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"More Powerful Than the US Army"

Straight to Bechtel

by JEFFREY ST. CLAIR

On the second anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, Bechtel, the gargantuan global construction firm based in San Francisco, issued its revenue numbers for 2004. While the situation continued to deteriorate for the US military forces in Iraq, Bechtel reported more fragrant news.

Although the privately-owned company doesn’t disclose its profits, Bechtel did announce that its income was soaring to new heights not seen since the 1960s when the company was damming some of the world’s most glorious canyons, building some of the most dangerous nuclear plants and constructing military bases for the staging of the war on Vietnam.

For the year 2004, Bechtel brought in more than $17.4 billion, a record haul for the company. That makes two record years in a row. Last year Bechtel earned more than $17 billion for the first time. Both peaks were all the more impressive given the senescent condition of the economy.

Much of that robust income stream is coming from its operations in Iraq, where Bechtel is the king of contractors. A few days after the war began, the US Agency for International Development handed Bechtel a $680 million contract for the reconstruction of Iraq infrastructure, a by-invitation-only deal awarded in a secret process. That number has been jacked up twice and now totals more than $1.8 billion and may eventually reach as much as $50 billion.

Under the terms of the deal, Bechtel got $515 million to rebuild Iraq’s power generating stations; $33 million for rebuilding roads and railroads; $44 million to dredge the seaport at Umm Qasr; $45 million to rehab the Iraqi telephone network, covering 240,000 phone lines; $52 million for repair of the Baghdad airport; $208 million to rebuild sewage and water treatment plants; and $53 million for the reconstruction of Iraqi schools.

For this initial round of contracts alone, Bechtel was also guaranteed another $80 million for company profits.

The obliteration of Iraq’s civic buildings, roads and power plants proved to be a billion-dollar bonanza for Bechtel. To build you must first destroy.

The company won’t say how much of its revenue comes from its Iraq contracts, but it probably amounts to about 10 percent of the total haul. "Iraq’s a big job for us," says Jude Laspa, Bechtel’s executive vice-president. "But not the biggest."

True enough. But most of Bechtel’s earnings come with an ironclad guarantee of a profit, a guarantee backed by the federal government. Indeed, more than half of Bechtel’s revenues come courtesy of the government, many of the deals awarded without competitive bidding and on a cost-plus basis-meaning the company is paid based upon how much it bills the government and not necessarily how much the project actually cost.

Moreover, when the Bechtel does non-US government business in the Third World, it often enjoys the financial backing of the US in the form of subsidized loans from the Export-Import Bank and insurance from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.

"Our business is a lumpy business," said Laspa. "Some projects come through that are a billion, some are a mere $200 million." (Note the sly emphasis on "mere.")

One of Bechtel’s biggest non-Iraq "lumps" is a $5 billion deal to take over the management of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, the most radioactive landscape in the Western Hemisphere. The contract at Hanford, where the US government once made plutonium for hydrogen bombs, will provide Bechtel with a steady stream of income over the next five to ten years, cleaning up radioactive debris and chemical waste, and prepping the site for what may become a new generation of nuclear weapons production.

Bechtel also won the choice contract to manage the Nevada Test Site, another multi-billion dollar deal. Bechtel is supposed to rehab the test site, turn part of it into a bizarre tourist destination and, according to some insiders, prepare the grounds for another round of nuclear testing.

Rarely does a big Pentagon construction project surface that doesn’t have role set aside especially for Bechtel. Thus it should surprise no one that Bechtel has gotten a piece of the biggest boondoggle of our time, the $100 billion Ballistic Missile Defense project, AKA Star Wars. In a joint venture with Lockheed, Bechtel got a contract to build and manage the Ballistic Missile Defense test site in the Marshall Islands. Just another juicy lump in the gravy train.


* * *

The origins of the world’s largest engineering firm date to 1898, when Oakland businessman Warren Bechtel won a contract to level the grade for railroad beds across California and Oklahoma, using mules and Chinese and prison laborers. The rise of the company is vividly sketched in Leon McCartney’s riveting history, Friends in High Places: the Bechtel Story.

In 1930, Bechtel joined forces with another Bay Area tycoon, Harry Kaiser, to Boulder Canyon with Hoover Dam, which clogged the Colorado River for 200 miles. At the time this curved monstrosity was billed as the largest construction project since the building of the Great Pyramid at Giza.

In the 1940s, with World War II in full-throttle, Stephen Bechtel, son of Warren Bechtel, teamed up with his college roommate John A. McCone. The Bechtel-McCone partnership specialized in making billions from the war through shipbuilding and military base construction projects. McCone also introduced Bechtel to the lucrative oil services business, an enterprise for all seasons but one which blooms with special vigor during times of war. Soon Bechtel was building oil refineries and pipelines across the world, include a secret Alaska pipeline as part of a project for the War Department. Thirty years later, Bechtel would be the lead contractor for the big Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which sluices crude oil from Prudhoe Bay to the port of Valdez.

Blazing a course that so many future Bechtel executives would canter down, McCone, one of the more sinister characters of the 20th century, left Bechtel for Washington, where he became head of the Atomic Energy Commission and one of the central figures in the instigation of the Cold War. McCone soon introduced his new friend, Allen Dulles, the nation’s top spy, to his old partner in the Bay Area, Stephen Bechtel.

Dulles and Bechtel became fast friends and golfing buddies. While slicing drives at Congressional Country Club and shanking irons into the Pacific at Pebble Beach, the two men would discuss the clandestine opportunities for a privately-owned firm like Bechtel in Dulles’s shadow world. It is from Dulles that the Bechtel family acquired its obsession with secrecy. Long before the advent of Hollywood stalkers and anarchist pie throwers, the Bechtel family and its top executives traveled with bodyguards. The family has even gone so far as to petition a California court to shield their voter registration cards from public inspection.

More often than not, the talk between Dulles and Bechtel turned to oil and the Middle East. Under Dulles’s guidance, Bechtel stepped up its operations in the Persian Gulf region, especially in Saudi Arabia. Bechtel engineered the oil infrastructure for the Standard Oil Company’s burgeoning empire in Saudi Arabia, building pipelines, refineries, highways and ports. When Standard Oil’s Aramco partnership in Saudi Arabia was nationalized, Bechtel didn’t miss a beat. Instead, the company inaugurated a profitable new relationship with the Saudi royal family and went right to work building airports, military bases and an 850-mile long pipeline from Saudi Arabia to Jordan.

Somewhere along the line, the Bechtels encountered Saudi Arabia’s largest construction company, which is also a family-run empire, called Bin Laden Construction. Founded by Osama’s father, Mohammed Bin Laden, the Bin Laden firm worked on dozens of joint projects with the Bechtel Corporation, which had already perfected the art of subcontracting out hard labor to low-paid workers in the Third World. Outsourcing is a strategy that Bechtel is using in Iraq today, where 92 percent of its work there is subcontracted out. The Bin Ladens and Bechtels remain close to this day. Indeed, the Bin Laden family owns a $10 million stake in the Fremont Group, the Bechtel Corporation’s investment subsidiary. Moreover, the BinLaden Group is a doing work on Bechtel’s biggest contract, the $20 billion deal with Saudi government to excavate two new ports, in what has been called the most expensive construction project in world history. Well, since the last big Bechtel project.

From Saudi Arabia, Bechtel soon extended its reach in the Middle East to Bahrain, Kuwait, Iraq and Iran. Not all of these countries were as gracious as the Saudi’s when American oil companies and their associated firms like Bechtel came calling to drill into their sands. For example, following the 1958 coup in Iraq, one of Bechtel’s top executives, George Colley, Jr., was yanked from his car and stoned to death on a Baghdad street, in a scene that eerily foreshadows the abductions and assassinations of US contractors in Iraq today. Of course, Bechtel wouldn’t let the killing of an executive stand in the way of making money. After a more compliant regime took control of Baghdad, Bechtel was back, building a pipeline for the Iraq Petroleum Company running from Kirkuk to the Syrian port of Baniyas and helping Saddam himself construct the Bekme hydropower dam near the Iraq border with Turkey. As we shall see, this wasn’t Bechtel’s only dalliance with the Beast of Baghdad.

When Iran antagonized US oil companies and the CIA by nationalizing their oil reserves, Allen Dulles and Kermit Roosevelt sought and received Bechtel’s assistance in the CIA run coup that overthrew Mossadeq and installed the Shah. Bechtel provided a similar service in 1965 when the CIA instigated the bloody coup that toppled President Sukarno of oil-rich Indonesia and put into place the corrupt and iron-fisted regime of General Suharto.

After Dulles was eased out of the CIA, John F. Kennedy picked Bechtel’s old hand, John McCone, to replace him as the nation’s top intelligence spook and Stephen Bechtel himself became the CIA’s emissary to the Business Council. The Agency and the company have rarely pursued separate interests since then.


* * *

When it comes to governmental relations, Bechtel goes both ways: it penetrates the government and the government penetrates it. Over the past forty years, Bechtel has trawled for executives from the Pentagon, State Department, Interior Department, World Bank, and the West Wing of the White House. It’s executives have included Robert Hollingsworth, the former head of the Atomic Energy Commission; Parker T. Hart, former ambassador to Saudi Arabia; Rear Admiral John G. Dillon, head of the Pentagon’s construction office; former Senator J. Bennett Johnston, the Louisiana Democrat and oil industry legislative enforcer, was named to the board of Nexant, a Bechtel subsidiary; and Richard Helms, former director of the CIA.

These days Bechtel’s top recruit from DC is its executive Vice-President Jack Sheehan. Sheehan, a four-star general who served as head of the Atlantic Command and as NATO supreme, oversees Bechtel’s chemical and oil operations, with a particular focus, naturally, on the opportunities in the Middle East and Central Asia. Sheehan has some experience there as well. In the late 1990s, Bill Clinton called upon Sheehan to serve as his special adviser to Central Asia, where he scrutinized oil reserves and pipeline routes in far off places like Baku, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan. Politically, Sheehan is ambidextrous, lending his talents with equal vigor to Democrats and Republicans. Soon after Bush’s installation as president, he and Donald Rumsfeld recruited Sheehan to serve on the influential Defense Policy Board, once commanded by ultra-hawk Richard Perle.

Under the right circumstances, Bechtel is more than willing to loan out some of its corporate stars to the feds–on a temporary basis, of course. In 2003, President Bush named Riley Bechtel, the company’s current CEO, to serve on the Export Council, a team of corporate chieftains and economists that sets trade policy, a policy which seems to focus more on exporting jobs than products.

The former head of Bechtel’s energy division, Ross Connolly, was named by Bush as the vice president of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). OPIC provides financial backing and underwrites insurance for US companies doing business in places where the indigenous population is often less than thrilled about their presence and economic pursuits, which often take the unpleasant form of toxic gold mines, power plants, chemical factories, pipelines or hydro dams. Needless to say, Bechtel is a frequent recipient of OPIC’s largesse.

Similarly, Bechtel has shrewdly seeded with its executives the upper layers of the Export-Import Bank, which provides government loan guarantees for US companies doing business overseas. In August of 2002, Clinton named Daniel Chao, vice president of Bechtel Holdings, to a coveted slot on the bank’s advisory committee. The Ex-Im Bank, which has provided tens of millions in loan guarantees for Bechtel over the years, was once headed by John L. Moore, a former VP at the company, and Stephen Bechtel himself once adorned its advisory board.

It was back in Reagan time, however, when Bechtel seem to reach an apogee of influence over the operations of the federal government. For Defense Secretary, Reagan picked Caspar Weinberger, Bechtel’s longtime general counsel. Over at Langley, Reagan enthroned William Casey as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Casey had been on retainer with Bechtel as a special consultant for many years.

Then there was George Shultz, Reagan’s Secretary of State. Prior to joining the Reagan administration, Shultz served as president of Bechtel, where one of the big projects on the drawing board was a long-desired pipeline from Iraq to Jordan.

After the Iranian revolution, Bechtel had been booted from Iran by the Ayatollah. To counter this ungracious exile, Bechtel warmed once again to its old friends in Iraq, then engaged in a bloody war with Iran.

From his desk at Foggy Bottom, Shultz summoned his old pal Donald Rumsfeld for a covert assignment. He appointed Rummy his special envoy to Saddam Hussein and sent him to Iraq in 1983 with the task of convincing the Iraqi dictator to back Bechtel’s plan for a pipeline across Iraq to Aqaba in Jordan.

Rumsfeld’s trips to Baghdad would prove fateful assignations for all concerned. The fallout would even lead to the appointment of a special prosecutor tasked with looking into the role Attorney General Edwin Meese, another Californian with more than a passing acquaintance with Bechtel, played in the affair.

Rumsfeld landed in Baghdad in December 1983, where he held a series of meetings with Saddam and Tariq Aziz, the Deputy Prime Minister. This secret conclave occurred at on of the bloodiest moments of the Iran/Iraq war, a war the US tacitly backed as a way to destabilize the revolutionary mullahs of Iran. By this time, it was well known by US intelligence that Saddam had used poison gas against Iranian troops, killing and maiming thousands.

Two decades later, as the Bush administration ramped up the war rhetoric against Saddam, Rumsfeld would claim that his journey to Baghdad was a heroic and virtuous mission, where he chastised the Iraqi strongman to his face for committing crimes against humanity.

Saddam, however, had the foresight to videotape several of the parlays. One infamous clip shows a deferential Rumsfeld smiling and shaking the hand of the Tiger of Tikrit. Later Rumsfeld, like a witness before the Iran/contra committee, would claim he had no clear recollection of pressing the flesh with Saddam.

However, the true motives behind those missions are now coming into focus, thanks to internal Reagan administration documents unearthed through the Freedom of Information Act by the National Security Archives and through the excellent reporting of Jim Vallette. Rumsfeld did not browbeat Saddam over gassing Iranians and Kurds or for his pursuit of a nuclear bomb. He was there to beg the dictator’s indulgence on behalf of Bechtel’s dream pipeline to Aqaba.

Saddam may have been born in a hut and he may show a peculiar fascination with romance novels, but he was more than an intellectual match for the plodding Rumsfeld. Hussein scrutinized Bechtel’s plans and told Rumsfeld that he was interested in finding a new outlet for Iraqi oil but that he was hesitant to sign a $2 billion check over to Bechtel to build a pipeline that ran so near the Israel. Saddam explained to Rumsfeld that he would need assurance that the Israelis would not bomb the pipeline once it began operations. It was a reasonable consideration, given the fact that Israeli MiGs had annihilated Saddam’s Osiraq nuclear power plant on June 7, 1981.

Rumsfeld conveyed Saddam’s concerns to his boss George Shultz. And here’s where the affair slides from sleazy to felonious. Shultz has since claimed that he recused himself from all Bechtel related matters while he headed the State Department. Yet Schultz closely reviewed a top secret State Department cable which spelled out Saddam’s fears regarding Israeli sabotage and speculated about ways in which they might be addressed by the Reagan administration. "In response to Rumsfeld’s interest in seeing Iraq increase oil exports, including through a possible new pipeline across Jordan to Aqaba, Saddam suggested Israeli threat to security of such a line was major concern and US might be able to provide some assurances in this regard."

Soon the State Department went to work to meet Saddam’s conditions. Here the heavy-lifting shifted from Rumsfeld to Under-Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, then Shultz’s top deputy for political affairs. Eagleburger, a protégé of Henry Kissinger who now adorns the board of Halliburton, endeavored to find political financing for the pipeline project. Only days after Rummy returned from his parlay with Saddam, Eagleburger fired off a memo to the Export-Import Bank urging them to back the Bechtel project. The December 22, 1984 Eagleburger memo the Ex-Im Bank directors said the loan "would signal our belief in the future viability of the Iraqi economy and secure a US foothold in a potentially large export market."

Stocked as it was with Bechtel loyalists, the Ex-Im Bank didn’t need much prodding from above. But Eagleburger’s intervention on behalf of Saddam and Bechtel put the project on the fast-track. By June of 1984, the Ex-Im Bank had approved a $485 million dollar loan for the pipeline. This generous dollop of corporate welfare was soon followed by a similar pledge from the Overseas Private Investment Corp., which chipped in with promises of ensuring the pipeline against damages caused by Israeli missiles.

But Saddam still wasn’t satisfied, as he explained to Rumsfeld in a second visit. The thorny problem of Israeli sabotage needed to be resolved before he would sign off on the deal with Bechtel.

To vault this final hurdle, the State Department and Bechtel turned to a shady Swiss financier called Bruce Rappaport. Rappaport, who Bechtel offered to make a partner in the deal, was a close friend of Shimon Peres, the leader of the Israel’s Labor Party and then Prime Minister. According to Rappaport, Peres, when approached about Saddam’s complaint, said that Israel would need to be richly compensated in exchange for writing a pledge not to destroy the Aqaba pipeline.

Under a deal devised by Rappaport, Bechtel and Saddam would give the executive a 10 percent discount on freshets oil from the pipeline and Rappaport would in turn hand over a portion of that money, estimated to be in excess of $70 million, to Peres’s Labor Party coffers.

This convoluted bribery scheme was communicated to the Reagan administration by one of Rappaport’s partners, E. Robert Wallach, a DC lawyer with close ties to Edwin Meese, then Reagan’s attorney general. In a memo to Meese, Wallach noted that "though it would be denied everywherea portion of those funds will go directly to Labor." That memo, among others, would spark the appointment of James McKay as an Independent Counsel looking into allegations of financial corruption and ripe ethical lapses involving Meese and top White House advisor Lynn Nofsinger.

McKay’s report makes for illuminating reading on the mutually enriching intersection of politics, diplomacy and trans-national corporate villainy. Among other things, we learn that Bechtel also recruited two other luminaries of the US intelligence community, former CIA director James Schlesinger and Reagan’s former National Security Advisor William Clark. Schlesinger and Clark worked on Saddam. Clark threw himself into the assignment with such enthusiasm that he even tried to convince the Iraqi dictator that he was an emissary from Reagan himself. In the end Saddam didn’t bite and the deal fell through.

Meese, a bit player by any standard, resigned under a cloud and became an object of media ridicule and late night jokes, depicting the pudgy prosecutor of public morality as the James Watt of the Justice Department. But no investigation was ever launched into the truly corrupt machinations of Shultz and his coterie at the State Department. Indeed, Shultz skated through the numerous scandals of Reagan time largely unblemished and emerged as one of the media’s favorite "wise old men." Naturally, this exalted reputation as an éminence grise served Shultz and his masters well when he returned to private life and the board of directors of Bechtel.


* * *

Despite the setback after the Aqaba pipeline dead fell through, Bechtel didn’t abandon Iraq. In 1988, Bechtel inked a $2 billion deal with Saddam to build and operate a huge petro-chemical plant outside Baghdad. On its foul menu of toxic chemicals, the plant brewed up large batches of ethylene oxide, an ingredient in the manufacture of plastic.

But ethylene oxide also has another use. It is a chemical precursor for the manufacture of mustard gas. Despite prohibitions against providing Iraq with so-called dual use chemicals, Bechtel didn’t pull out of the project until the first Gulf War appeared to be immanent.

No sanctions were ever level against the company for supplying Saddam’s regime with the building blocks for restocking his chemical weapons arsenal. Indeed, when Iraq submitted its much derided inventory of its chemical weapons stockpile to the UN in the fall of 2002, it identified Bechtel as a chief supplier. This embarrassing disclosure, however, was redacted by the Bush administration before the documents were released to the press. It only came to light after the French released the uncensored documents and by then the US press couldn’t be bothered to pursue the story.

After the first Gulf War, Bechtel won a $2 billion contract for reconstruction of Kuwait City, a deal which was secured, according some sources, through the judicious application of under-the-table dispensations to key members of the Kuwait royal family. Standard business in Kuwait. Just ask Halliburton.

With the cruel sanction regime imposed on Iraq by the US blocking further Bechtel joint ventures with Saddam, the company began to explore new global opportunities wrenched open by the neo-liberal economic policies of the Clinton administration.

In 1999, heeding to the lash of the World Bank and Clinton’s State Department, the government of Bolivia agreed to privatize the public water utility in the city of Cochabamba. Under a bill pushed through the Bolivian parliament in October 1999, the government turned the management of the utility in this arid city to International Water, Inc., a subsidiary of Bechtel. Almost immediately, Bechtel jacked up the price of the monthly water bill to about $20, a staggering amount for citizens of a city where the average monthly income is around $100. Soon thousands of people failed to pay their bills with the predictable consequence of having their water shut off.

The bills and the shut-offs propelled thousands of protesters into the streets. In January of 2000, demonstrators effectively shut down the city for a week, before they were violently suppressed by the national guard, at the behest of Bechtel. Over the course of the next few months, hundreds of thousands of Bolivians took to the streets in solidarity and joined marches to the embattled city. There were general strikes and counterattacks, which left hundreds injured and several dead in the streets. The protests almost brought down the government and eventually the privatization bill was repealed and Bechtel was booted from Bolivia, leaving the good people of Cochambamba with their old water company and a crushing mound of debt.

Naturally, Bechtel didn’t leave without firing a parting shot. The company filed a breach of contract suit with the World Court demanding $25 million from this destitute nation.

Similar ventures were launched in the Philippines and India. Indeed, Bechtel is now the world’s biggest transnational water company. But that honor doesn’t make their presence any easier to swallow. In India’s Tamil Nadu province, Bechtel’s role in the privatization of the water and sanitation systems of the city of Tirupur, known as "T-shirt Town" for all the textile plants, sparked violent protests. (Connoisseurs of corporate crime will also recall Bechtel’s joint venture with Enron to build and run the $2 billion natural gas power plant at Dabhol in the state of Maharashtra. The operations racked up a cruel litany of abuses from bribery of state officials to land theft, pollution and arrests of demonstrators on trumped up charges.)

Bechtel’s experience in the privatization of public resources, while an unhappy one in Bolivia, proved a kind of corporate test-drive for the fire sale that would await the company in the wake of the war on Iraq and the toppling of Saddam’s Ba’athist regime.

After the 9/11 attacks, Bechtel executives sensed an opportunity to return to its old haunts in Iraq, unfettered by sanctions or the nitpicking of Saddam. Along with its old emissary Donald Rumsfeld-who, only hours after witnessing the walls of the Pentagon crumple from an attack by a passenger jet commandeered by a Saudi, called for the bombing of Iraq-Bechtel geared up for war on Saddam. For the job, it hauled out the company’s old war-horse, George Shultz, then serving as a Bechtel board member and senior counselor.

In early 2002, Shultz, along with Lockheed executive Bruce Jackson, set up an outfit (call it a "war tank") called the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, which he himself chaired. From this perch, Shultz and his cohort, including Richard Perle and former CIA director James Woolsey, fired off pro-invasion op-eds, lobbied congress and scattered across the cable news talk shows beating the war drums.

With public support for the war showing signs of wavering in the late fall of 2002, Shultz penned an article in the Washington Post which called for the ouster of his old friend and business partner Saddam Hussein. In the past, Shultz had dismissed as unavoidable trifles of war the gassing of Iraqi Kurds and Iranian troops in the interest of doing business with the Iraqi dictator. But now, even though his own company had built a dual use chemical plant for Saddam, Shultz begged the public to support an invasion of Iraq to eliminate those very same weapons of mass destruction. "A strong foundation exists for immediate military action against Hussein and for a multilateral effort to rebuild Iraq after he is gone," Shultz wrote. Here multilateral should be translated as multinational, as in multinational corporations, like Bechtel.

And so it came to pass. First the cruise missiles, then the contracts. The first big reconstruction contract was awarded a few days after the start of the war in a secret bidding process headed by USAID administrator Andrew Nastios, who formerly oversaw the "Big Dig" project in Boston, where, yes, Bechtel was the lead contractor. As a bonus, the company was indemnified against all liabilities it might incur doing business in Iraq.

* * *

So over the course of the last two years, Bechtel has been making tons of money from the war on Iraq that its executives helped orchestrate. But two years after the fall of Baghdad and billions later in reconstruction contracts, the daily situation for most Iraqis is worse than it was before the war. The power grid remains unreliable. Hundreds of sewage treatment plants are still inoperable, with millions of gallons of filthy water pouring into the Tigris and Euphrates every day. The phone system is primitive at best. The trains still don’t run. The highways are cratered. The Baghdad airport serves only military flights. Schools are splashed with a coat of paint and told to reopen.

When local Iraqi officials object or try to offer advice, they are ignored or bullied. "The impression we get is that Bechtel is more powerful than the US Army," says Dr. Nabil Khudair Abbas, a top official with the new Iraqi government’s Ministry of Education.

No one reviews or evaluates Bechtel’s work. It’s too dangerous and few non-Iraqis give a damn, anyway. Certainly, not the Bechtel executives, operating out of their opulent penthouses in Qatar and Kuwait City.

"If the Americans had given us the money directly, we could have done a much better job," says Abdeel Razzaq Ali, headmaster of the Anbariyn School in a poor, Shiite area of Baghdad. "We do we need Bechtel? They have done absolutely nothing."

Perhaps someone should tell the Iraqi people about the secret motto of this family run empire as dictated years ago by longtime CEO Stephen Bechtel: "We’re more about making money, than making things."

Buyer beware.

JEFFREY ST. CLAIR is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature. This essay is excerpted from his forthcoming book Grand Theft Pentagon, to be published in July by Common Courage Press.