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FTR #438 Christmas Bushes: Business As Unusual

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For members of the Bush family, everyday is Christmas. They are the recipients of enormous largesse, the product of business as unusual. This program details the relationships that characterize this business as unusual. One of the primary elements of discussion concerns a business milieu that revolves around Neil Bush, one of George W. Bush’s brothers. Neil Bush, in turn, is deeply involved with one Jamal Daniel, a well-connected Syrian-American who functions as a contact point between the Bush family and the ruling families of many of the Middle Eastern oil-producing nations. The Neil Bush/Jamal Daniel relationship forms part of a constellation of businesses comprised of several overlapping commercial concerns—chief among them New Bridge Strategies. New Bridge Strategies and its related businesses are centered on Haley Barbour, the newly elected governor of Mississippi. It is within the context of this structural economic relationships between the GOP, the Bush administration, American petroleum firms and the Middle Eastern oil-producing nations that the events of 9/11 grew to fruition.

Program Highlights Include: Former Bush (Sr.) Secretary of State James Baker’s role in restructuring Iraqi debt; Baker’s relationship with the Carlyle Group; the Carlyle Group’s overlapping interests and personnel with the New Bridge Enterprises crew (including Carlyle co-founder Ed Mathias); Neil Bush’s associate John Howland; former SEC chief Ed Breeden; Howland’s conflicting business interests; Milestone Merchant Partners (part of the New Bridge nexus); the FBI’s investigation of the accounts of the Saudi embassy (held in the Bush-connected Riggs Bank); the relationship between the Texas/GOP/Bush/Middle Eastern economic connections and the milieu of the Operation Green Quest raids.

1. The discussion begins by highlighting the fact that Saudi Arabia has pledged $1 billion in aid for the rebuilding of Iraq. (There are indications that the Bush administration and the Saudis may well have established a quid pro quo—the Saudis support the Bush adventure into Iraq and the Bush administration covers up the Saudi role in 9/11. Note that Iraq was a secular, Arab fascist state with a Shiite Muslim majority dominated by a Sunni minority. View the annotated programs for a more complete presentation of this hypothesis.)

“Well, the numbers are in and the numbers don’t lie. At the Madrid aid conference, Saudi Arabia pledged $1 billion in new loans and credits for Iraq—and Germany and France pledged new dollars. . . .”

(“The End of the West” by Thomas Friedman; The New York Times; 11/2/2003; p. 1.)

2. Undertaking discussion of the structural economic relationships joining the Bush administration and its most important members with the oil-producing nations of the Middle East, the broadcast sets forth James Baker’s position as overseer of Iraqi debt restructuring. In particular, this portion of the broadcast notes Baker’s connections with Saudi Arabia.

“Well ho, ho ho! It’s an early Christmas for James Baker III. All year the elves at his law firm, Baker Botts of Texas, have been working day and night to prevent the families of the victims of the September 11 attack from seeking information from Saudi Arabia on the Kingdom’s funding of Al Qaeda fronts. It’s tough work, but this week came the payoff when President Bush appointed Baker, the firm’s senior partner, to restructure the debts of the nation of Iraq. And who will net the big bucks under Jim Baker’s plan? Answer: his client, Saudi Arabia, which claims $30.7 billion in reparations from the First Gulf war. . . .”

(“Baker Takes the Loaf” by Greg Palast; GregPalast.com; 12/8/2003; p. 1.)

3.

” . . . This takes the Bush administration’s Conflicts-R-Us appointments process to a new low. Or maybe there’s no conflict at all. If you see Jim Baker’s new job as working not to protect a new Iraqi democracy but to protect the loot of the old theocracy of Saudi Arabia, the conflict disappears. Iraq’s debt totals something on the order of $120 billion to $150 billion, depending on who’s counting. And who’s counting in very important.”

(Ibid.; p 2.)

4.

“Much of the so-called debt to Saudi Arabia was given to Saddam Hussein to fight a proxy war for the Saudis against their hated foe, the Shi’ia of Iran. And as disclosed by a former Saudi diplomat, the kingdom’s sheiks handed about $7 billion to Saddam under the table in the 1980’s to build an ‘Islamic bomb.'”

(Idem.)

5. Further developing the relationship of Baker to the Middle Eastern oil producing milieu, the broadcast highlights the role of the Baker law firm (Baker Botts) as the counsel to the Carlyle Group.

” . . . At 73, Baker is at the center of a wheeling-dealing whirlwind. Baker Botts is tight with Enron, having represented it in a major pipeline merger during Enron’s halcyon days. And the judge who decided not to freeze assets of Enron executives had to recuse herself a few days later from the case because she was, among other things, a former employee of Baker Botts. Baker himself cautioned prudence when it came to dealing harshly with Enron: ‘the proper response to Enron,’ he told students at the University of Michigan in an April 2002 speech, ‘is not ‘do something’ but, like the doctor, to ‘do no harm.'”

(“Settling Some Debts” [“Mondo Washington”] by James Ridgeway; Village Voice; 12/10-16/2003; p. 1.)

6. Note that Bush’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia is a former employee of Baker Botts.

“Robert W. Jordan, also from Baker Botts, is Dubya’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, where the law firm has a powerful, permanent presence—its website boasts nine main offices: Austin, Dallas, and Houston, of course, plus New York, Washington, and London, naturally and Moscow. The two others? Baku, capital of oil-rich Azerbaijan, and Riyadh, in oil-rich Saudi Arabia. . . Baker Botts is slickest when it comes to oil, but Baker himself has even wider interests. As senior counsel to the Carlyle Group, the investment firm long associated with Bush interests, Baker helps to oversee the operations of the nation’s 10th-largest defense contractor, United Defense. . . . Baker has defended the Saudi government against a trillion-dollar lawsuit brought by 9-11 families. . . .”

(Ibid.; pp. 1-2.)

7. Much of the rest of the program concerns Neil Bush and his connections to the Middle Eastern oil milieu. In particular, this portion of the program focuses on Neil Bush’s connections to Jamal Daniel, whose family helped to found the Baath Party in both Syria and Iraq. Some of Neil Bush’s business links with Daniel and other luminaries in the Middle East involve other key personages in the Republican Party.

” . . . The trip had been arranged and paid for by the Paris office of Jamal Daniel, a Syrian-American businessman who keeps a low profile but who boasts important connections with leaders and their families throughout the Middle East. Mr. Daniel’s name surfaced this month when court papers from Neil Bush’s acrimonious divorce proceedings found their way into the press.”

(“Web of Connections: the Personal and Business Ties Between Texas, Washington and the Middle East” by Stephen Fidler and Thomas Catan; Financial Times; 12/12/2003.)

8. Among the business ventures joining Jamal Daniel with Neil Bush is the Houston-based Crest Investment Corporation.

“While many newspapers focused on the lurid revelations of ‘sex romps’ on his trips in Asia, Mr. Bush’s deposition also gave important insights into his business dealings. Among other things, Mr. Bush said he was co-chairman of the Houston-based Crest Investment Corporation and was paid $15,000 every three months for providing ‘miscellaneous consulting services . . . such as answering phone calls when Jamail [sic] Daniel, the other co-chairman, called and asked for advice.’ Mr. Daniel started cultivating his relationship with the Bush family at about the time that Neil was caught up in the Silverado scandal and facing a lawsuit, according to a US businessman who knows him. . . .”

(Ibid.; p. 2.)

9. Another of the players in this scenario is John Howland—a Houston businessman.

” . . . Working closely with Mr. Bush and Mr. Daniel has been a third man: John Howland, a Houston businessman whose companies have suffered bankruptcy and who, on one occasion, was alleged by the owner of a company he ran of self-dealing and of misusing company funds—an allegation he denies. The three have worked together at Crest, where Mr. Howland acted as executive vice-president. Mr. Bush, Mr. Howland and Mr. Daniel have also been directors of a Swiss company called Silvermat, a financially troubled subsidiary of Crest that was set up in 2000 to supply the hospitality industry. Mr. Howland is listed as the chairman of Silvermat and Mr. Bush and Mr. Daniel as having retired from the board.”

(Idem.)

10. Another of the players in Crest (along with Howland, Daniel and Neil Bush) is Joseph Peacock, an original investor in Bush’s “Ignite!” educational software company.

“There is evidence that Mr. Bush has received financing and contacts for his personal business ventures from Mr. Daniel. Crest’s company secretary, Joseph Peacock—a man involved in many of Mr. Daniel’s other companies—was listed as one of the original investors in ‘Ignite!’ and has lobbied potential investors on Neil Bush’s behalf. Mr. Bush went on a Middle East trip in early 2002 to seek contributions for his company. He has successfully secured funds from people connected to at least three ruling families in the Middle East. . . .”

(Ibid.; p. 3.)

11. A major focus of the program is New Bridge Strategies—overlapping the Carlyle Group and featuring some of the same individuals. Some see the Carlyle Group as the institutional and structural model for New Bridge Strategies.

” . . . Today, Neil Bush’s business partners have a new venture, in keeping with the times. New Bridge Strategies was set up this year to help companies secure contracts in Iraq following the war. Mr. Howland is chairman and chief executive of the company, while Mr. Daniel is a member of the advisory board. The company briefly hit the headlines this autumn because of the impressive roster of Republican heavyweights on its board, most of whom are linked to one or other of the Bush administrations or to the family itself. The company’s website has not been shy about advertising its contacts in both the Middle East and Washington.”

(Idem.)

12. A former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, New Birdge Strategies chairman Joe Allbaugh has a long history of political and professional association with George Bush.

“‘The opportunities evolving in Iraq today are of such an unprecedented nature and scope that no other existing firm has the necessary skills and experience to be effective both in Washington DC, and on the ground in Iraq,’ it said. That phrasing has since been changed. The list of directors and advisory board members is indeed impressive. Joe Allbaugh, the chairman of the company, was head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) until March 2003 and before that, chief of staff for George W. Bush while he ws Texas governor. As national manager for the Bush-Cheney election campaign in 2000, he was one side of the ‘Iron Triangle’ of aides credited with propelling him into the presidency.”

(Idem.)

13. Another of the principals in the New Bridge business configuration is Haley Barbour, just elected Republican governor of Mississippi.

“Ed Rogers, the company’s vice-chairman and director, was a top aide to George H.W. Bush while he was in the White House. Lanny Griffith, another director, also worked in Mr. Bush senior’s government and on his election campaigns. Haley Barbour, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee who was elected last month as governor of Mississippi, was on the board of Milestone Merchant Partners, a Washington-based private equity fund affiliated with New Bridge, according to the New Bridge website. A spokesman for Mr. Barbour, who is also close to the Bush family, said he resigned from that position in February.”

(Ibid.; pp. 3-4.)

14. Yet another of the intersecting corporate entities in the New Bridge nexus is Barbour, Griffith & Rogers, a Republican lobbying firm. Still another of the corporate stars in this constellation is Milestone Merchant Partners, which features former SEC chief Richard Breeden, as well as Carlyle Group co-founder Ed Mathias.

“All three are partners at Barbour, Griffith & Rogers, a Republican lobbying firm in Washington, D.C. The firm shares an office with New Bridge at 1275 Pennsylvania Avenue, on the 10th floor. Milestone, meanwhile, is hardly bereft of political contacts itself. Richard Breeden, former chairman of the US Securities and Exchange Commission and the man appointed to sort out the mess at WorldCom, is one the company’s advisory board. So is Ed Mathias, co-founder of The Carlyle Group, the world’s best connected private equity firm, which some people have seen as a forerunner of New Bridge.”

(Ibid.; p. 4.)

15. More about John Howland, one of the lesser-known of the group:

“Next to those names, John Howland and Jamal Daniel are relatively unknown. Together in many business transactions connecting Texas with the Middle East, they have been linked to contentious deals, some of which have ended up in court. Mr. Howland is a former US Air Force officer. He failed to become a pilot because of a slight eyesight problem and ended his military career as a launch control officer in nuclear missile bunkers. He said he had met Mr. Daniel in about 1989.”

(Idem.)

16. Highlighting the background of Jamal Daniel, the broadcast underscores the role of Daniel’s family in the founding of the Ba’ath party in both Syria and Iraq.

“Mr. Daniel’s family, Christians originating from northern Syria, is said to have been involved in the founding of the Ba’ath Party and sustained links with it in both Syria and Iraq even after being expelled from Syria in about 1966 after Hafez al-Assad came to power. Mr. Daniel has told friends that when he was young Tariq Aziz, later foreign minister of Iraq, was a visitor to the family home. . . .”

(Idem.)

17. No phrase describes Jamal Daniel better than that of “well-connected.” More about his relationships of the ruling families of the Middle Eastern oil-producing countries.

“According to businessmen who know him, Mr. Daniel boasts connections with the families of the rulers of at least five Middle East countries: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon. At a conference in Washington in April 2000, Mr. Daniel was introduced as a person ‘proud to call [Yemeni] President Saleh a friend.’ Before he became president and chief executive officer of new Bridge this year, Mr. Howland’s business career had met controversy.”

(Ibid.; pp. 4-5.)

18. John Howland’s business integrity would appear to be HIGHLY unusual. As noted by Greg Palast in the second article presented in this program, conflicts of interest are anything but commonplace in the Bush family’s business milieu. For the Bush family and their associates, business is routinely unusual.

“In 1997, he was embroiled in a bitter dispute with his then employer, Mohammed Bin Issa Al-Jabar, a Saudi businessman, over allegations that more than $12m went missing from his company while Mr. Howland was in charge. In a lawsuit filed in Houston, Mr. Jaber said he had originally been approached with a business proposal by Mr. Howland while the latter was president of the Texas-based company, American Rice Inc.”

(Ibid.; p. 5.)

19.

“The idea had been to set up a company in Saudi Arabia that would import rice from American Rice and then package it at a plant to be built in Jeddah, enabling the owners to sell it more cheaply than rival companies. In 1992, Mr. Jaber set up Rice Milling Trading Investments (RMTI) and hired Mr. Howland and another Houston associate, George Prchal, giving them full authority to run it. . . . Mr. Howland drew up a contract with American Rice to be the company’s exclusive supplier. What Mr. Jaber did not know was that his top two executives were still working for American Rice, meaning that they were on both sides of the negotiating table. Mr. Jaber stated that Mr. Howland was receiving $250,000 a year for running RMTI and a further $100,000 from its supplier, American Rice. The result, industry experts told the court, was a highly unusual 50-year contract heavily biased in American Rice’s favour.”

(Idem.)

20. Triangulating Howland’s conflict of interest between American Rice and RMTI is Howland’s employment by a third firm that competed with the other two.

“At the same time, Mr. Howland had a third role working for another company that RMTI saw as a potential competitor and which Mr. Daniel represented in the US. RMTI’s investigators found business cards showing Mr. Howland and Mr. Prchal as representing this company, Levant Grain, which was constructing a rice mill in a free zone at the Syrian port of Tartous. Mr. Howland said on Thursday he had been an officer of Levant, and that Levant was wholly owned by Crest, Mr. Daniel’s company. . . .”

(Idem.)

21.

” . . . When the Jeddah plant was nearing completion, Mr. Howland set up a $12m credit facility, on behalf of RMTI, with the National Commercial Bank of Saudi Arabia, to finance American Rice’s sales. In 1996, a banker working for NCB informed Mr. Jaber, to his surprise, that the $12m letter of credit had been exhausted. . . . RMTI subsequently found more than a dozen offshore bank accounts linked to these companies, in the Queensgate Bank in the Cayman Islands, in Panama and elsewhere. Mr. Jaber estimated his losses in these ventures had run into a further several million dollars. . . .American Rice is now under new management following its emergence from bankruptcy.”

(Ibid.; pp. 5-6)

22. It appears that the aforementioned Haley Barbour was the primary catalyst precipitating the joining many of these figures together. The presence within the Reagan administration of many of these people also appears to have been central to the formation of these relationships.

“So how did some of the best-connected Republican figures in Washington end up in business with this controversial pair of Texas businessmen? The answer seems to be: Haley Barbour. Like many agricultural firms, rice companies benefit from political connections. Mr. Howland met Mr. Barbour while the latter was at the Reagan White House. When Mr. Barbour left the administration, one of his first jobs as a consultant was for American Rice. He was hired by Mr. Howland. It was through him that Mr. Barbour got to know Mr. Daniel. Through a spokesperson, Mr. Barbour declined requests for an interview.”

(Ibid.; pp. 6-7.)

23. Yet another star in the commercial constellation is Diligence, a security firm established by former American and British intelligence specialists. Henry Kissinger protégé and former US ambassador to Germany Richard Burt is the chairman of Diligence, which has an overlapping directorate with New Bridge and Milestone.

“What is clear is that he [Barbour] helped make the connection between Mr. Howland and Mr. Daniel and the Washington heavyweights that give New Bridge its political heft. His firm was also instrumental in bringing other companies into New Bridge’s fold, including Diligence, a security firm set up by former US and British intelligence officers that is affiliated to the company. Barbour, Griffith & Rogers provided initial funding for Diligence, said Nick Day, a former UK intelligence officer and co-founder of the company. Like New Bridge, Diligence was given also space at BGR’s office in Washington DC. BGR also provided the company with its well-connected chairman, Richard Burt, former US ambassador to Berlin, as well as its impressive advisory board. Many of the names on that advisory board—including Carlyle’s Ed Mathias—overlap with those of New Bridge and Milestone.”

(Ibid.; p. 7.)

24. Like New Bridge, Diligence has benefited from the adventure in Iraq.

“The relationship between the companies became even closer after New Bridge found the investor for Diligence’s new business in Iraq. In return for finding the investor—the Kuwaiti businessman and member of parliament, Mohammed Al-Saqer—New Bridge got a minority shareholding in the new Iraqi security firm. Diligence Iraq had already escorted some of New Bridge’s clients into Iraq, he said.”

(Idem.)

25. Noting the structural symmetry between Washingon D.C. and the Middle East, the program underscores the fundamental role of personal and political networking in the business relationships of both.

“The idea behind the founding of New Bridge shows an odd symmetry between Washington and the Middle East: that in both places what matters is the ability to exploit connections to well-placed individuals. According to Middle East specialists, the disclosures about New Bridge will not help US efforts in the region. ‘In the Middle East, it will be received as confirming the weary cynicism prevailing in the area about US intentions in launching the attack on Iraq in the first place,’ said Richard Murphy, senior fellow on the Middle East at the Council of Foreign Relations in New York.”

(Idem.)

26. It is within the structural economic relationships between the power elite of the Middle Eastern oil producing nations and the Bush/petroleum milieu that the machinations of 9/11 took place. Recently the FBI began to subpoena records of bank accounts belonging to the Saudi embassy. The Riggs Bank (of which Bush’s uncle Jonathan Bush is a director) handles the Saudi embassy’s account.

“The FBI, in an unprecedented move that has strained relations with a close ally on the war on terrorism, has subpoenaed records for dozens of bank accounts belonging to the Saudi Embassy, as part of an investigation into whether any of the hundreds of millions of dollars Riyadh spends in the United States each year end up in the hands of Muslim extremists, U.S. and Saudi officials said. . . .”

(“FBI Demands Saudi Embassy Divulge Bank Records” by Douglas Farah [Washington Post]; San Francisco Chronicle; 11/23/2003; p. A14.)

27.

” . . . U.S. and foreign intelligence agencies have documented the flow of money to terrorist groups from organizations affiliated with charities that received funds from wealthy Saudis and the Saudi government. Money for such charities often flows through the embassy’s Islamic and cultural affairs bureau. The subpoenas were issued several weeks after the May deportation of Fahad al Thumairy, who had worked for the Islamic and cultural affairs section of the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles since 1996. Thumairy’s visa was revoked, and he was deported because of suspected ties to terrorists, according to officials from the Department of Homeland Security. . . .”

(Idem.)

28. Looking ahead to FTR#439, the program discusses further developments in the investigation known as Operation Green Quest. Once again, the machinations in and around 9/11 took place within the structural economic relationships that exist between the Bush/GOP petroleum milieu and the oil producing nations of the Middle East, chiefly Saudi Arabia.

“A secretive group of tightly connected Muslim charities, think tanks and businesses based in Northern Virginia were used to funnel millions of dollars to terrorists and launder millions more, according to court records unsealed yesterday. An affidavit from Homeland Security agent David Kane said that the Safa Group, also known as the SAAR network, in Herndon had sent more than $26 million in untraceable money overseas and that leaders of the organization ‘have committed and conspired to . . . provide material support to foreign terrorist organizations.'”

(“Terror Probe Points to Va. Muslims: Local Network Provided Millions in Financing, Agency Charges” by Douglas Farah; The Washington Post; 10/18/2003; P. A06.)

29.

“The probe of the Herndon groups is the largest federal investigation of terrorism financing in the world, authorities have said. And the unsealing of Kane’s report marks the first time the government has alleged the main purpose of the Virginia organizations, set up primarily with donations from a wealthy Saudi family, was to fund terrorism and hide millions of dollars.”

(Idem.)

30.

“In a five-year period, four groups in the network sent more than $$26 million to the Isle of Man. The initial money to set up the Safa Group was 304 million hand-carried in 1980 from Saudi Arabia by Ibrahim Hassaballa, Kane said. The heart of the network in the early years was the SAAR Foundation, named for Sulaiman Abdul Aziz Rajhi. While the SAAR Foundation legally dissolved in December 2000, Kane said the company maintained a bank account that continued to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in wire transfers and deposits over the next year, making it a ‘way-station for money being routed around the world by the Safa Group.”

(Idem.)

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