Sunday, November 25, 2007

Bribes, Bribes, and more Bribes

The NY Times does a number on BAE--the British defense firm that does major business in this country--and exposes for at least a few of us some of the inherent corruption that has prolonged the Iraq war.

Britain is leaving Iraq because of political change--not because it's the right thing to do, but because the people are fed up. In Australia and Poland--more of the same. The governments in those countries would love to stay in Iraq and keep spending billions in their defense sectors. Nothing pads the coffers of a politician, regardless of who they are or what country they practice their trade, more than defense spending. Corruption is exposing the war for what it is. It's a massive transfer of wealth from social programs to the defense sector. It doesn't matter if this is London, Canberra, Washington DC or Warsaw--that's what it is.

The people have spoken and they will continue to speak. Even the Pope wants the war in Iraq to end. Wow. Talk about your non-headline headline. The Pope is Against War. Who would have thunk it?

Now the Brits aren't all that fired up about corruption--they could use their own Henry Waxman over there, I suppose, or his equivalent in rough parliamentary terms. But even they have had to look into how BAE was doing business with the Saudis and how it connected to public funds. But in this country, we go about things a little differently. A law called the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) is forcing the Justice Department to pay attention to how BAE has done business with the Saudis:

Much of the debate turns on the fact that BAE made billions of dollars in clandestine and questionable payments to Saudi royals over the last 20 years as part of an $80 billion contract to supply the kingdom with advanced fighter jets and other military hardware. While the investigation of BAE’s business practices has followed a circuitous path in Britain, it has recently gained independent momentum in the United States, where the Justice Department is now investigating the company.
BAE generates nearly half its revenue in the United States, and it recently acquired a major supplier of armored Humvees used by American forces in Iraq. American officials who were granted anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter said the Justice Department is examining whether BAE violated domestic laws banning international bribery and money laundering. Accounts in Switzerland, the Caribbean and elsewhere are involved, and, like Britain, the United States has a strategic relationship with the Saudis that the investigation threatens.

This decision to apply the FCPA to actual real world events shocks me, because, normally, "the rule of law" and "enforcing regulations" is a quaint afterthought left on the desk of an incompetent hack in the Bush Administration. The Saudis are the drivers behind our "strategery" in Iraq--that is, they summoned Dick Cheney and told him that the US was now going to do business with Sunni tribal leaders and give them guns and money. How much we upset the Saudis is dependent upon what they tell us we can and can't do, apparently.

But no--this is what the BAE investigation could force the Department of Justice to start looking into:

The revelation that British investigators had discovered that BAE deposited $2 billion in payments into Prince Bandar’s Washington bank accounts led the Justice Department to enter what analysts describe as the highest-profile F.C.P.A. case to date. Passed by Congress three decades ago in the wake of Watergate, it is only in the last five years that the F.C.P.A. has become a powerful tool for prosecuting domestic and overseas companies suspected of bribing foreign officials to secure business.
Justice Department officials estimate that there are about 60 such cases under investigation or prosecution in the United States, with a new, five-member F.B.I. team dedicated to examining possible violations of the act.

How enthusiastically these 60 cases will be looked at depends on whether or not the new Attorney General actually believes in the rule of law. I'm not holding my breath--it'll probably take an AG appointed by a Democrat to actually turn over the rocks and expose the corruption. Better yet, a Truman Committee could be created in January 2009.

Til then, we can only hold our head in our hands and wonder what might have been.

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