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Jason Leopold | The Nation

Jason Leopold

Author Bios

Jason Leopold

Jason Leopold is an investigative reporter covering Guantanamo, counterterrorism, national security, human rights, open government and civil liberties issues. He’s been called a “FOIA Terrorist” by federal
employees for his aggressive use of the Freedom of Information Act, which included suing the FBI and Department of Defense and forcing the agencies to changes its policies. He’s the author of the national
bestseller, News Junkie, and an investigative report, From Hopeful to Immigrant to FBI Informant: The Inside Story of the Other Abu Zubaidah, which was published in the form of an ebook.

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Aamer, the last British resident still imprisoned at Guantánamo, has faced ongoing retaliation for speaking out against his detention. Now The Nation has evidence that he may be sent to Saudi Arabia.

Last week, while Bush spoke to Wall Street about corporate malfeasance, he was beset by questions about the timing of his sale of stock twelve years ago while he served as a director of Harken En


NOT AN APOLOGIST FOR ISRAEL

Brookline, Mass.

His justifiable zeal to defend Palestinian rights leads Alexander
Cockburn to call me an apologist for "policies put into practice by
racists, ethnic cleansers and, in Sharon's case, an unquestioned war
criminal who should be in the dock for his conduct" ["Beat the Devil,"
June 3]. Since I share Cockburn's criticism of reflexive support for
every Israeli policy and I agree with much of what he says about false
claims of anti-Semitism, I wish he'd accompanied his identification of
my possible inconsistencies with accurate reporting of what I actually
wrote. Ascribing to me words I'd never say and views I reject is either
sloppy or dishonest.

My essay in Salon suggested the pro-Palestinian left should
address, where it exists, anti-Semitism, superficial argumentation and
difficulties of communication. I end with this: "The justice-based left
must seek analyses and solutions built on general principles, and reject
those that make new forms of oppression inevitable."

I also say this: I march to protest Israeli policy; Israel has committed
past massacres and West Bank atrocities; ending Palestinian oppression
is central; the occupation must end; expulsion of Palestinians would
amount to ethnic cleansing; the pro-Israel explanation of how
Palestinians became refugees in 1948 is unsupported; armed resistance
(though not against uninvolved civilians) is legitimate; a Palestinian
call for militant nonviolent resistance is welcome. And I say clearly
that opposing Israeli policy is not anti-Semitic.

Cockburn's absolutism is matched by his opposites. A letter to my local
newspaper, for which I write a column, claimed that my views would lead
to "the destruction of Israel and create a danger to Jews throughout the
world." That writer, too, sees only what he wants to see.

I continue to advocate justice-focused discussion. Please see
people.uis.edu/dfox1/politics/israel.html for more.

DENNIS FOX


COCKBURN REPLIES

Petrolia, Calif.

There was nothing sloppy or dishonest about what I wrote. The third
paragraph of Fox's letter is fine, and if my column pushed him to make
it clear, it served its purpose. I wish he'd written it in his
Salon piece.

ALEXANDER COCKBURN



NOT AN ON-THE-RECORD SOURCE

Tucson

Jason Leopold's "White Should Go--Now" [May 27] is built upon lies and
unethical reporting. Not only did Leopold unethically list me as an
on-the-record source, he attributed comments to me that were never
discussed and are absolutely not true.

In reference to energy contracts signed with major California customers
in 1998, the article incorrectly states, "Jestings said he told [Thomas]
White that EES [Enron Energy Services] would actually lose money this
way, but White said Enron would make up the difference by selling
electricity on the spot market...which Enron had bet would skyrocket in
2000." The article continues the lies by stating that "Jestings said he
continued to complain to White that the profits declared by the retail
unit were not real." These statements were never made to Leopold and are
absolutely false. I had significant responsibility for these 1998
contracts and believed that they would be profitable, and therefore I
would never have made such statements. Furthermore, if Enron believed
the spot market would skyrocket in 2000, it would never have signed
long-term, fixed-rate contracts with these California customers in 1998!

Leopold then states that "Jestings said he resigned from EES in 2000
because he did not agree with the way EES reported profits." Again, this
is not true. I resigned in early 1999 for personal reasons and not
because of the way EES reported profits. In fact, EES was not making
profits when I left.

It is clear that Leopold is trying to build a picture of cover-up and
manipulation by White using statements falsely attributed to me. This is
irresponsible reporting at its worst. In my short tenure at EES, I
developed great respect for White. He is an honest and ethical man and
deserves fair reporting.

LEE JESTINGS


LEOPOLD REPLIES

Los Angeles

During my hourlong conversations with Lee Jestings on not one but
three different occasions leading up to the publication of this story, I
reminded Jestings that I would be using his comments in print. Simply
put, Jestings was well aware that he was on the record. He cannot
retract his statements after the fact and then accuse me of being
unethical and a liar. I sought out Jestings, and when I found him he
chose to respond to my numerous questions about EES and Thomas White. I
did, however, mistakenly report that Jestings left EES in 2000.

Jestings says that EES did not show a profit when he left. However, EES
under White's leadership reported that the unit was profitable in 1999
after Jestings left the company. But Enron was forced in April to
restate those profits because they were illusory. Moreover, Jestings
said during the interview that he had taken issue with EES's use of
"mark to market" accounting, in which the unit was able to immediately
book gains based on contracts signed with large businesses. Jestings
never said during the interview that he believed these contracts would
eventually become profitable. But that's beside the point. Jestings said
EES's use of aggressive accounting tactics during White's tenure left
shareholders believing the company was performing better than it
actually was.

Jestings says White was honest and ethical while he was vice chairman at
EES. My report indicates otherwise.

JASON LEOPOLD



NOT SMALLER THAN A DAISY CUTTER

West Orange, NJ

There was a critical error in "Relearning to Love the Bomb" by Raffi
Khatchadourian [April 1]. Khatchadourian says that so-called mini-nukes
of about five-kiloton yield have smaller explosive effects than the US
conventional "daisy cutter" bombs. This is clearly wrong. A five-kiloton
explosion is equal to 5,000 tons of TNT, while the daisy cutter weighs
only 7.5 tons. Even allowing for the development of modern explosives
more powerful than TNT, the difference between the weapons, and their
relative destructive potential, is of several orders of magnitude. The
following excerpt from the Federation of American Scientists' Military
Analysis Network (www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/dumb/blu-82.htm) directly addresses that point.

"The BLU-82B/C-130 weapon system, nicknamed Commando Vault in Vietnam
and Daisy Cutter in Afghanistan, is a high altitude delivery of
15,000-pound conventional bomb, delivered from an MC-130 since it is far
too heavy for the bomb racks on any bomber or attack aircraft.
Originally designed to create an instant clearing in the jungle, it has
been used in Afghanistan as an anti-personnel weapon and as an
intimidation weapon because of its very large lethal radius (variously
reported as 300-900 feet) combined with flash and sound visible at long
distances. It is the largest conventional bomb in existence but is less
than one thousandth the power of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb."

No useful analysis of nuclear policy can be made by equating large
conventional bombs with even the smallest nuclear bombs in any way. An
analysis of policy and decision-making regarding the
conventional/nuclear threshold demands a clear understanding of how very
powerful and devastating nuclear weapons are. The author seems to be
blurring the lines of allowable nuclear-weapons use far more than the
Administration he criticizes.

MICHAEL HAILE


KHATCHADOURIAN REPLIES

New York City

Let me begin by pointing out that I said "five kilotons or less." Some
proponents of new nukes have pushed for weapons of lower tonnage. Others
argue that five kilotons is roughly optimal.

C. Paul Robinson, director of Sandia National Laboratories, demonstrates
the debate: "I'm not talking about sub-kiloton weapons...
as some have advocated, but devices in the low-kiloton range, in order
to contemplate the destruction of hard or hidden targets, while being
mindful of the need to minimize collateral damage." In April, Benjamin
Friedman, an analyst at the Center for Defense Information, wrote: "What
is revolutionary about current proposals is the idea of reducing the
yield of tactical nuclear weapons to levels approaching those of
conventional explosives, to around one-tenth of a kiloton, which would
theoretically bridge the gap between a conventional and a nuclear
weapon."

The United States has developed "sub-kiloton" atomic weapons before. One
such weapon, the Davy Crockett, contained warheads weighing only
fifty-one pounds, with explosive yields near 0.01 kilotons (roughly 10
tons of TNT). We made 2,100 of those between 1956 and 1963.

When my article was written, it was unclear what size the Bush
Administration's defense team envisioned for its nuclear bunker buster.
To a degree it still isn't, although some now suggest it could be above
five kilotons. However, this doesn't change what's being contemplated: a
weapon that appears to avoid the kind of casualties that put current
nukes outside the boundary of political acceptability.

I regret if I seemed to suggest that a five-kiloton nuclear warhead
could be smaller in explosive power than the world's largest
conventional weapon. That is inaccurate. I attempted to illustrate that
on the continuum of weaponry, a gap that appeared inconceivably wide not
so long ago is now being pushed closer. As the recent Nuclear Posture
Review demonstrates, narrowing that distance is as much a matter of
ideas as a matter of tons.

Raffi Khatchadourian



NOT THE GREAT WHITE HOPE?

Brooklyn, NY

Katha Pollitt is right on about great white hope Dennis Kucinich
["Subject to Debate," May 27 and June 10]. The boys who disparage
abortion rights as a foolish, single-issue orthodoxy don't have a clue.
Here's a hint for you guys. "Abortion" is about equitable reproductive
health services for women, obviously including the ability to end a
pregnancy, but it's also about how we think of women, and how we treat
them. Are women valued as the sum of their reproductive parts, or as
human beings?

We know where the fundamentalists stand: Protestant, Catholic, Hindu,
Islamic and Jewish fundamentalisms, as well as secular dictatorships,
are united on the need to control women's bodies. And now, thanks to
Pollitt, we know where Kucinich stands. He moves or he loses.

MATTHEW WILLS


New York City

As co-directors of an organization of the economic left, we second
Katha Pollitt's admonition that Dennis Kucinich cannot claim the mantle
of an economic progressive while being virulently anti-choice.
Reproductive freedom is not just a matter of personal morality, it is a
fundamental element of economic justice. No woman can determine her own
economic destiny without the freedom to choose whether to bear a child.
Progressives looking for champions cannot be so desperate as to overlook
such a fundamental right. There are numerous other members of
Congress--of course, we'd like a lot more--who understand that
reproductive rights are part of the fight for economic justice.

RICHARD KIRSCH, KAREN SCHARFF
Citizen Action of New York


BLOW-DRIED NATION?

Media, Pa.

My weekly ritual of reading the Nation cover to cover on Monday
was stymied last week when my postman left my mailbox door open on a
soaker of a day. I got home eager for the week's insights only to find a
soggy Nation limp in the box. Eek! I ran upstairs and spastically looked
for options. My girlfriend with astonishment: "What the heck are you
doing?" when she saw me using the hair dryer to dry my coveted pages one
by one. Did you ever know how important your work is!

CHRIS DIMA

Army Secretary Thomas White appears to be inching closer to becoming the
first Bush Administration casualty of the Enron scandal.

Army Secretary Thomas White appears to be inching closer to becoming the
first Bush Administration casualty of the Enron scandal. Senators Dianne
Feinstein and Barbara Boxer of California have asked Attorney General
John Ashcroft to launch a criminal probe into Enron's role in
manipulating California's electricity market, after Enron memos released
by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission showed how Enron boosted
electricity prices in California and created shortages.

People close to Feinstein and California Congressman Henry Waxman said
the lawmakers will ask Ashcroft to direct that the criminal
investigation include White and whether the unit he helped lead, Enron
Energy Services, played a part in California's two-year energy crisis.
"We believe we have evidence, based on our conversations with former
Enron employees, that Mr. White and other executives from Enron Energy
Services may have worked side by side with Enron's traders and supplied
inside information about the amount of electricity California needed,"
an aide to Feinstein said. "We believe, based on this information, that
the traders were then able to create shortages and manipulate the price
of power in the state."

Neither a spokesman for White nor for Enron returned calls for comment.
Enron is already under investigation by California Attorney General Bill
Lockyer for allegedly manipulating the price of electricity and natural
gas. White is being investigated by the FBI on the timing of his sale of
Enron stock last year and by the Inspector General's office on his use
in March of a government airplane to fly to Aspen to sign papers on the
sale of a $6.5 million house he owned, prompted by Enron-related
financial problems. Separately, he engaged in a dispute with Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over the Crusader weapons system; Rumsfeld
continued to express support for him.

Former employees of EES have come forward saying that the retail unit,
under White's leadership, played a role in California's power crisis and
that White told his staff that EES would earn millions in profits
because of the crisis. In addition, former employees are coming forward
with information about White that indicates that his involvement with
Enron's suspect accounting was far deeper that he has let on. White has
said that EES was a legitimate operation and not a house of illusory
profits.

John Olson, an analyst now with Sanders Morris Harris, recalls asking
White in 1999 how EES, a relatively small operation, could show millions
of dollars in profit with barely a shred of business. "I did not believe
Mr. White, nor any of the other Enron executives I spoke with, were
being honest or forthcoming about EES's profits," Olson said. "When I
pressed Mr. White for an answer he said, 'One word: California.'"

White told EES's sales team in 1998 that they could earn hefty bonuses
by signing energy contracts with large businesses in California to
manage their electricity needs for a substantially cheaper price than
these companies had been paying through their local utilities. But
promising customers a discount at the beginning of the contracts meant
EES wasn't earning enough money to cover what the local utilities were
charging for gas and electricity. Moreover, EES was spending much more
than anticipated setting up the infrastructure for the contracts, said
Lee Jestings, a former EES executive who worked directly with White.

Jestings said he told White that EES would actually lose money this way,
but White said Enron would make up the difference by selling electricity
on the spot market in California, which Enron had bet would skyrocket in
2000. Jestings said he continued to complain to White that the profits
declared by the retail unit were not real. "Tom told me those are the
orders," Jestings said. "He said he never questions a direct order. This
man spent thirty years in the Army and was a four-star general. His life
was based on taking orders." Jestings said he resigned from EES in 2000
because he did not agree with the way EES reported profits. He is now
working as an energy consultant.

The ex-employees, more than a dozen interviewed, said White often
clashed with Lou Pai, chairman of EES, over the company's use of
"aggressive" accounting methods to make the unit appear profitable when
it wasn't but that ultimately White agreed that EES would have to use
such methods because the unit was hemorrhaging cash right from the
start. Steve Barth, a former EES vice president of special projects who
attended meetings with White and Pai, said White's job was that of
cheerleader--he was supposed to motivate the EES sales force to show, by
any means necessary, that the retail unit made a profit. "That meant
lying to Wall Street," Barth said. "White did it, and so did I." Barth,
who transferred from EES to Enron's broadband unit in 1999 and left last
July to start a broadband firm, said his experience at the company had
been positive.

Enron reported that EES, founded in 1997, became profitable during the
fourth quarter of 1999 and had steadily rising profits every quarter
thereafter. Those reports helped send Enron's stock price to $83 by the
end of 2000, from $43 at the beginning of the year. As part of his
employment contract with Enron, White was given a small financial stake
in EES, later converted into Enron stock, which he sold for more than
$50 million.

Eventually, with Enron becoming a target of California lawmakers, White
may have decided it was time to get out. In early 2001, according to
Barth, when then-Enron chairman Kenneth Lay was under consideration to
be Energy Secretary, Lay met with George W. Bush and urged him to
appoint White as Secretary of the Army. Barth said White told him that
the California energy crisis was hurting EES and that the unit's profits
would never materialize. White "just wasn't happy with his role at the
company anymore," Barth said.

California GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon Jr. has portrayed
himself as a savvy businessman who can deal successfully with the
state's financial woes. But Simon's ties to Enron, the bankrupt energy
company that has been charged with manipulating the electricity market
in California and is under federal investigation, raise questions about
his business acumen and his fitness for the state's top post.

Former business associates of Simon say that he personally persuaded
Enron to invest in Hanover Compressor, a Houston company he founded in
1990 and on whose board he sat between 1992 and 1998. Hanover makes
pumps that move natural gas and oil through pipelines and from wells.
According to several people at Enron and Hanover involved in the
transaction, the Enron investment was made in 1995 through an Enron
partnership called Joint Energy Development Investments, or JEDI, which
is now at the center of the federal investigation into Enron's collapse.

Simon held a 1.4 percent stake in Hanover, which after the JEDI
investment was worth tens of millions of dollars. His father, William
Simon, the former energy czar and Treasury Secretary under Richard
Nixon, ran a private investment firm, William E. Simon & Sons,
which owns more than 4 percent of Hanover. The younger Simon declined
requests for an interview. He has previously dodged questions about his
relationship with Enron.

JEDI was at one time Hanover's second-largest shareholder, with an $84
million stake in the company, according to a Securities and Exchange
Commission filing. Last June, JEDI shifted most of its shares to another
off-balance-sheet Enron partnership. JEDI's stake in Hanover allowed the
Enron executives who managed JEDI to attend Hanover board meetings.
Hanover executives said Simon and Enron came up with several
joint-venture ideas.

Simon was also involved in Hanover in matters separate from the Enron
deals that could raise legal concerns. Hanover said in February that it
would have to restate its financial results beginning in January 2000
because of improper accounting for a partnership that--as with
Enron--made the company appear more profitable than it was. Over several
years during this time, according to the Wall Street Journal,
Hanover officers sold millions of shares of stock--again much like
Enron, where officers who were allegedly aware of the company's
accounting practices were encouraging employees and others to buy shares
even as they were selling their own. Hanover is now the target of at
least four class-action lawsuits by shareholders who have alleged the
company misled investors; and it is also under investigation by the SEC.

Simon wasn't a member of Hanover's board at the time of the improper
accounting, but a week before Hanover made the announcement, the company
reported that every annual report it has issued since going public in
1997 contained errors. Simon, as a member of Hanover's audit committee,
was responsible for approving the company's annual reports. The audit
committee, according to Hanover's investor relations department, was
held responsible by Hanover for the error.

Simon helped Hanover set up a partnership in the Cayman Islands, Hanover
Cayman Limited, as a tax shelter. In addition, he assisted Hanover in
setting up a joint venture with Enron and JEDI to construct a
natural-gas compression project in Venezuela.

Jamie Fisfis, Simon's campaign spokesman, said Simon has been
forthcoming about his business dealings with Hanover and Enron. But when
asked about JEDI's investment in Hanover and what role Simon played,
Fisfis said he did not know and would only confirm that Simon was a
member of the Hanover board at the time. Moreover, he could not offer an
explanation when asked about the other joint ventures with Enron that
Simon's former business associates said he had a hand in creating. Simon
has told reporters on the campaign trail that he was barely involved in
Hanover's business activities, but Hanover executives say Simon was
intimately involved during his six years on the board. When Simon left
the board in 1998, he sold most of his 430,000 shares in the company.
However, he still has more than $1 million invested in Hanover,
according to the Associated Press.

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, senior scholar of the University of Southern
California's School of Policy, Planning and Development, said Simon has
to start answering questions about his dealings with Enron, "whether it
be good or bad," or risk alienating voters. "The symbol that Enron has
become is negative, cheating and ruthless."

Roger Salazar, a spokesman for Governor Gray Davis, who currently trails
Simon according to the latest polls, said Simon's close ties with Enron
pose questions about his track record: "For a man who touts himself as a
business manager, these types of activities raise questions whether
that's true."