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Wednesday, September 08, 2004

The Purloined Contract 

From Juan Cole:
In 2001, Halliburton won a contract from the Department of Defence to provide "emergency services" to the Pentagon. The contract was above-board. Bids were taken from five competitors, and Halliburton won with the low bid. There was nothing illegal or irregular about such a process. But that contract may explain Cheney and his gang on Iraq.

In Edgar Allan Poe's "The Purloined Letter," the blackmail note that the police are looking for is in plain sight. It isn't hidden, just among the ordinary correspondence on the desk. The police don't bother to examine it for that reason.

It is the contract itself that is the scam. It is quite simple. A standing contract to provide "emergency services" to the Pentagon is a potential gold mine under exactly one circumstance. If a major war breaks out, the need for "emergency services" will inevitably be enormous. The contract was worth billions. But only if there was a war. If there was peace, the need for "emergency services" would be small. Halliburton was not doing that well. It needed the big bucks . . . .

Part two of the scam is also in plain view. It is the very idea that "emergency services" should and could be supplied to the US military by a private company.

The fact is that civilian employees of private firms cannot be ordered into a war zone. Halliburton, and its subsidiary Kellog, Root and Brown, was to supply air-conditioned quonset huts to the US troops for summer, 2003. It did not do so. It could not do so. Once the guerrilla war broke out, it was impossible to get enough civilian workers out to the troop positions to build the quonset huts and put in airconditioning. As a result, US troops "looked like hobos and lived like pigs" in the words of one, with their shaving cream cans exploding in the 140 degrees heat.

If, on the other hand, US troops had been assigned to build the quonset huts and put in the airconditioning, that could easily have been accomplished.

So, the "emergency services contract" was a boondoggle only in the case of a war, but in case of a war, many of the services contracted for could not actually be supplied, at least in a timely manner . . . .

What was in it for Cheney? I don't think it was a matter of money. At least I hope it wasn't. Cheney sold half his Halliburton stock options in 2000 for $5 million, and it is hard to imagine a man taking his country to war to increase the other half in value by a few million.

I suspect it is political. Not all corporations make money on war. Some actually lose money. But Halliburton, Bechtel and a few other components of the Military Industrial Complex do benefit from war. Strengthening that sector of the American economy strengthens the political Right. Turning the Republic into a praetorian state would permanently yield profits for the military industrial complex in such a way as to create a permanent Republican dominance of all the branches of the US government.

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