: senior official, Pentagon and National Security Council
Now: president, BDM
Robert M. Gates
Then: CIA director
Now: director, TRW
Michael H. Armacost
Then: ambassador to Japan; undersecretary of state
Now: director, TRW
Then: secretary of defense; chairman, Halliburton
Now: Vice President
Then: director, Chevron
Now: national security advisor
Then: treasury secretary
Now: director, Amerada Hess
Edith E. Holiday
Then: assistant to the President
Now: director, Amerada Hess
Then: CIA director, undersecretary of defense
Now: advisor, Frontera Resources
Then: U.S. Senator
Now: advisor, Amerada Hess
Oil and defense companies and their employees, as well as lobbying firms, gave big bucks to Republican Party candidates in the last election, including GOP President George W. Bush's presidential campaign. The following is a sample of some of those contributions from companies and individuals doing business with Saudi Arabia.
Marathon Oil: $161,500
Amerada Hess: $165,400
TRW Inc.: $ 378,450
The Carlyle Group: $ 108,560
SAIC: $ 313,000
Akin, Gump, Strauss Hauer & Feld: $412,274
Cassidy & Associates: $140,183
Source: The Center for Responsive Politics