Is the U.S. Paying Off the Italian Government for Forging the Niger Documents?
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"Obama Confronts a Choice on Copters" read this week's New York Times. The President soon "will have to decide whether to proceed with some of the priciest aircraft in the world -- a new fleet of 28 Marine One helicopters that will each cost more than the last Air Force One....The choice confronting Mr. Obama encapsulates the tension between two imperatives of his nascent presidency, the need to meet the continuing threats of an age of terrorism and the demand for austerity in a period of economic hardship."
This is a gross misrepresentation of the choice Obama faces. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn) and others have alleged that the contract for 28 Marine One helicopters was awarded to the Italian firm Finmeccanica as a thank you for Italy's participation in the Iraq War. The evidence, however, indicates that the contract was more specifically a payoff to the Italian government for supplying the forged documents showing Saddam had obtained weapons grade uranium from Niger. President Bush famously used this fraudulent "yellowcake" intelligence to justify launching the war.
When reviewing the helicopter contract, President Obama can either be actively complicit by continuing with Finmeccanica; he can duck and cover by simply switching to the proper supplier, Sikorsky; or he can use the mandated review of this purchase decision to root out those in military, the aerospace industry and Congress who were willing to compromise the security of all subsequent American presidents so that Bush could cover up his core war crime.
Officials up and down the chain who awarded the contract knew that they were doing something extraordinarily wrong. The rigged bidding process bypassed, for example, Marine One pilots who repeatedly sought to give input. They had many safety concerns. At the time of the bid, the helicopter chosen was not certified to fly in the U.S. It was an old model made of heavy materials; this flew in the face of why the President supposedly needed a new fleet: i.e., so many extra security devices had been added to Marine One after 9/11, it was struggling to lift off. In its losing bid, the Connecticut-based Sikorsky, which had manufactured virtually all presidential helicopters since Eisenhower first ordered one, proposed a new model made of much lighter, composite materials.
But the Marine One pilots' prime objection, which was raised repeatedly by many other officials in private, was national security. Finmeccanica was doing business with Iran, China and Libya. Why outsource so sensitive a project? At the time of the bid, the security clearance necessary to manufacture and maintain Marine One required U.S. citizenship and prohibited Marine One team members from being married to citizens of another country.
After the bid was awarded, John Pike, head of GlobalSecurity.org, told us: "Analyzing the defense industry for nearly 30 years, I try to stay calm and nonpartisan. But the Finmeccanica deal raised every hair on my neck. Apparently no one else sees the irony in a foreign military contractor building Marine One and Ayatollah One."
Many others did see the irony but were intimidated or paid off. For example, right after Finmeccanica won the contract, Kim Weldon, the daughter of then-Congressman Curt Weldon (R - Pa), landed a full-time job with the company. Previously she'd been a social worker. Finmeccanica also paid consulting money to Weldon's real estate agent, who subsequently pled guilty for attempting to destroy bribery evidence sought by the FBI. Weldon's chief of staff, his wife and other Weldon aides were given free trips to Italy. The chief of staff subsequently pled guilty for failing to disclose income funneled to his wife. Like many other Congressmen, however, Weldon looks as if he will escape unscathed.