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In Bed with Bush – The Bechtel Story

Shade of dark brown eh? A little research into the history of the Bechtel Corp reveals almost a 'classroom example' of how the links between big business and government work, and what works for Bechtel can be applied to the 100 or so, major corporations that control America and dictate not only its foreign policy but also its domestic one.

By William Bowles

05/16/03: (Information Clearing House) 'We seek them here, we seek them there, we seek those terrorists everywhere' One could say that one of the distinguishing features of contemporary US capitalism is that it no longer bothers to hide behind a façade of the 'free market' and 'defending democracy'. That's how sure it is of itself and its ability to operate unhindered in the 'global marketplace'. But of course, this is not a new development, just a new phase of the same old story. And unlike defeating the USSR, which needed a relatively sophisticated and long-term propaganda war (and host of proxy wars) to 'bring the Reds to heel', the current enemy is elusive and its elusiveness works to US capital's advantage. The 'enemy' is everywhere and nowhere. It could be you, it could be me. The upshot is, that it opens up the field for a major offensive by the state against virtually the entire US population, who are, at the end of day, the real 'enemy of the state' and of big business. And all to defend the interests of corporations like Bechtel. For the US public and America's natural resources are just as much 'fair game' as are those of Bolivia, Iraq, or one of the other 67 countries that Bechtel does 'business' in.

And let's not forget that the central role of racism in US society applies just as much to people in foreign lands, the great majority of whom ain't white, as it does at home. The 'alien amongst us' motif, so popular in the 1950s has found a new lease of life following 911, as the revitalised security state has people looking over their shoulders at every brown-skinned, turban or otherwise bedecked, person, they see. And in a country where the Christian Right is firmly embedded right in the heart of government, with its regressive, racist and sexist agenda, the stage is set.

Eisenhower, where are you when we need you?

Many of you will no doubt remember the 'military-industrial complex', a phrase made popular by president Eisenhower in what now seems like another era (probably because it is). The ending of the Cold War appeared to make such phrases redundant as we prepared to reap the benefits of the 'peace dividend'. Ha! Naïve people that we are and with such short memories, we quickly forgot just how central war and preparing for one, is the bedrock of US capitalism.

Bechtel, like all the rest of the handful of big corporations that effectively rule America, have their roots in the post-WWII economic 'boom' and the hysteria of the 'Red Menace'. Following the end of WWII, the US had a massive industrial war economy that had to be fed. One trough to feed at was the American public, who in the space of less than twenty years were taught the 'benefits' of conspicuous consumption: gas guzzling autos, consumer products in an ever-increasing torrent, but even this obscene level of consumption wasn't sufficient to satiate the appetites of the corporate behemoths. What was needed was a rationale that had no end and that could justify spending incredible amounts of taxpayers money on products, that just like autos, had a limited shelf life and, just like autos, could be consumed in an endless celebration of the 'free market' – weapons of all kinds of destruction (WKDs) – from the local to the global. You want 'em, we got 'em. And even if you don't want 'em, you'll get 'em anyway.

And just like the rationale for endless consumer consumption, the 'defence' industry needed one too. And so we entered the era of the arms race which propelled US capitalism forward at a dizzying speed and dragged the rest of world, kicking and screaming, along behind it.

Successive wars, Korea, Vietnam, and the multitude of 'low-intensity' and 'proxy' wars against increasingly confident movements of national liberation in the Americas, Africa and Asia were all 'grist for the mill'; testing grounds for new weapons and strategies of defeating all the new kinds of 'enemies of freedom'. But of course the major incentive was the 'Red Menace', the only real obstacle to US global hegemony. While the USSR existed with the ability to give as good as it got, it curbed the desires of US capital and the political class that represents it, the Republicrats and their increasingly intertwined masters, the big transnational corporations.

The Big Lie (with a tiny truth)

A compliant public is still important if one is to ram unpopular policies through Congress/Parliament, even when the political process is rigged. For although the American public is misinformed or simply not informed at all, it's an insult to think of them as stupid as some opponents of Bush/big business would have us believe. That they have been convinced that their interests and the interests of the Bechtels of this world coincide is not without some truth. After all, jobs and consequently peoples futures depend on a healthy economy. Appealing to peoples' self-interest and amplifying/redirecting their fears as the originator of modern propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's minister of Propaganda taught us, still applies today. Every lie should have an element of truth if it is to be effective. By utilising the 'alien' motif (happily assisted by messianic millionaires like Osama) and propelled by an increasingly impoverished and desperate world of the starving and undernourished (the 'Wretched of the Earth'), the multi-billion dollar propaganda machine went into to top gear.

Yet at the root of all this madness, is a simple fact – money. Money and power, the two go hand in hand. I know, it's stupid it's so simple but it's a fact, there's no escaping it. Why are we not outraged? Well some of us are, in fact I'd bet that if you asked the 'average' Joe or Jane on the street, they'd agree with me that big business and government are in cohoots. Where they may part company with me is on what, if anything, can be done about it or what its causes are. And I'd have to agree with them, right now. I can shout and scream all I like but the Bechtel's and the Bushes of this world have got us, as they say, 'by the short and curlies'.

Blair Bleats to Bush

But I think the experiences of the last few months have taught us something, that it is possible to exert some influence, even if indirectly on the policies of Pax Americana. Blair's bleatings to Bush about his own population not being as easy to hoodwink as Bush's, whilst ultimately it didn't stop the invasion (merely slowed it down), it was an object lesson to the Blair government that next time (and you can be sure there will be a next time), it will be even harder. An isolated America will find that it's a lot more difficult to get its way than one that can assemble a 'coalition of the willing'. And this is an important lesson for us. You can bet that it's one Bush and Blair will have taken note of. We do have power should we care to use it and that scares them.

Bechtel, the Company

"There are people who believe that development, ipso facto, is bad. That's a valid worldview even if we don't share it. And by that yardstick we will never be seen as green but a shade of dark brown," says Laubscher, former head of corporate communications for Bechtel."

Shade of dark brown eh? A little research into the history of the Bechtel Corp reveals almost a 'classroom example' of how the links between big business and government work, and what works for Bechtel can be applied to the 100 or so, major corporations that control America and dictate not only its foreign policy but also its domestic one.

"Bechtel is a privately held corporation that in the span of about one century has grown to be one of the world's largest companies.  It has completed tens of thousands of projects and has done work in almost every country in the world.  It has participated in the construction of several well-known monumental projects including the Hoover Dam, the San Francisco Bay Bridge, the Alaskan pipeline and the Washington D.C. and San Francisco mass transit systems.  It develops, constructs and operates telecommunications projects, construction management software, water systems, petroleum and chemical plants, pipelines, nuclear power plants, mining and metal projects and civil infrastructure projects.  In 2001, the company  participated in 950 projects in 67 different countries, doing $13.4 billion in gross revenue."

Source: http://www.cooperativeresearch.org/corporation/profiles/bechtel.html

The political connections

"With the help of Stephen Bechtel Sr.’s connections in the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), Bechtel Corporation quickly grew to be the dominant player in the business of nuclear power after it was chosen by the United States Government in 1959 to build the first nuclear power plant in America."

"Stephen Bechtel Sr.’s close friendship with Steve McCone was arguably the real reason that Bechtel Corporation was so successful in the business of nuclear power plant building.  The two men had made millions together as partners in the California Ship Building Company which built warships for the U.S. military during World War II.  After their stint as war profiteers, the two parted ways and McCone started his career as a ‘public servant.’  In 1948, he was appointed U.S. Deputy to the Secretary of Defense, and then from 1950-51 served as Under Secretary of the Air Force (1950-1951). However, it was McCone's position as Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) that probably was the most significant in determining Bechtel's future.  (Wise and Ross 1974; MacCartney 1989; Riccio 1989)

Robert L. Hollingsworth, after being the AEC general manager under Nixon subsequently became the manager of manpower services at Bechtel.  (Montague 2000)

The company further penetrated the barrier between private industry and the federal government when Kenneth Davis, a former Bechtel vice president of nuclear reactor development went on to become U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy and head of the AEC under Reagan.  (MacCartney 1989; Montague 2000)

"According to one investigative journalist, the relationships between the AEC and Bechtel was "so incestuous it is impossible to tell where the public sector begins and the private one leaves off" (MacCartney 1989, pg. 115 cited in Montague 2000)

Source: http://www.cooperativeresearch.org/corporation/profiles/bechtel.html

U.S. Intelligence links

"Bechtel’s first connections to U.S. intelligence were with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) which used Bechtel (who at the time was building oil pipelines in Saudi Arabia) as a cover to monitor events in the Middle East.  (MacCartney 1989)

Stephen Bechtel Sr.’s financial advisor, John Simpson was very tight with CIA deputy director John Foster DullesCollaboration between the CIA and Bechtel was instrumental in the toppling of both Iran’s Mossadeq and Indonesia’s Sukharno. In both cases pro-Western, repressive regimes were the successors – Reza Shah Pahlavi in Iran, and Suharto in Indonesia.  (Montague 2000)

After Stephen Bechtel Sr.’s friend Steve McCone served on the chair of the AEC, John F. Kennedy made McCone director of the CIA (1961-1965)  McCone was no friend to democracy during those years as he oversaw the CIA during a very scandalous period of American history scarred by the Kennedy assassination and U.S. involvement in Vietnam, Laos, Congo, and Chile to name a few."

Source: http://www.cooperativeresearch.org/corporation/profiles/bechtel.html

Export-Import Bank

"One of Bechtel’s most lucrative relationships may have been its connections to the Export-Import Bank.  Stephen Bechtel’s friend Henry Kearns was the head of the Bank and did Bechtel a wonderful favor by appointing Stephen Bechtel Sr. to the advisory board.  During Stephen’s tenure on the board, the Export-Import Bank lent hundreds of millions of dollars to several different countries for the financing of Bechtel-related projects."

Some other Bechtel-government links

  • Bechtel's CEO, Riley P. Bechtel, currently serves on the President's Export Council (4/24/03)
  • Jack Sheehan, a senior vice-president with Bechtel, serves on the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board (4/16/03)
  • George Schultz. Shortly after assuming his new position in Bechtel, President Reagan invited him to Washington to be his secretary of state.
  • Reagan’s Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinburger was a former Bechtel general counsel
  • W. Kenneth Davis was a Bechtel vice-president for nuclear development before he was appointed as Reagan’s deputy secretary of Energy and head of the Atomic Energy Commission.
  • William Casey a former Bechtel consultant served in a number of government positions including chairman of the SEC under Nixon, head of the Export-Import bank under Ford, and director of the CIA under Reagan.
  • Richard Helm, who later became a ‘consultant’ to Bechtel, had earlier been a CIA director under Nixon.
  • William Simon, Nixon’s Treasury secretary, was hired by Bechtel as a consultant.
  • Ross Connelly, former CEO of Bechtel Energy Resources Corporation, was appointed by George Bush in June of 2001 to the Overseas Private Investment Corporation
  • Stew Burkhammer, a current Bechtel executive, is presently a member of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health

Water, water everywhere and Bechtel owns most of it

Bechtel is a major player in the evolving struggle to control the world’s future water supply. Bechtel and its peers have quietly been securing the rights to control the ‘production’ and distribution of this essential resource and fully intend to make huge profits in the future when, as experts predict, water becomes a significantly scarce ‘commodity.’

Bechtel and other large corporations have been able to obtain legal title to much of the world's water supply through the process of privatization whereby goods and services previously considered part of the public domain become the exclusive property of a wealthy class of elites. This latest appropriation of the 'commons' is done within a legal framework designed, developed, and enforced by international governmental agencies that are dominated by the very same wealthy elite that profit from the legislation it implements. Furthermore, the rules and regulations mandated by these multilateral agencies trump the laws of sovereign states.  This process is a complete affront to democracy because it disempowers the citizenry of sovereign nations to influence the legislation that affects them. What good is a democratic national government if the laws it establishes can be overridden by corporate-dominated multilateral institutions? Bechtel, a privately-held U.S. corporation, is a major force in this process of privatization and, through its connections in the government and multilateral institutions, is helping to undermine America's ability to defend and protect the interests of its citizenry."

Source: http://www.cooperativeresearch.org/corporation/profiles/bechtel.html

"Bechtel built the Alaska pipeline and the trans-Canadian pipeline. Beginning in the 1940s Bechtel laid the foundations for a lot virtually all of Saudia Arabia and Kuwait's oil from the trans-Arabian…. Bechtel also built Occidental's oil pipelines in Colombia as well as in Libya…[Bechtel] even won loan guarantees for Saddam Hussein's proposed Aqaba pipeline in Iraq which were later scuttled. Bechtel also built several major rigs in the North Sea off the shores of Scotland and Norway and the crude oil extraction facilities in the Athabscan tar sands of Alberta, just to name a few of the fossil fuel projects."

Need I go on? For more info on Bechtel and its doings, here's a list of other useful links that expand on the extracts I've used above:

http://www.sea-us.org.au/gulliver/bechtel.html

http://www.corpwatch.org/issues/PID.jsp?articleid=6532

http://www.corpwatch.org/issues/PID.jsp?articleid=6549

http://www.corpwatch.org/issues/PID.jsp?articleid=6670

http://www.corpwatch.org/issues/PID.jsp?articleid=6671

http://www.corpwatch.org/issues/PID.jsp?articleid=6548

http://www.rediff.com/money/2003/apr/29paran.htm

http://polyconomics.com/showarticle.asp?articleid=2561

http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/dd/bechtell.html

http://www.citizen.org/cmep/Water/cmep_Water/reports/bolivia/index.cfm

http://www.counterpunch.org/lindorff04092003.html

http://www.rediff.com/us/2003/apr/16iraq.htm

http://www.ruminatethis.com/archives/000606.html

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article3343.htm

http://www.psiru.org/corruption/corruptionnewsSub.asp?Company=Bechtel

http://www.seen.org/pages/media/20030324_These_Times_Crude.shtml

Copyright © William Bowles 2003.

 


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