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Hardly had the words "unfairly maligned" escaped Dick Cheney’s lips when his former company found itself neck-deep in yet another bribery scandal. Halliburton praised itself for "strong internal detective work" as it revealed the latest "apparent overcharges," amounting this time to $6.3 million.
"In the towns I am tracked by phantoms having weird detective ways," wrote Thomas Hardy.
The phantom detective agency formerly run by Cheney appeared to be going to extraordinary lengths to protect rather than divulge the identities of the two "employees" who allegedly demanded and got $6M in kickbacks for subletting a contract to a Kuwaiti firm (whose identity is also a mystery).
Elements missing from both the "detective report" and, alas, the media coverage of the scandal: Who were these mysterious "employees"? How high up in the corporate hierarchy were they? What were their job titles? What has happened to them? Where are they now?
Forbes called them "workers," as though they carried lunch buckets and sang Woody Guthrie songs. Apparently Forbes believes "workers" are typically in a position to sign-off on major international contracts and demand multi-million dollar kickback fees.
Most accounts since the story broke have simply identified the alleged bribe-takers as humble "employees." In some versions they appear as "officials" or even "staffers." Sent by a temp agency, perhaps?
It was up to The Guardian and a few other sources, mostly outside the U.S., to identify the perps as "executives."
Whatever they were, they were placed high enough to be negotiating contracts big enough to permit them to skim off $6 million.
Assume, then, that we are talking about "executives." What happened to them?
Both the Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press reported last Friday that Halliburton had fired them. Most press accounts have repeated the firings as fact. Reuters, however, originally reported that Halliburton "declined to say the employees had been fired."
Most interestingly, CBS News (also last Friday) cited unnamed sources who claimed the two people "left before the problem was discovered and were not fired." Did they leave with the $6M?
If two "employees" grabbed $6M in kickbacks, some might (and did) wonder, why was it Halliburton (and not, say, the two crooks who took the bribe) who cut the check to reimburse the government? Is corporate money one thing, but personal money another?
"The key issue here," said Halliburton spokeswoman Wendy Hall, "is self-disclosure and self-reporting."
Actually, Wendy, the issue is corruption.
Hall’s efforts to turn a confession of criminal behavior into an orgy of self-congratulation were nothing compared to the company’s decision to relaunch an ad campaign to "counter negative publicity." Actually, the ads have been running since last November, with spots airing on CNN, MSNBC, Fox and selected local news programs.
When they first appeared, Preston Turegano (of Sign-on San Diego) observed that the campaign makes Halliburton unique among other Iraq and Afghanistan contract holders, who "do not have TV spots ballyhooing their business in the Middle East." He found the ads reminiscent of the campaign Saudi Arabia launched in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, carried out for the most part by Saudi men.
Halliburton is running paid print announcements, too. In a Houston Chronicle ad, CEO Dave Lesar says "not many companies have our know-how" then proceeds to call flipping omelets for troops a "special skill," not a "special interest."
Lesar somehow neglects to mention the fact that, as NBC News reported last December, the Pentagon has repeatedly warned Halliburton and its subsidiary KBR that U.S. troops in Iraq were being served dirty food in dirty mess halls. The Pentagon reported finding "blood all over the floor," "dirty pans," "dirty grills," "dirty salad bars" and "rotting meats and vegetables" in military messes the company operates in Iraq.
Blood all over the mess hall floor. Including the one where George W. Bush posed with a turkey on Thanksgiving.
DAVID VEST writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch. He and his band, The Willing Victims, just released a scorching new CD, Way Down Here.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit his website at http://www.rebelangel.com