Since McCain's Convention CEO and one of his campaign's regional managers resigned when it came out that they had been lobbying for the government of Myanmar, I figured it was only a matter of time before more information about the clients of the many lobbyists who populate the McCain campaign began to come out. And lo! here's a rundown on some of them.
I'm going to concentrate on Charlie Black. He's generally described as McCain's chief political advisor. He was the chair of BKSH & Associates, a lobbying firm, until last month, when he announced he was stepping down to work on McCain's campaign fulltime. There's a good profile of him here:
"“The Republican Party’s quintessential company man,” as one friend calls him, Mr. Black has worked in every Republican presidential campaign since 1972, and sometimes a couple each season, being diplomat enough to get along with both sides in some of the fiercest rivalries.
In between, and often at the same time, he has parlayed his political connections to become one of Washington’s most successful lobbyists, making him an embodiment of the city’s permanent establishment.
Now 60, Mr. Black is easing Mr. McCain into his new role as standard bearer for a party that the senator has clashed with and even snubbed over the years. Mr. Black has done so in the quiet way that has made him such an enduring player in Washington."
Here's Ken Silverstein quoting an offline piece from Spy, which has a different take on Black's record:
"An indispensable read about Black’s past–sadly not available online–was a wonderful 1992 piece by Art Levine published in Spy magazine, titled “Publicists of the Damned.” (...) Back then Black was the lead partner at the lobbying firm called Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly. (...)
Spy reviewed the operations of a number of top beltway lobbying firms and ranked Black, Manafort as the “sleaziest” of the firms it surveyed, giving it a “blood-on-the-hands” rating of four. That was a full bloody hand more than the rating accorded to lobbyist Edward van Kloberg, whose clients included Saddam Hussein and Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania.
Black, Manafort’s own clients at the time included Mobuto Sese Seko of Zaire, one of the most kleptocratic rulers of all time, Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, also known for stealing a few billion dollars, and the murderous Angolan rebels known as UNITA. “The well-compensated flacks at Black, Manafort stand at the pinnacle of organizational apologism,” Spy noted. “Name a corrupt despot, and Black Manafort will name the account.”"
Over the years, Black has represented some truly dreadful people. In what follows, I will leave aside domestic clients, like Blackwater, Philip Morris, and Chiquita (which pleaded guilty to paying Colombian terrorists last year.) I will also ignore Black's work on behalf of dictators who are bad but not truly horrific: for instance, Gnassingbé Eyadéma of Togo. I'm just going to focus on two groups: first, Black's work for people who used disinformation to get us into the Iraq war, and second, the truly horrible dictators Charlie Black represented.
(1) Chalabi and the Lincoln Group: According to this NYT piece, Black's firm "worked for Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress, as well as the Lincoln Group, hired by the Pentagon to generate positive stories about the Iraq war." (Though his work for Chalabi was actually paid for by, well, us: the US taxpayers.)
The Lincoln Group, as you might recall, was an amateurish group hired by the Pentagon to plant pro-American stories -- some true and some "deceptive" -- in the Iraqi press. My favorite of their proposals was "an anti-terrorist comedy based on "The Three Stooges."" For some unfathomable reason, that proposal was rejected.
Ahmed Chalabi, the snake who used disinformation to help convince the US to invade Iraq, and who has since come under suspicion of being an 'agent of influence' for Iran, is presumably familiar to our readers. Here's a 2003 article on Black's work for him:
"Consider BKSH & Associates, the firm run by well-known GOP strategist Charlie Black. Over the past four years, BKSH has been boosting the interests of the Iraqi National Congress, whose leader, Ahmed Chalabi, was a key anti-Saddam opponent and now sits on the newly formed Iraqi Governing Council. Besides helping the INC - which has enjoyed extensive backing from the Pentagon but is quite controversial at the State Department and the CIA - BKSH has started to help open doors for such U.S. companies as AT&T, Cummins Engine, and Fluor that are seeking business in Iraq.
"Due to our past representation of the INC," says Black, "we know and have worked with a lot of people who will be in the provisional government. We have a number of clients who are interested in doing business in Iraq." Black adds that his firm is "strongly considering" opening an office in Baghdad."
"BKSH had a special interest in Iraq. The firm was a key member of the coterie of talking heads, lobbyists, and politicians pushing for war in Iraq that centered around Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress (INC), the anti-Saddam exile group, which was itself a BKSH client. (The lobbying firm provided the exiles with lobbying and media services; its staffers acted as the INC's spokesmen, brokered meetings and deals with Washington insiders, and arranged Chalabi's trips to the United States.)"
BKSH even won an award for its PR campaign on behalf of Chalabi and the invasion of Iraq:
"The last week of October 2003 had been particularly gory in Baghdad. Rockets tore into the Al-Rashid Hotel, where Paul Wolfowitz lay sleeping on a rare visit. Terrorists destroyed the International Red Cross compound, and then, on Wednesday, October 29, a land mine gutted a US Army Abrams tank outside Baghdad, killing two soldiers. That was the day BKSH and the Iraqi National Congress were honored for their work in the run-up to the war.
The black-tie award ceremony took place far from the violence in Iraq, in London, where more than 1,000 of the public relations industry elite assembled in a ballroom at the luxurious Grosvenor House Hotel. PR Week hosted the event, its annual awards dinner for public relations companies. Burson-Marsteller, whose subsidiary BKSH had carried out the work, was named the winner in the public affairs category. The "Awards Supplement" of PR Week called BKSH's work a "solid, disciplined campaign that is totally deserving of this award." "Of particular importance," said the citation, "was positioning INC founder Dr. Ahmad Chalabi and other Iraqi opposition spokespeople as authoritative political leaders." BKSH "compiled intelligence reports, defector briefings, conferences and seminars.... The PR team also ran a contact-building programme, focusing on the European Union, Downing Street, the Foreign Office and MPs in the UK, matched to a US programme aimed at the White House, the Senate, Congress and the Pentagon."
The awards description does not mention that the funding came entirely from the US government, let alone that many of the campaign's claims turned out to be erroneous."
Minor extra: Black also helped arrange the bizarre coronation ceremony at the Capitol for the Rev. Sun Myung Moon.
(2) Truly horrible dictators: Those Black represented include: Ferdinand Marcos (the odious dictator of the Philippines), Mobutu Sese Seko (the odious dictator of Zaire), Ibrahim Babangida (the odious dictator of Nigeria), Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo (the odious dictator of Equatorial Guinea), Mohamed Siad Barre (the odious dictator of Somalia), and, just to break the pattern, Jonas Savimbi (who plunged Angola into decades of immensely destructive civil war in an unsuccessful attempt to become its odious dictator.)
I'm saving Savimbi for a separate post. Here, some background on the others:
Mobutu Sese Seko: I take it Mobutu, the thuggish kleptocrat who devastated Zaire, needs no introduction. In case I'm wrong, here's a good NYT retrospective. Excerpt:
"Resplendent in his signature leopard-skin cap and carved wooden scepter topped with an eagle, Mr. Mobutu -- through his canny courtship of Western support, destabilization of his neighbors, systematic corruption and grandiose economic schemes -- left Zaire teetering on the brink of economic collapse. His cult of personality rose to such heights that for weeks at a time, Zaire's official press was forbidden to mention the name of any other Zairian than the President himself.
Mr. Mobutu almost singlehandedly invented Zaire, even giving the country its name in replacement of the colonial name, Congo. But his personal appetite for luxury and wealth spawned a system of official corruption so rapacious that he leaves behind a country in ruin, where revenue from lucrative mines has been squandered or squirreled away in foreign bank accounts. Life in a vast country deprived of roads, health care, electricity, telephones and often education has reverted to a brutishness unknown since the 1940's."
(Note: the bank accounts turned out to have a lot less in them than people thought.)
Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo: Here's the short version:
"As vast offshore oil fields generate hundreds of millions of dollars for tiny Equatorial Guinea, there are few signs of the petroleum boom in the impoverished West African nation. Most of the population lives on about a dollar a day, and a U.S. State Department report found "little evidence that the country's oil wealth is being devoted to the public good." So where has the money gone?
That has been declared a "state secret" by Equatorial Guinea's ruler, Brig. Gen. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. But the Guinean ambassador to the U.S. and other sources close to Obiang say the country's oil funds are held in an account at Riggs Bank in Washington. (...)
Equatorial Guinea's oil production has jumped from just 17,000 barrels per day in 1996 to a current rate of more than 220,000 barrels per day. As a result, the Bush administration has initiated a political thaw with the Obiang regime. In late 2001, President Bush authorized the reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Equatorial Guinea, which had been closed six years earlier, in large part due to the country's horrific human rights record.
There's been little if any improvement since then on that issue."
And then there's this:
"State radio in the tiny west African state of Equatorial Guinea has hailed the nation's leader as "the country's God". (...)
"He can decide to kill without anyone calling him to account and without going to hell because it is God himself, with whom he is in permanent contact, and who gives him this strength," a presidential aide announced on the show."
Note to self: even God needs a lobbyist. Isn't that special?
Ferdinand Marcos: Here I should probably just defer to dr ngo, who knows more about the Philippines than I ever will. (Especially since it turns out to be surprisingly hard to find a decent summary of Marcos' human rights record.) However, until dr ngo shows up to correct and/or amplify (as I hope he will):
Ferdinand Marcos was President of the Philippines from 1965 until 1986. He declared martial law in 1972, after which he ruled as a dictator. He was fantastically corrupt: Transparency International put him second on its list of most corrupt leaders, which is pretty impressive, given the competition. His human rights record was dreadful: one historian puts the number of extrajudicial killings under Marcos at 3,257, and the number of people tortured at 35,000; he was successfully sued for "the tortures and killings of nearly 10,000 Filipinos." You can read some of their stories here, or here, or here. Also:
"Marcos inflicted immeasurable damage on democratic values. He offered the Filipino people economic progress and national dignity, but the results were dictatorship, poverty, militarized politics and a politicized military, and greatly increased dependence on foreign governments and banks. His New Society was supposed to eliminate corruption, but when Marcos fled the country in 1986, his suitcases contained, according to a United States customs agent, jewels, luxury items, and twenty-four gold bricks. Estimates of Marcos's wealth ran from a low of US$3 billion to a high of US$30 billion, and even after his death in 1989, no one knew the true value of his estate, perhaps not even his widow.
If Marcos had been merely corrupt, his legacy would have been bad enough, but he broke the spell of democracy. The long evolution of democratic institutions, unsatisfactory though it may have been in some ways, was interrupted. The political culture of democracy was violated. Ordinary Filipinos knew fear in the night. An entire generation came of age never once witnessing a genuine election or reading a free newspaper. Classes that graduated from the Philippine Military Academy were contemptuous of civilians and anticipated opportunities for influence and perhaps even wealth. Marcos's worst nightmare came true when Corazon Aquino used the power of popular opinion to bring him down."
While researching this, I found an email that Steve Clemons posted about Black's work for Marcos. In my experience, Steve Clemons' anonymous sources are usually quite reliable. Note that "Black Manafort" is Black, Manafort, Stone, and Kelly, a previous version of BKSH & Associates. The email reads, in part:
"During the final years of the Marcos regime, Black Manafort had the Marcos lobbying account.
Matt [Freeman] was one of three guys servicing the account in the field.
US policy was undergoing a dramatic shift at the time. Secretary of State George Shultz had quietly persuaded Ronald Reagan that it was time to ditch the Marcos family -- and the Black Manafort retainer from the Marcos family had been hugely increased in an effort to turn this around.
The USG was discreetly funding the Marcos opposition (including the more sedate opposition group led by Cardinal Jaime Sin and the more radical NAMFREL).
One of Matt's tasks was to attempt to document these connections in hopes that they could be used to drive a wedge into Hill support for the administration policy shift.
It was a time of "battling flacks". Cory Aquino, widow of the opposition leader Benigno Aquino who had been murdered by a Marcos thug earlier that year, had retained none other than Mark Malloch Brown as her Washington lobbyist.
Mark and Matt were frequently in and out of the Philippines in those days, each developing sources and feeding material into the SFRC and the HFAC.
Dick Lugar proved central to this story. Shultz won Lugar's support for dropping the Marcos connection. . . provided Marcos could be ousted in an election.
Republican election specialist Eddie Mahe was retained by the USG to analyze and defeat the Marcos election-rigging schemes.
Meanwhile, Matt was among those helping the Marcos family to carry out such schemes."
Mohamed Siad Barre took control of Somalia in 1969, and remained in power until 1991. The NYT summarizes:
"In May 1988, fierce fighting broke out in the north between the Government and rebels who contended they had been discriminated against by the Siad Barre Government and were fighting for a more democratic Government.
A report commissioned by the State Department and made public in September 1989 said the Somali Army "purposely murdered" at least 5,000 unarmed civilians over a 10-month period in the early phases. The Government denied the allegation.
More than 10,000 people were reported killed in the months that followed, with allegations that the Somali military had bombed towns and strafed fleeing residents.
Amnesty International said in August 1988 that since 1981 the Government had used torture and "widespread arbitrary arrests, ill treatment and summary executions" of civilians suspected of collaborating with the rebels."
From the US Country Study of Somalia:
"Faced with shrinking popularity and an armed and organized domestic resistance, Siad Barre unleashed a reign of terror against the Majeerteen, the Hawiye, and the Isaaq, carried out by the Red Berets (Duub Cas), a dreaded elite unit recruited from among the president's Mareehaan clansmen. (...)
In November 1986, the dreaded Red Berets unleashed a campaign of terror and intimidation on a frightened citizenry. Meanwhile, the ministries atrophied and the army's officer corps was purged of competent career officers on suspicion of insufficient loyalty to the president. In addition, ministers and bureaucrats plundered what was left of the national treasury after it had been repeatedly skimmed by the top family. (...)
The Red Berets systematically smashed the small reservoirs in the area around Galcaio so as to deny water to the Umar Mahamuud Majeerteen sublineages and their herds. In May and June 1979, more than 2,000 Umar Mahamuud, the Majeerteen sublineage of Colonel Ahmad, died of thirst in the waterless area northeast of Galcaio, Garoowe, and Jerriiban. In Galcaio, members of the Victory Pioneers, the urban militia notorious for harassing civilians, raped large numbers of Majeerteen women. In addition, the clan lost an estimated 50,000 camels, 10,000 cattle, and 100,000 sheep and goats. (...)
The military regime conducted savage reprisals against the Isaaq. The same methods were used as against the Majeerteen-- destruction of water wells and grazing grounds and raping of women. An estimated 5,000 Isaaq were killed between May 27 and the end of December 1988. About 4,000 died in the fighting, but 1,000, including women and children, were alleged to have been bayoneted to death. (...)
In the late 1980s, disaffection with the regime set in among the Hawiye who felt increasingly marginalized in the Siad Barre regime. From the town of Beledweyne in the central valley of the Shabeelle River to Buulobarde, to Giohar, and in Mogadishu, the clan was subjected to ruthless assault. Government atrocities inflicted on the Hawiye were considered comparable in scale to those against the Majeerteen and Isaaq. By undertaking this assault on the Hawiye, Siad Barre committed a fatal error. By the end of 1990, he still controlled the capital and adjacent regions but by alienating the Hawiye, Siad Barre turned his last stronghold into enemy territory.
Faced with saboteurs by day and sniper fire by night, Siad Barre ordered remaining units of the badly demoralized Red Berets to massacre civilians. By 1989 torture and murder became the order of the day in Mogadishu. On July 9, 1989, Somalia's Italian-born Roman Catholic bishop, Salvatore Colombo, was gunned down in his church in Mogadishu by an unknown assassin. The order to murder the bishop, an outspoken critic of the regime, was widely believed to have had come from the presidential palace.
On the heels of the bishop's murder came the infamous July 14 massacre, when the Red Berets slaughtered 450 Muslims demonstrating against the arrest of their spiritual leaders. More than 2,000 were seriously injured. On July 15, forty-seven people, mainly from the Isaaq clan, were taken to Jasiira Beach west of the city and summarily executed. The July massacres prompted a shift in United States policy as the United States began to distance itself from Siad Barre."
On reflection, that's enough for now. As I said, I had intended to save Savimbi for a subsequent post, and you can probably live without a description of Ibrahim Babangida of Nigeria.
If you think about it, though, Black has represented a more than usually repellent group of dictators. Two of Transparency International's top three kleptocrats in recent history (Marcos and Mobutu); a self-proclaimed God; torturers, murderers, and even someone who deliberately destroys reservoirs in arid country, so people will die of thirst.
I was reminded recently that a couple of months ago, last time he was defending the number of lobbyists who work on his campaign, McCain said:
""These people have honorable records, and they're honorable people, and I'm proud to have them as part of my team," McCain told reporters following a town hall meeting in Indianapolis."
And in the debate at the Reagan Library, he said, as he often has: "I'll rely on people to judge me by the company that I keep."
So judge away. Do you think that it's possible to be the lobbyist for Chalabi, Mobuto, Marcos, Obiang, and Siad Barre, not to mention Blackwater, Philip Morris, and so on, and still be an honorable person? If not, what do you think that the fact that this guy is one of McCain's closest advisors says about him?