Richard Perle's resignation as chairman of Donald Rumsfeld's Defense Policy Board on March 27 capped a tumultuous month for the neoconservative who spent the past decade stoking the fires for the US onslaught on Iraq. The trail to his resignation--as chairman, but not from the board itself--began with Seymour Hersh's New Yorker exposé of Perle's financial stakes in Trireme Partners, a private fund that is currying Saudi investment in homeland security companies, and the Autonomy Corporation, a British company that sells eavesdropping software to the FBI and to US, British and Italian intelligence.
Perle's fate was sealed when the New York Times reported that he was also taking money from Global Crossing to lobby the Pentagon to approve his clients' dealings with Hong Kong and mainland China. Some Democrats now argue that Perle's conflicts of interest are so serious that he should quit the board altogether.
But according to the Center for Public Integrity, such an ethical threshold would force almost one-third of Rumsfeld's board off the panel. Nine of the board's thirty members, CPI found in a new report (www.publicintegrity.org ), have ties to defense and security-related companies that collectively won more than $76 billion in US defense contracts over the past two years. Former CIA director James Woolsey, for example, runs the Global Strategic Security practice of Booz Allen Hamilton, a global IT consulting firm that advises the US and British governments and had $680 million in military contracts in 2002. Retired Marine General Jack Sheehan works for Bechtel, the engineering giant and defense contractor bidding for US contracts to rebuild postwar Iraq. Retired Admiral David Jeremiah, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has links to at least five military contractors, including The Mitre Corporation, which runs a major R&D center for the Pentagon and is headed by board member James Schlesinger, a former Defense Secretary. However, the CPI found no evidence to suggest that serving on Rumsfeld's board "confers a decisive advantage" to corporations represented by board members, a list that includes Boeing, TRW, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin.
But there's a broader issue at stake here. Perle and Rumsfeld insist that board members with military ties never discuss their business dealings at policy meetings. Yet the entire board is beholden to private economic interests that are profiting from US foreign and military policy and stand to make megabucks as the war against terrorism moves into full swing.
Take Henry Kissinger. Unmentioned in the CPI report is his relationship to Freeport McMoran, the US mining giant that has paid the Indonesian military millions of dollars to guard its huge copper and gold complex in the strife-torn province of Papua and that, with Kissinger's help, lobbied to lift human rights restrictions on US military aid to Jakarta. Or Dan Quayle, who is described as a "consultant, author and public speaker," but who makes his living as a shill for Cerberus Capital Management, a US investment fund that has spent more than $2 billion snatching up bankrupt Asian enterprises and recently opened a Washington office to invest in homeland security companies. And Perle's full portfolio is still being fleshed out: It includes a directorship at FNSS, a big Turkish arms manufacturer owned by United Defense Industries, a subsidiary of George Bush Sr.'s Carlyle Group. Defense board member Thomas Foley, the former Speaker of the House and US ambassador to Tokyo, also works for Carlyle as an adviser for its Japan fund, which also lists George Herbert Walker Bush as a senior advisor.
Perle is clearly edgy about the attention he has brought to Rumsfeld's board. He bitterly attacked Hersh as a "terrorist" and was visibly upset when a Code Pink activist disrupted his March 25 talk at the American Enterprise Institute, where he, Woolsey and other pre-emptive warriors have found their ideological home. But Perle quickly recovered: After the woman was escorted out, he declared that the US campaign in Iraq underscores his argument that democracies don't start aggressive wars. "Dictatorships start wars because they need external enemies to exert internal control over their own people," he said. Add the need to expand markets for arms exporters, corporations and banks, and the Prince of Darkness may finally be on to something.