News & Politics

The Corrupting Power of Military-Industrial Complex

Recent kickback scandals involving Rep. Curt Weldon prove that Congress would do well to remember President Eisenhower's warning against "unwarranted influence."
Editor's Note: When President Eisenhower warned in his Farewell Address of the dangers of growing, unchecked power in America, he originally described a "military-congressional-industrial complex," but dropped "congressional" in later drafts of the speech. He was right the first time, the writers say. Jeffrey Klein, a founding editor of Mother Jones, this summer received a Loeb, journalism's top award for business reporting. Paolo Pontoniere is a New America Media European commentator.

When FBI agents raided the home of the daughter of Congressman Curt Weldon, R-Pa., on Oct. 16, he joined a long list of Republican congressmen linked to corruption scandals. Weldon's case is significant because of his vice chairmanship of the Congressional Armed Services Committee, where he oversees $73 billion a year in military spending. All of his power derives from this position. If Weldon is deprived of this power, how much of the corruption around him will go away?

The FBI was looking into whether Weldon's daughter Karen's firm got $500,000 from Itera, a Kremlin-connected natural gas enterprise, as a roundabout payoff to her dad. After the Florida-based Itera was blacklisted by the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (and shortly before Karen Weldon got the half-million), Curt Weldon sponsored legislation, co-hosted a dinner in the Library of Congress and traveled to Moscow to clear Itera's good name. Around the same time, Karen Weldon was also hired by business partners of former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic; her dad and his chief of staff then flew to the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade to lobby personally (and unsuccessfully) for the removal of the Milosevic partners from America's not-welcome list.

Another one of Weldon's daughters, Kim, landed a full-time job at Agusta-Westland, a subsidiary of Italy's defense giant Finmeccanica, after it won a $1.6 billion contract to build a fleet of new Marine One helicopters for President Bush.

Finally, Weldon's son Andrew's expensive race car driving hobby is financed by Boeing, his father's top campaign contributor.

Weldon himself was a key promoter of Finmeccanica for the Marine One contract, which has been widely reported as a payoff for Italy's support of Bush's Iraq policy. Italy provided what have now been proved to be forged documents that ostensibly showed Saddam Hussein attempted to acquire uranium ore from Niger -- a claim that President Bush leaned upon in his 2003 State of the Union address preparing for pre-emptive war. Italian defense groups have since become partners with the United States in the sale of American warfare technology to sensitive and controversial countries such as Israel, Libya, Iran and republics of the former Eastern Bloc.

During the months leading up to Finmeccanica's surprising capture of the Marine One contract, consulting money flowed to Cecelia "Cece" Grimes, Weldon's real estate agent who calls herself "a longtime family friend." According to disclosure records, Rep. Weldon's chief of staff made a $14,400 trip to Rome, Bari, Genoa and Milan with his wife. This and an $8,200 Italian trip by another Weldon staffer were covered by Fincantieri, an Italian ship maker fully owned by Finmeccanica.

Weldon presents himself as a fierce opponent of unfair foreign competitors who steal American jobs. At the time when Finmeccanica was accused by the European Union of receiving $3.9 billion of interest-free, not-necessary-to-repay loans from the Italian state, Weldon appeared at promotional events for the company. On such occasions, his companions were Giovanni Castellaneta, current Italian ambassador to Washington and at the time also a vice president of Finmeccanica, and Steven Bryen, Finmeccanica USA president who previously served as the Pentagon's top cop preventing foreigners from gaining access to our technologies.

Though Weldon did not return repeated phone calls from New America Media to respond to allegations of impropriety, he has blamed many institutions and individuals for conducting a "smear campaign" against him, including the FBI, the CIA, the Pentagon, Bill Clinton, Sandy Berger (former National Security Adviser) and Mary McCarthy (the discharged CIA officer who exposed the CIA's secret prisons).

Weldon's campaign slogan is "Curt Weldon, Independent Fighter for US." However an analysis of contributions received by the congressman's campaign over the years identifies a number of defense industry contractors, especially foreign ones.

For example, employees of companies represented by CeCe Grimes -- including Oto Melara, another fully owned Finmeccanica subsidiary -- have contributed $27,300 to Weldon's current re-election campaign, while the CEO of Oto Melara contributed $2,700 alone. Agusta-Westland and Agusta Aerospace donated $7,000.

If Weldon is defeated and the Republicans lose their majority in the House, the Congressman most likely to pick up more military-industrial clout is John Murtha, D-Pa., ranking minority member on the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. Because of his prominent opposition to the Iraq War, grateful Democrats are likely to approve whatever military appropriations Murtha wants. Is Murtha less corrupt the Weldon? Back in the 1980 Abscam scandal, the FBI captured Murtha on tape saying he wasn't interested "at this point" in taking a $50,000 payment from the FBI agents posing as Arab sheiks, but he was open to further discussions.

Early drafts of President Eisenhower's famous Farewell Address warned that in the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by "the military-congressional-industrial complex." He dropped the word "congressional" because he didn't want his parting words to be seen as partisan, Congress being controlled by the Democrats at the time. But Ike got it right from the start.
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