Hastert, Helicopters, Textron, Turkey, Cash…

Chris Deliso, August 14, 2005

First of all, my new interview with former FBI translator turned whistleblower Sibel Edmonds- a very interesting read- is now out on Antiwar.com. If you aren’t familiar with her case, read last year’s interview, as well as this and this.

Corruption in high places was alleged in a recent Vanity Fair article that surveyed government whistleblowers, including Edmonds, and unnamed congressional sources. The most sensational one was that House Speaker Dennis Hastert was paid up to $500,000 five years ago by the Turkish lobby to derail a bill that would have recognized the Armenian genocide carried out in the dying days of the Ottoman Empire.

While it cited FBI wiretapped phone conversations from 2000 mentioning Hastert, the magazine conceded that there was no way of proving this allegation.

For his part, Hastert had always claimed that his eleventh-hour decision to quash the bill in October, 2000 owed directly to the intercesson of then-President Clinton, who sent a letter to him personally requesting that maintaining good relations with Turkey were more important than Armenian heritage: “We have significant interests in this troubled region of the world: containing the threat posed by East and Central Asia, stabilizing the Balkans and developing new sources of energy.”

Indeed, the potential ill effects of irritating Turkey were vocally stated, not least of all by the Turkish authorities themselves. And this pressure probably meant the death of the bill regardless. But if Hastert was able to bluff the Turkish lobby into giving him 500G unnecessarily, hey, more power to him.

But the tale is more complex. Consider this contemporary report on human rights and military sales to Turkey:

“…Once House leaders decided to move the resolution, it easily passed in committee and headed to the House floor. Outraged representatives of Turkey’s government threatened to halt negotiations with Textron and instead buy helicopters from a Russian-Israeli consortium, according to Bloomberg News Service. Worried that the $4.5 billion deal might collapse, Textron lobbied the congressmen who represent the area surrounding the company’s Fort Worth plant to kill the resolution. ‘We felt it was important to support Turkey,’ explains [Textron Spokesman Gene] Kozicharow.”

It’s also very interesting to look at the context, five years ago. From the same article:

“…President Bill Clinton warned earlier this year that angering Turkey could have ‘far-reaching negative consequences for the United States.’

Eager to bolster its stock price, which has lost more than half its value in the last 18 months, Textron is using Clinton’s views to its advantage. ‘We agree with the State Department,’ says Gene Kozicharow, Textron’s Washington-based director of public affairs, referring to Clinton’s warning. But when asked whether Textron agrees with the State Department’s damning assessment of human-rights abuses in Turkey, Kozicharow responded, ‘I think I’m going to cut this off, Steve [the journalist]. Talk to you later,’ and hung up.”

Another contemporary report put the deal in context- and raised further serious questions about whether it would result in short-term profit and long-term loss:

“…In July 2000, the Turkish government chose Bell Helicopter Textron’s AH-1Z KingCobra over the other four finalists: Boeing, Kamov Helicopter (Russian-Israeli consortium), Agusta, (Italy), and the Europcopter (Franco-German). But to maintain pressure to receive a U.S. export license and the best possible contract terms, Turkey is keeping the Russian-Israeli model in the competition until the deal is signed, sealed, and delivered. At issue is the amount of local production and technology transfer that Turkey will receive. Ankara has plans to become an independent producer of attack helicopters, just as it used to manufacture and export F-16s under license in the 1980′s and 1990′s. Anxious to seal this lucrative deal, Bell Textron may be willing to give away the store, including not just a license to produce the exterior of the aircraft, but access to the technology needed to build, alter and improve upon the software operating the gunships’ high-tech instruments. While the loss of jobs to overseas production is deemed an unavoidable cost of doing weapons business today, the U.S. government has refused in the past to allow the transfer of software “source codes” and other sensitive technology for reasons of national security.

Turkey’s negotiations with Bell Textron are scheduled to conclude in March 2001, at which time the State Department will need to decide whether to issue an export license. The new administration has signaled that it will look favorable upon this sale, paying less attention to human rights considerations than its predecessor. However, the sale might still be held up in the administration over the question of technology transfers, which has prompted concern by both Republicans and Democrats in similar past cases. Certain members of Congress are also likely to raise questions about the sale based on questions of regional stability, U.S. security, and the protection of human rights. Because the deal involves a NATO member, however, Congress will have only 15 days to officially review the sale.”

A massive corporation active in a variety of industries, Textron is also a top-tier “Golden Horn” donor to the American-Turkish Council, the lobbying giant that has repeatedly come up in the Sibel Edmonds case. The ATC figures prominently in the Vanity Fair article which mentions Hastert and other unnamed officials in the pay of the Turkish lobby.

So in other words, looks like Textron is looking forward to the “international competition” that Turkey’s Undersecretariat for the Defense Industry announced on August 9, preliminary to “…the purchase of 32 military helicopters and 20 fire fighters worth around $700 million.”

Textron’s subsidiary, Bell Helicopters, was at the time of the Armenian resolution embroiled in controversy, as an US Customs undercover operation had concluded two months earlier that the company had laundered hundreds of thousands of dollars of drug money in order to sell a copter to a Colombian emerald mogul, Victor Carranza, who according to PBS “…has links to the drug trade and the right wing paramilitary groups in Colombia.” Whoops!

The PBS report provides a good example of the kind of cooperation between business, politics and the more sordid spheres of free enterprise- and why Textron had such headaches throughout Clinton’s second term.

However, with the ascension of Bush II, happy days were here again. And indeed, there seem to be no existential problems these days for Textron. On July 29, Bloomberg reported that

“…Textron Inc.’s Bell Helicopter unit beat Boeing Co. in a contest worth as much as $3 billion to build a new class of armed reconnaissance helicopters for the U.S. Army, according to people familiar with the award.

Bell will develop and build the first installment of what could be 368 helicopters from largely commercial parts so they can be fielded as early as 2008 to replace aircraft lost in Iraq.”




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