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.
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.
NOT AN APOLOGIST FOR ISRAEL
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.
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.
NOT AN ON-THE-RECORD SOURCE
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.
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.
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.
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.
NOT THE GREAT WHITE HOPE?
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.
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
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!
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."