Bush's Courting of Saddam

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

Bath also became the U.S. representative of Khalid bin Mahfouz, the largest shareholder in the notorious Bank of Credit and Commerce International, the biggest bank fraud in history and springboard for the Islamic terrorist nightmare of today. Countless news stories and books have documented the myriad of connections between Harken Energy and the Saudi-dominated BCCI, which was also pivotal in financing illegal arms sales to Saddam.

Bush helped arrange a $25 million cash infusion for Harken in 1987 through Arkansas investment banker Jackson Stephens, who'd helped guide BCCI's acquisitions in America, to secure financing for Harken, which had acquired Bush's failed company and made him a six-figure director. Stephens arranged for two BCCI-tied investors to bail the company out: the Union Bank of Switzerland, a BCCI partner in a third bank; and Abdullah Taha Bakhsh, whose Saudi Finance Co. was partly controlled by BCCI shareholders.

When BCCI exploded in scandal in 1991, the senior Bush tried to distance himself from any knowledge of the bank or its principals, even though a top White House aide, Ed Rogers, was put on a $600,000 retainer by one of the bank's founders, Kamel Adham. Bush denied even knowing Adham, who was the head of Saudi intelligence when Bush ran the CIA. But Soghanalian told the Voice that the two "were friends a long time ago," adding that George H.W. Bush "can say whatever he wants." Soghanalian says he "escorted" Adham to a 1976 meeting with Bush at the Waldorf Astoria, where Adham had a whole floor for five days. "This is when they were organizing the BCCI bank stuff," says Soghanalian, refusing to discuss it any further.

When Bush Sr. said, "I don't know anything about this man (Adham) except I've read bad stuff about him," Time reporters Jonathan Beaty and S.C. Gwynne wrote in their book, The Outlaw Bank, that they were sure the president had told "a certifiable lie" and got White House reporters to ask the press office about it. They were "incredulous" when the press office confirmed the disavowal. Adham himself said: "It is not possible for the president to say that," insisting that Bush had indicated a day later that he did know Adham but that the newspapers refused to print it. Adham wound up pleading guilty on BCCI charges, as did Mahfouz, who paid $225 million in restitution and penalties.

Papa Bush's direct links to BCCI—noted CIA historian Joe Trento, also of the National Security News Service, wrote that as CIA director, he "joined a Saudi prince to create" it—apparently explain the bank's willingness to throw money at Harken shortly after it bought out Junior's busted Arbusto. The Harken bailout is the last in a series of business ties between W and his father's onetime agency, though biographers have noted that W's campaigns, like his father's, have attracted ex-CIA types. When Jimmy Carter replaced the senior Bush at the CIA in 1977, the new director, Stansfield Turner, forced hundreds of agents out, and many joined forces with Bush as a kind of out-of-power CIA clique. That group continued to function unofficially for years, even rising to the fore in the Iran-Contra days of the late '80s.

As W has dallied for months with the CIA reformation promised after the 9-11 Commission report, his own historic ties to the agency may assume greater importance, should he get a second term.

Research assistance: Eric Cantor, Deborah S. Esquenazi, Emily Keller, Eric Magnuson, and Ben Reiter

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