Jeffrey Klein

President Obama Fails His First Hard Choice

Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. -- President Barack Obama in his Inaugural Address

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NY Times Hypes McCain Credentials

"At a meeting in his Pentagon office in early 1981, Secretary of the Navy John F. Lehman told Capt. John S. McCain III that he was about to attain his life ambition: becoming an admiral ... Mr. McCain declined the prospect of his first admiral's star to make a run for Congress, saying that he could 'do more good there,' Mr. Lehman recalled." So claimed the New York Times in a front-page article on May 29 this year.

This story is highly improbable for several reasons, not least of all because John McCain himself has always told a very different story about his stalled naval career. For example, on page 9 of his memoir Worth The Fighting For, McCain writes:

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The Corrupting Power of Military-Industrial Complex

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.

Two Strange Deaths in European Wiretapping Scandal

Just after noon on Friday, July 21, Adamo Bove -- head of security at Telecom Italia, the country's largest telecommunications firm -- told his wife he had some errands to run as he left their Naples apartment. Hours later, police found his car parked atop a freeway overpass. Bove's body lay on the pavement some 100 feet below.

Bove was a master at detecting hidden phone networks. Recently, at the direction of Milan prosecutors, he'd used mobile phone records to trace how a "Special Removal Unit" composed of CIA and SISMI (the Italian CIA) agents abducted Abu Omar, an Egyptian cleric, and flew him to Cairo where he was tortured. The Omar kidnapping and the alleged involvement of 26 CIA agents, whom prosecutors seek to arrest and extradite, electrified Italian media. U.S. media noted the story, then dropped it.

The first Italian press reports after Bove's death said the 42-year-old had committed suicide. Bove, according to unnamed sources, was depressed about his imminent indictment by Milan prosecutors. But prosecutors immediately, and uncharacteristically, set the record straight: Bove was not a target; in fact, he was prosecutors' chief source. Bove, prosecutors said, was helping them investigate his own bosses, who were orchestrating an illegal wiretapping bureau and the destruction of incriminating digital evidence. One Telecom executive had already been forced out when he was caught conducting these illicit operations, as well as selling intercepted information to a business intelligence firm.

About 16 months earlier, in March of 2005, Costas Tsalikidis, a 38-year-old software engineer for Vodaphone in Greece had just discovered a highly sophisticated bug embedded in the company's mobile network. The spyware eavesdropped on the prime minister's and other top officials' cell phone calls; it even monitored the car phone of Greece's secret service chief. Others bugged included civil rights activists, the head of Greece's "Stop the War" coalition, journalists and Arab businessmen based in Athens. All the wiretapping began about two months before the Olympics were hosted by Greece in August 2004, according to a subsequent investigation by the Greek authorities.

Tsalikidis, according to friends and family, was excited about his work and was looking forward to marrying his longtime girlfriend. But on March 9, 2005, his elderly mother found him hanging from a white rope tied to pipes outside of his apartment bathroom. His limp feet dangled a mere three inches above the floor. His death was ruled a suicide; he, like Adamo Bove, left no suicide note.

The next day, Vodaphone's top executive in Greece reported to the prime minister that unknown outsiders had illicitly eavesdropped on top government officials. Before making his report, however, the CEO had the spyware destroyed, even though this destroyed the evidence as well.

Investigations into the alleged suicides of both Adamo Bove and Costas Tsalikidis raise questions about more than the suspicious circumstances of their deaths. They point to politicized, illegal intelligence structures that rely upon cooperative business executives. European prosecutors and journalists probing these spying networks have revealed that:

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Italian Pay-off From Niger Forgery?

Italian journalists and parliamentary investigators are hot on the trail of how pre-Iraq War Italian forged documents were delivered to the White House alleging that Saddam Hussein had obtained yellowcake uranium ore from Niger.

New links implicating Italian companies and individuals with then-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi now raise the question of whether Berlusconi received a payback as part of the deal -- namely, a Pentagon contract to build the U.S. president's special fleet of helicopters.

The yellowcake story in the United States has long been linked to the ongoing investigation into the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame. Plame's diplomat husband Joe Wilson had probed the Niger connection and concluded that the Bush administration was twisting intelligence reports to fit its case for war.

Two people -- Carlo Rossella and Giovanni Castellaneta -- are at the center of Italian inquiries into the transfer of the yellowcake dossier from the SISMI, the Italian intelligence agency, to the White House.

According to the influential Rome-based La Repubblica, Carlo Rossella -- at the time editor-in-chief of Berlusconi's Panorama, one of Italy's largest weeklies -- delivered the dossier in the autumn of 2002 to the U.S. Embassy in Rome. Rossella's actions were puzzling because its top investigative reporter, Elisabetta Burba, was in the midst of discounting the file as a gross falsification.

Besides directing Panorama, Rossella -- once a foreign policy advisor to Berlusconi -- had been considered a candidate to direct RAI, Italy's state broadcasting system.

A more direct connection to Berlusconi is Giovanni Castellaneta, current Italian ambassador to the United States and Berlusconi's former national security adviser.

According to La Repubblica, Nicola Pollari, the head of SISMI, tried to dispel the CIA's misgivings about the authenticity of the yellowcake papers and failed. Castellaneta then arranged for Pollari to bypass the CIA and meet directly with then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and Stephen Hadley, Rice's chief deputy and currently national security advisor. The meeting took place on Sept. 9, 2002, in the White House, and has been confirmed by White House officials.

It was after this meeting that the story of the yellowcake uranium ore from Niger took off. In late September, CIA director George Tenet and Secretary of State Colin Powell cited the attempted yellowcake purchase from Niger in separate classified hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In advance of President Bush's January 2003 State of the Union address, Hadley asked for the CIA's approval to include the Niger claim in the president's speech. Even though the CIA had explicitly excised the claim from a prior address given by the president and now repeated its misgivings to Hadley, Bush ended up saying in his speech that, "Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." Bush attributed this intelligence to the British government. No mention was made of any connections between the Italian and American governments.

What did the Berlusconi government get in return for providing the Bush administration with a convenient "smoking gun" to attack Iraq? At the end of the yellowcake trail may be the prestigious contract an Italian firm won to manufacture Marine One -- the fleet of presidential helicopters. In January 2005, the U.S. Navy awarded the contract for the construction of 23 new Marine One helicopters to AgustaWestland. Marketing itself as an Anglo-Italian firm, AgustaWestland is wholly owned by Finmeccanica, Italy's largest defense conglomerate.

The choice of AgustaWestland for Marine One surprised most industry observers because U.S.-based Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. was the heavy favorite. Sikorsky patented the first helicopter design in 1939 and built virtually every president's helicopter since 1957. President Eisenhower regularly flew in a Sikorsky to his Gettysburg farm, and the Sikorsky that Nixon boarded when he resigned from the White House is now being restored for permanent display at the Nixon Library.

Not only did Sikorsky lose, but it lost to a foreign firm that has no problems selling its helicopters to the United States' adversaries. (See side bar, "Choppers for Sale, to Everyone")

As with the yellowcake dossier, the key figure in the Marine One contract is Gianni Castellaneta. When the Pentagon put the Marine One contract out for bid, Castellaneta was deputy chair of Finmeccanica and national security advisor to Prime Minister Berlusconi. By the time the contract was awarded, Castellaneta had been appointed Italy's ambassador to the United States.

Castellaneta proudly told U.S. Italia Weekly, "At noon President Bush received me for the official delivery of credentials. He didn't make me wait a single day. An exceptional courtesy."

Castellaneta's role in obtaining the Marine One contract has never been examined before, but according to Affari Italiani, Italy's first online daily, and disarmo.org, an Italian arms control advocacy group, Castellaneta has long managed the most sensitive dossiers in U.S.-Italian bilateral relations.

When Ambassador Castellaneta was asked about his role, the embassy press officer, Luca Ferrari said, "In his capacity as ambassador, representing all of Italy in the United States, the ambassador does not care to speak any more about Finmeccanica."

"Castellaneta's double role as ambassador and corporate businessman has come under scrutiny at various junctures," says Carlo Bonini, an Italian journalist who has extensively investigated the yellowcake affair. "His duality has inspired animated debate in the Italian Parliament, but due to the absolute majority of seats held by Berlusconi, the matter could never be fully discussed."

With center-left opposition leader Romano Prodi taking the helm of Italy's new government, the newly reconfigured Parliament is expected to open a probe into the "Yellowcake One" affair. For Italians, the main question is whether Berlusconi personally profited from the helicopter deal. For Americans, the question is whether the Bush administration paid the Italians back for providing the false intelligence that helped justify launching the war in Iraq.

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