Dick Cheney: Soldier of Fortune

Vice-president Dick Cheney has brought new meaning to the term "revolving door" says Bill Hartung, senior research fellow at the World Policy Institute in New York. His easy transition from the army to private industry and then to the White House has earned him millions, Dallas-based Halliburton billions.

Cheney made a fortune in the oil industry when he took over as chief executive of Halliburton, the world's largest oil services company in 1995. In 1998 he took home $4.4 million in salary and benefits and in 1999 he was paid $1.92 million, according to the company's own financial reports. In May 2000 he cashed in 100,000 Halliburton shares to net another $5.1 million and then sold the rest of his shares in August 2000 for $18.5 million, adding up to a total of almost $30 million in just two years, a fortune for a man with no previous experience in running a company, let alone an oil multinational.

Well, Cheney comes with even better qualifications; he was Secretary of Defense during the Gulf War and worked in the Washington scene for 25 years before he took the job with Halliburton. He brought with him a trusty Rolodex and his former chief of staff, David Gribbin, whom he appointed as chief lobbyist. In the last two years the pair of them notched up $1.5 billion dollars in federal loans and insurance subsidies compared to the paltry $100 million that the company received in the five years prior to Cheney's arrival.

The federal subsidies supported Halliburton's oil services contracts in Algeria, Angola, Bangladesh and Russia. In addition the company garnered $2.3 billion in U.S. government contracts in that time, or almost double the $1.2 billion it earned from the government in the five years before he arrived.

Most of the contracts have been with the U.S. Army for engineering work in a variety of hot spots, including Bosnia, Albania, Kosovo and Haiti. Not surprisingly all this work stems from a new scheme to privatize operations of the U.S. military that were drawn up by Halliburton itself under contract to Cheney in 1992.

Today the company is working on major contracts to build oil infrastructure in Brazil and Nigeria for companies like Chevron, Petrobras and Shell. And Cheney also oversaw the company's merger with Dresser Industries, one of the companies that helped Saddam Hussein rebuild Iraq's oil infrastructure after the Gulf war despite the fact that Cheney was one of the architects of the economic sanctions against Iraq. Under his leadership, Halliburton used two foreign subsidiaries to do $23 million worth of business with Iraq, more than any other U.S. company.

Meanwhile Gribbin left Halliburton with Cheney to become director of Congressional Relations for the Bush-Cheney transition team, where he managed the confirmation process for newly nominated cabinet secretaries and "worked with members of Congress and state governors on issues critical to the establishment of the new administration," before leaving to head up the Prosperity Project, a political advocacy group for big business.

But Gribbin left behind an equally worthy successor who is now Halliburton's chief Washington lobbyist: Admiral Joe Lopez, recently retired from the U.S. Navy and former commander-in-chief of the Southern Forces Europe, also a close confidante of Dick Cheney. Lopez's first job at Halliburton, when he joined in 1999, was a $100 million contract to upgrade 150 United States embassy and consulate buildings around the world, to secure them against "terrorist" attacks. In March 2002 Lopez was appointed to the bi-partisan Commission on Post-Conflict Reconstruction, set up by the Center for Strategic and International Studies to develop specific proposals to enhance U.S. participation in international reconstruction efforts in war-torn countries such as Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Kosovo. Other members of the commission include seven senators and representatives from the U.S. Congress, no doubt useful friends when it comes to cashing in on the reconstruction proposals.

Angola is just one example of the United States government support that Cheney was able to help engineer for Halliburton. The company has a $200 million contract with Chevron and its partners in the enclave of Cabinda (a province of Angola geographically distinct from the rest of the country.) There Halliburton services over 330 wells in 30 fields, located between one and 40 miles offshore which provide eight percent of U.S. oil imports, more than even Kuwait. This concession is the source of 80% of the Angolan government's revenue. Visitors report that the beach sands of Cabinda have turned black from the pollution and the smell of petroleum hangs everywhere.

Then Secretary of State Madeline Albright personally flew out to Chevron's Takula Oil Drilling Platform in Cabinda on December 12, 1997 to announce that the Export-Import Bank of the United States was "finalizing an innovative loan of nearly $90 million to develop new oil fields here, and it is discussing with SONANGOL (the state oil company) and Chevron a further $350 million package to support purchases of American equipment."

A follow-up cable from the U.S. embassy in Angola to Albright in 1998 explains the help it gave Cheney's company: "Our commercial officer literally camped out at the offices of the national oil company, petroleum ministry and central bank, unraveling snag after snag to obtain the transfer of funds. The bottom line: thousands of American jobs and a foot in the door for Halliburton to win even bigger contracts." That memo detailed how the embassy helped Halliburton "in tough competition with foreign firms" by allaying the Export-Import Bank's concerns and removing "barriers" to the $68 million loan package.

Gribbin, then vice president of government affairs for Halliburton, told the Associated Press that the helpful diplomat in Angola was "a guy who was enthusiastically doing his job. God bless him. I'm sure probably a lot of our folks, when they are working in these countries, will get to know the commercial attaché and vice versa. You can call any company that is a global business, and they will tell you this."

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