An odd thing happened in February when a European television station approached Richard Perle for an interview. Millions of antiwar protesters had rocked the globe a week prior, and the station badly wanted Perle, as chairman of the influential Defense Policy Board, to articulate the Pentagon’s Iraq policy. But Perle, as he continues to do today, demanded a fee. Though startled by the request, the news station violated its strict no-pay policy for interviews and obliged the chairman.
The station’s experience was not unique. During and after his chairmanship, Perle used his insider status to demand fees for appearances on a number of foreign broadcasts, which included British, Canadian, Japanese and South Korean television. While paying interviewees is common practice in some countries, a number of media outlets made exceptions for Perle. “We did pay Perle because of his position [in a] prominent advisorship to the Secretary of Defense,” says a European correspondent who, like most journalists interviewed, requested anonymity because of network discomfort at publicly discussing payment policies. Fees ranged from under $100 to $900–minor sums to someone like Perle, but federal regulations covering officials in his capacity make no distinctions based on amount.
Nor is this the first assertion of dubious dealings by Perle. In the past few months, The New Yorker and the New York Times have both raised serious questions about whether Perle has used his government post for private gain.
Perle heatedly denied suggestions of impropriety regarding the broadcast payments. “There is no law, regulation or ethics guideline that would preclude my being compensated for articles, speeches or interviews,” he said. “When I agreed to serve on the Defense Policy Board I agreed to its rules and I abide by them. I couldn’t care less how many of your left wing friends you can quote, by name or anonymously, in support of standards of conduct that would be far more restrictive than anything in the current rules and regulations.”
According to the Pentagon, all thirty members of the Defense Policy Board–which advises the Defense Secretary–though unpaid, are considered “special government employees” (SGE) and are banned from using their public office for private gain. Meetings are confidential, and board members obtain classified intelligence, receive security clearances and file internal financial disclosures that only the Defense Department views.
Several current or past officials with knowledge of the Defense Policy Board raise concerns about Perle’s requests for payment. “It’s naïve to say [TV stations] weren’t more interested in Perle because he was chairman,” says Barry Blechman, a Democratic appointee to the board. “If [TV] says we want the chairman and from that basis he wanted a fee, it would be prohibited.” Blechman also notes that “it would never occur to me to charge for interviews.” Harold Brown, another member of the board and former Defense Secretary under President Jimmy Carter, said Perle was “monetizing his reputation.” Larry Korb–an assistant secretary of defense under Ronald Reagan and now director of national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations–labeled Perle’s actions “a problem.”