Perle Resignation Changes Little

Bill Moyers talked to Chuck Lewis from The Center for Public Integrity about Richard Perle's resignation from the Defense Policy Board and the Center's new study of power, influence and money in Washington. The following is an excerpt from the interview aired on NOW with Bill Moyers on Friday, March 28, 2003 on PBS.

BILL MOYERS: With me now is a familiar figure on our program, Chuck Lewis. Chuck Lewis is the head of the non-partisan Center for Public Integrity in Washington and a frequent collaborator with us and other investigative journalists.

The Center is out this week with a new study of power, influence and money in Washington. It's called, Advisors of Influence, and it couldn't be more timely. The study takes a hard look at the conflicts of interest on something few Americans have heard of: the Defense Policy Board.

This is a group of private citizens, academics, retired military officers and former government officials who serve as voluntary counselors to the Secretary of Defense.

Until yesterday this man was the chairman of the Defense Policy Board. His name, Richard Perle, and he's been in the news a lot recently. No one has been more vigorous or vocal in advocating a war against Iraq.

Once an Assistant Secretary of Defense for Ronald Reagan, he left the administration in 1987. In 1996 Perle helped write this study for an Israeli think tank calling for the removal of Saddam Hussein. Perle's been at it ever since: a major architect of the war now taking place against Iraq. But that's not all he's been after. Richard Perle has been a lobbyist for a foreign arms merchant and other governments. His venture capital firm invests in businesses related to national security.

Recently, the investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reported in the New Yorker that Perle has used his proximity to Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense, to solicit investment for his firm. Perle has threatened to sue Hersh for libel.

Then a few days ago it was learned that the bankrupt telecommunications company Global Crossing has offered Richard Perle over half a million dollars to get Defense Department approval for its take over by a foreign corporation.

The person who would make that decision, none other than Richard Perle's close friend, the man he regularly advises, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Yesterday Richard Perle resigned the chairmanship of the Defense Policy Board. Chuck Lewis, has that changed anything?

CHUCK LEWIS: I don't think it's changed anything. He's still got access to the Secretary of Defense and he's still going to make money from that association.

MOYERS: He resigned the chairmanship but not his membership.

LEWIS: Yes, so he hasn't left. And you know, the ethics folks inside the Pentagon had no problem with any of this that we're describing. All of their disclosures for these folks that serve on this board, all 30 of them, are classified. They're not public information. So we won't know what Perle does in the future. He has shown poor judgment on a number of occasions.

MOYERS: Perle says he's told Global Crossing that he will not accept any compensation from them, but he didn't say he would stop trying to persuade the government from doing what Global Crossing wants. In other words, he still is free to lobby his friend Donald Rumsfeld to do this favor for Global Crossing.

LEWIS: That's right, and he was going to make $725,000 for that, and it was a contingent contract, so that if the Defense Department did what this company wanted he would get a fee, a finder's fee, whatever you want to call it.

He still has associations with Goldman Sachs [offering] investment advice about how to invest in wartime activities, giving seminars like that. He still has associations with other companies. And again, we do not have a disclosure form, we do not know what else he's doing.

MOYERS: So he's got the war he wanted. He's in a position to profit from the war. And he's protected from the public knowing what influence he's actually wielding and what inside information he's getting.

LEWIS: That's right. He has the best of all worlds. He doesn't have to officially give up any of his clients unless he does it voluntarily because of the heat publicly. But he doesn't have to disclose his activities and he gets to have clout and access to the Secretary.

This is a snapshot of the mercenary culture in action. This is how it works in Washington. You serve in government, you leave government, you make tons of money in the process. And the private sector and the public sector become the same. And they're indistinguishable.

MOYERS: In your study [ADVISORS OF INFLUENCE at] you've been looking not only at Richard Perle but at all 30 members of the Defense Policy Board. In summary, what have you found?

LEWIS: Nine out of the 30 have ties to the Defense industry and are either lobbyists, they're executives in Defense companies or they're trustees, board of director type members on these companies. And so there is an apparent potential conflict of interest situation.

MOYERS: Have you been able to identify how much money the companies represented by these nine members of the Defense Policy Board have been getting from the Pentagon?

LEWIS: The companies themselves have contracts in the neighborhood of $75 billion.

MOYERS: The companies on whose... represented by the members of this board, have received how much money?

LEWIS: $75 billion.

MOYERS: What does it tell you?

LEWIS: Well, I think it tells us a part of the story with all this war coverage that maybe we don't want to see, that there are a lot of people getting rich during war. Now, that's not new, there have been war profiteering for centuries in different countries.

MOYERS: Now, you're not talking about companies in Iowa providing shoes for the troops or building airplanes -- you're talking about something else.

LEWIS: No, I'm talking about sort of beltway bandit firms that... wait for the solicitations for bids, and then they apply for them. And with homeland security and the Department of Defense they're just cherry picking contracts, and they're getting bloated.

A defense contractor class that was already well fed is getting bloated because we have so increased the defense budget in the last couple of years, that we're talking tens of billions of dollars higher than it was.

And so the way it has always worked, the military industrial complex that Eisenhower warned this country about 40 years ago, the former generals and the former defense security experts that served in government then go into the private sector, they go to work for these contractors, and people see their names, they're impressed, it has credibility.

And that's how they get their contracts. And it just is a continuation of itself. And then they tell us what weapon systems we need, and they tell us what wars we should be fighting, and it's a self-perpetuating situation.

And it's been going on for years, but what we're seeing in this instance is it's absolutely unabashed. This is a case where the Secretary of Defense knows these people are getting rich because of their association with him.

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