When George W. Bush’s first choice to head an “independent” probe into the Sept. 11 attacks–suspected war criminal Henry Kissinger–went down like a bad pretzel, he quickly plucked another warm body from the stagnant pool of Establishment worthies who are periodically called upon to roll out the whitewash when the big boys screw up.
Kissinger’s replacement, retired New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean, was a “safe pair of hands,” we were assured by the professional assurers in the mainstream media. The fact that he’d been out of public life for years–and that he hadn’t collaborated in the deaths of tens of thousands of Cambodians, Chileans and East Timorese–certainly made him less controversial than his predecessor, although to be fair, Kissinger’s expertise in mass murder surely would have given the panel some unique insights into the terrorist atrocity.
But now it seems that Kean might possess some unique insights of his own. Fortune Magazine reports this week that both Kean and Bush share an unusually well-placed business partner: one Khalid bin Mahfouz — perhaps better known as “Osama bin Laden’s bagman” or even “Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law.”
Kean, like so many worthies, followed the revolving door out of public service into lucrative sweetheart deals and well-wadded sinecures on corporate boards. One of these, of course, is an oil company–pretty much a requirement for White House work these days. (Or as the sign says on the Oval Office door: “If your rigs ain’t rockin’, don’t come a-knockin’!”) Kean is a director of Amerada Hess, an oil giant married up to Saudi Arabia’s Delta Oil in a venture to pump black gold in Azerbaijan. (The partnership is incorporated in a secretive offshore “tax haven,” natch. You can’t expect a worthy like Kean to pay taxes like some grubby wage slave.)
One of Delta’s biggest backers is the aforesaid Mahfouz, a Saudi wheeler-dealer who has bankrolled some of most dubious players on the world scene: Abu Nidal, Manuel Noreiga, Saddam Hussein and George W. Bush. Mahfouz was also a front for the bin Laden family, funneling their vast wealth through American cut-outs in a bid to gain power and influence in the United States.
One of those cut-outs was Mahfouz factotum James Bath, a partner in George W.’s early oil venture, Arbusto. Bath has admitted serving as a pass-through for secret Saudi money. Years later, when Bush’s maladroit business skills were about to sink another of his companies, Harken Energy, the firm was saved by a $25 million investment from a Swiss bank–a subsidiary of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BBCI), partly owned by the beneficent Mahfouz.
What was BCCI? Only “one of the largest criminal enterprises in history,” according to the U.S. Senate. What did BCCI do? “It engaged in pandemic bribery of officials in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas,” says journalist Christopher Bryon, who first exposed the operation. “It laundered money on a global scale, intimidated witnesses and law officers, engaged in extortion and blackmail. It supplied the financing for illegal arms trafficking and global terrorism. It financed and facilitated income tax evasion, smuggling and prostitution.” Sort of an early version of the Bush Regime, then.
BCCI’s bipartisan corruption first permeated the Carter Administration, then came to full flower in the Reagan-Bush years. The CIA uncovered the bank’s criminal activities in 1981–no great feat, considering how many of its own foreign “associates” were involved, including the head of Saudi intelligence, Kamal Adham, brother-in-law of King Faisal. But instead of stopping the drug-runners and terrorists, the agency decided to join them, using BCCI’s secret channels to finance “black ops” all over the world.
When a few prosecutors finally began targeting BCCI’s operations in the late Eighties, President George Herbert Walker Bush boldly moved in with a federal probe directed by Justice Department investigator Robert Mueller. The U.S. Senate later found that the probe had been unaccountably “botched”–witnesses went missing, CIA records got “lost,” all sorts of bad luck. Lower-ranking prosecutors told of heavy pressure from on high to “lay off.” Most of the big BCCI players went unpunished or, like Mahfouz, got off with wrist-slap fines and sanctions. Mueller, of course, wound up as head of the FBI, appointed to the post in July 2001–by George W. Bush.
In the late 1990s, U.S. authorities identified Mahfouz as a major financier of his brother-in-law’s extracurricular activities. He denied it, but the spooked Saudis put him on ice, charging him with, of all things, bank fraud. He’s now under “house arrest”–or rather, “palatial mansion arrest”–but still wheeling and dealing with Kean and Delta and other worthies. Indeed, one of Mahfouz’s hirelings–the director of a Pakistani bank he owns–sits on the advisory board of our old friend the Carlyle Group, cheek by jowl with the firm’s most celebrated shill: George Herbert Walker Bush.
Somehow we doubt that worthy Kean will poke very hard at the nexus of intersections between his own business partner, Mahfouz, and the bin Ladens, the Bushes, the Saudi royals, Saddam, the CIA and BCCI. We’ve only scratched the surface here, but even this cursory glance makes the current world crisis look less like some grand geopolitical “clash of civilizations” and more like a nasty falling out among thieves, with rival mafias–who sometimes collude, sometimes collide–now duking it out for turf, cloaking their murderous criminality with pious rhetoric about freedom, security, jihad and God.
CHRIS FLOYD is a columnist for the Moscow Times and a regular contributor to CounterPunch. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org