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Is Thomas White Fit to Lead the Army?

Secretary of the Army Thomas White is preparing to lead thousands of the nation’s soldiers into war with Iraq and still, not one journalist has spilled any ink on White’s knowledge of the suspect accounting practices at Enron Energy Services, the division he ran for several years before being tapped to run the Army.

This is the same man who admitted in sworn testimony before a Senate committee in July that he phoned dozens of his former colleagues at Enron last year to get information on Enron’s financial condition and whether it would impact the value of his stock he still held in Enron. White’s phone conversations with his Enron buddies took place shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. and while military personnel were being sent to break up the Taliban government in Afghanistan.

White clearly did not have his priorities in order. It’s a valid question to ask whether Thomas White is suited to oversee the Army’s $82 billion budget and one million of the Army’s soldiers who are on active duty. This is the same man who dozens of former Enron employees say headed up a division at Enron that contributed heavily to Enron’s collapse. We are now expected to trust that our soldiers will be in good hands as White leads them off to war.

The media, be it out of laziness or because journalists just don’t give a damn, gave up on pursuing any leads that suggested White took part in the dubious accounting practices that destroyed Enron, one of the biggest corporate scandals in American history. The fact that Thomas White, a highly placed executive at Enron, has said publicly that he was unaware of the suspect accounting practices that took place at the division he ran calls into question his capability of leading the United States Army, especially at a time when war with Iraq seems inevitable.

I spent one-year investigating Thomas White’s role at Enron. In my conversations with more than 50 former employees at Enron Energy Services I was told that White was well respected as a person, a likeable guy, but, at best, he knew that Enron was hiding losses and possibly took part in some of those schemes. White has not yet explained how Enron Energy Services booked a $1.3 billion profit from a contract the unit signed with Eli Lilly even though Enron paid the pharmaceutical company $50 million in cash as an incentive to sign the contract and hid this fact from investors and the public. White’s signature is on the approval sheets and he earned a hefty bonus from the Eli Lilly deal despite the fact Enron Energy Services never performed any of the services described in the contract.

I wonder whether the editorial and op-ed columnists for the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal who called for White’s resignation earlier this year will take White to task again. This time lives are at stake.

JASON LEOPOLD can be reached at: jasonleopold@hotmail.com

 

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JASON LEOPOLD is the former Los Angeles bureau chief of Dow Jones Newswires where he spent two years covering the energy crisis and the Enron bankruptcy. He just finished writing a book about the crisis, due out in December through Rowman & Littlefield. He can be reached at: jasonleopold@hotmail.com

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