Bush's Courting of Saddam

An '80s business overture that fits a lifetime 'W' pattern of CIA dealings

Ironically, the Bergt plane and two others illicitly sold to Libya were soon used to invade neighboring Chad and to fly enriched uranium from Niger for Qaddafi's fledgling nuclear development program. Bush has claimed credit recently for convincing Qaddafi to abandon his nuclear program, and once claimed that Saddam Hussein had received uranium from Niger as a justification for the war. While another top AIA executive, Gary White, says he met Soghanalian in Geneva on a couple occasions and even stayed in his Florida mansion, Bergt just had lunch with him in San Diego.

"Gosh, to find out later that he was an arms merchant," Bergt now says. "We had several incidents where we dealt with people and later we'd read about the things they did in Time magazine," which was then exposing CIA covert operations. "We were doing a lot of wild stuff all over the place," recalls Bergt, specifically including the period that W worked there.

Indeed, in September 1975, Bergt says, "I sold a Herc to Idi Amin for $10 million," celebrating decades later that he made the African despot "pay through the nose." Bergt acknowledged that there were "some CIA guys surrounding the deal with Idi," just as he acknowledges that AIA, under its prior incarnation as Interior Airways, was doing CIA-tied business back to 1968–69. "I wasn't a CIA proxy company," says Bergt, referring to airlines that were actually no more than fronts for the agency. "I just wished I was." One of his pilots recalled that Bergt actually bought planes from CIA firms like Southern Air Transport.

The very summer that W worked at the company, it was participating in the most secret and expensive CIA venture ever, the Glomar Explorer. The agency spent a half- billion dollars on what congressional critics called a boondoggle for billionaire Howard Hughes: the construction of a ship the length of three football fields with a giant clawed arm designed to dive 17,000 feet to bring a sunk Soviet sub to the surface. In early August, the Glomar dropped the sub and shattered it on the ocean floor off the Alaskan coast. White remembers doing an airdrop to supply the Glomar, and Bergt says that W "may have made some runs with us"—though he adds that he didn't even know Bush was a pilot.

When the senior Bush was vice president in 1986 and his aides were deeply involved in supplying the Contras in Nicaragua, Bergt's airline, renamed MarkAir, did at least a half-dozen runs to a dirt strip in Honduras hauling aid, some of it in sealed containers, for the rebels. "If it's guns and ammunition, I could care less," Bergt told reporters at the time. Again, Soghanalian and the CIA were also deeply involved in the Contra traffic. The Anchorage Daily News reported that at least two of the flights were not registered with customs, avoiding the requirement of "an export declaration of everything" aboard.

Bergt even offered to regale the Voice with stories of "drug running and Iran-Contra." A day later, he called his own offer "absolute bullshit," though he insisted that the Anchorage paper already intimated both in connection with his company. He branded the stories, which a Voice search of years of the Anchorage paper's clips could not locate, as "claptrap" and "yellow journalism." Coincidentally, when Bush answered questions about his own alleged cocaine involvement during the 2000 campaign, he implicitly suggested that 1974 might be the last year he did drugs, claiming that he could've filled out a federal questionnaire about illegal drugs going back 15 years prior to his father's presidency.

Bergt recalls the senior Bush calling him after his son's summer there at least once, and says Neil Bush attended a 1988 fundraiser he hosted in his Anchorage home for the Bush presidential campaign. A check of federal election records indicates that Bergt, who's also contributed lesser amounts to W's campaign, raised at least $6,500 for the 1988 campaign. One of Bergt's brothers works for the Federal Aviation Administration and his son-in-law is the Interior Department official in charge of overseeing the Alaska pipeline. There is no indication that political influence was involved with obtaining either job.

A couple of weeks before the 2000 election, the Times first reported about W's Alaska summer, calling it a chapter that "has largely escaped attention," omitted, unlike five other summer jobs, from his autobiography. Bergt said then that his CIA reputation was undeserved, but in fact, even though Bush's summer there precedes by 18 months his father's rise to CIA director, the company has a legion of agency ties. That would become a W pattern.

The Texas CIA connections

Michael Moore made James Bath famous. A former National Guardsman in W's champagne unit in the '70s, the Houston-based Bath mysteriously became the U.S. representative for the bin Laden family shortly after the senior Bush became CIA head in 1976. Bath was also one of the initial investors in Arbusto, W's first energy company venture, in 1978, kicking in $50,000. What Moore didn't say, but Houston Post reporters John Mecklin and Pete Brewton "independently confirmed," was that Bath himself "had some connections to the CIA." In his only known interview on the subject, Bath "equivocated" with Craig Unger, author of House of Bush, House of Saud, saying there are "all sorts of degrees of civilian participation in the CIA" and those that do it don't talk about it. A former Bath business partner says Bath told him he was CIA.

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