Meet the New Boss

01.17.2003 | POLITICS

Anyone who lived within shouting distance of New Jersey in the 1980s will remember Governor Tom Kean as the tall, balding man who roamed the beach in tourism commercials for the Garden State. "New Jersey and you--perfect together," he recited, in a curiously New England accent. Despite being the Republican governor of a densely populated, highly unionized, and ethnically diverse state, his tenure in office came and went with little incident. This past fall, he made a brief political reemergence to campaign unsuccessfully for Doug Forrester, Frank Lautenberg's opponent in New Jersey's Senate race. Seemingly little had changed about Kean since his days in the capitol. He was still an innocuous looking man, with an aloof professorial air, who spoke with the patrician tones of George Plimpton. He remains extremely popular today, though few of his former constituents remember anything he did while in office.

This fact, as much as anything else, is what led President Bush to name Kean the head of the panel investigating September 11. Henry Kissinger, Bush's original choice, was far too high profile. Though Kissinger has not held an official governmental position since the end of the Ford administration, he remains the very essence of 21st century celebrity, with a face, voice, and checkered past that is burned into the memory of nearly every American.

On the surface, Kean is everything Kissinger is not. Surface is all that really matters, of course, since Bush shows little interest in going any deeper than that in his 9/11 probe. The administration waited well over a year to begin convening its investigation, and it has placed prohibitive and arcane strictures on the commission, such as requiring that any criminal subpoenas must be approved by six of the ten committee members. And when the time came to appoint a committee chair, a wanted war criminal was Bush's first choice: a man who will no longer leave the country for fear of being whisked off to the Hague, Milosevic-style.

Of course, as is true of nearly everyone associated with the Bush administration, the acrid scent of decaying skeletons wafts out of Tom Kean's closet. Though few in the mainstream media seem willing to discuss it, Kean has some very disturbing connections--some of which lead directly to the very people he should be investigating.

To date, the only mainstream newspaper to even come close to raising any issues about Kean's business associations has been New York Newsday. Washington correspondent Thomas Frank, in his December 17 article on the new chair, mentioned in passing that Kean is a director at Aramark, a food-services corporation with business interests in Saudi Arabia. Had Frank cared to probe deeper, however, he would have discovered that cafeteria food is far from Kean's only dealing in the Middle East.

Kean is also a director at Amerada Hess, a petroleum company whose green and white gas stations are a familiar sight in the New York metropolitan area. The Hess family is well known for its ownership of the New York Jets, but their company is less famous for being a partner in Hess-Delta, an oil exploration and development joint venture incorporated in the Cayman Islands. Little is known about Delta-Hess's interests besides its investments in the Caspian Sea region, Azerbaijan, and other former Soviet republics. What is known is that Hess's partner in this joint venture is Delta Oil of Saudi Arabia, a company with some extremely suspicious executives.

Two of Kean's Hess-Delta business partners--Mohammed Hussein al Amoudi and Khalid bin Mahfouz--have been under investigation as far back as 1999 for suspected ties to Al Qaeda (Boston Herald, 12/11/2001). Both men have numerous overlapping oil interests in Saudi Arabia, one of which is Delta. Both men are accused by name in a $1 trillion lawsuit, filed on behalf of families of the victims of September 11, as alleged financiers of Al Qaeda.

Khalid bin Mahfouz, head of Saudi Arabia's powerful National Commercial Bank, has led a storied and very public career in fraud. He was implicated in the BCCI banking scandal during the early 1990s, when the Bank of Commerce and Credit International robbed depositors of $10 billion. He eventually paid a $225 million settlement to escape prosecution. In the mid-1990s, he was caught in a citizenship-for-sale scandal, in which he courted investors for business ventures in Ireland, in exchange for Irish passports and huge tax exemptions.

Shortly thereafter, it appears that bin Mahfouz made the jump from white-collar criminal into terrorist sugar daddy. In 1999, he was reportedly placed under house arrest by the Saudi government on suspicion of supporting terrorism. An audit of his National Commerce Bank discovered that $2 billion dollars had gone missing, and US and Saudi officials feared it was funneled to Al Qaeda via numerous charity fronts. One of the "charities" to which bin Mahfouz may have "contributed" heavily, the Advice and Reformation Committee, was founded by Osama bin Laden himself and financed the 1998 African embassy bombings. US officials also suspect bin Mahfouz to be financially linked to the USS Cole attack, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and numerous failed terrorist actions. Bin Mahfouz's son was on the board of the Sudanese chapter of Blessed Relief, a charity whose assets were frozen by the Treasury Department in October 2001 for suspected terrorist links. (Ottawa Citizen, 9/29/2001)

As a final note, bin Mahfouz also happens to be Osama bin Laden's brother-in-law. According to Senate testimony given by former CIA director James Woolsey, bin Mahfouz's younger sister is one of bin Laden's many brides. (New York Times, 11/12/2001)

One may wonder how Tom Kean has, thus far, been able to avoid such scrutiny. He hasn't entirely; Michel Chussodovsky, an economics professor at the University of Ottawa, recently wrote an extensive exposé of Kean's connections at, and a number of other alternative news sources have already published articles on the subject. But the mainstream media refuses to pick up the story, possibly because questions about Kean's connections to bin Mahfouz ultimately lead to questions about President Bush's connections to him as well.

In 1979, when Bush started up Arbusto Energy in Houston, one of his investors was James Bath, the US business representative of Salem bin Laden--brother of Osama. Though it has yet to be proven, many suspect Bath's $50,000 investment came directly from Salem. Following bin Laden's death in 1988, his Houston-based interests were absorbed by Khalid bin Mahfouz. As a result, Bush soon found himself in hot water during the BCCI scandal, when investigations into the bank's finances revealed that many of the indicted BCCI executives invested heavily in Harken Energy (a reincarnation of Arbusto). Bush denied any knowledge of the BCCI investment, though this answer appears to be disingenuous at best. Bin Mahfouz, a BCCI principal, was implicated in the collective fraud, though not directly connected to Bush's company.

It would not be the last time the men crossed paths. In December 1997, the London Telegraph reported that Taliban representatives were close to signing a deal with Unocal, a California-based oil company, to construct a pipeline across Afghanistan. Bin Mahfouz's Delta Oil was heavily involved in the negotiations, and acted as a liaison between the Taliban and Unocal. At the same time, incidentally, Enron CEO Ken Lay (Kenny Boy to the President) was contracted to conduct feasibility studies for the Unocal-Delta joint venture. Unocal publicly urged the Clinton administration to recognize the Taliban, despite Osama bin Laden's very welcome presence in the country it controlled. Clinton was reluctant to do so, however, and the Afghan pipeline project hung in negotiations limbo for years--as recently as January 2001, the Bush administration was still meeting with Taliban representatives to work out an oil deal. There is no reason to believe that Delta, and therefore bin Mahfouz, had relinquished its interest in the Afghan pipeline by this time.

Shortly after the fall of the Taliban, Bush installed Hamid Karzai, a former Unocal consultant, as president of Afghanistan. Zalmay Khalilzad, late of Unocal and a former Taliban supporter, was appointed as the US special envoy to the country. Assuming the Unocal-Delta joint venture still formally exists, President Bush has as much of a link to terrorism as the man he appointed to head the September 11 commission.

This protects both of them, but at the expense of a thorough investigation. Kean, after all, is unlikely to give the public much cause for alarm. He is obviously not in a position to ask any hard questions of anyone, lest the press dig deeper into his own business dealings, or lest his own commission uncover embarrassing facts about himself. We should be clear that Kean is no Kissinger; circumstance and association indict him more than deeds and documents. And unlike Kissinger, Kean has no entries in the national database, and the evil he may have done is the quiet and distant kind that Americans are usually able to ignore. But he is burdened by disincentives to find the truth, and this is something the American people need to know. Now, anyone unfamiliar with Kean will see nothing more in him than those who remember his old tourism commercials--a man strolling the Jersey shore, without a care in the world, staring enigmatically off into the distant east.

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