Richard Perle: It Pays To Be the Prince of Darkness
By Frida Berrigan
Richard Perle is a busy guy these days, what with his
long-desired war against Iraq in full swing, plus a
lucrative consulting business on the side. As the
chairman of the Defense Policy Board, Perle is a close
adviser to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, with an
insider's perspective on the Pentagon, the war in Iraq
and the ongoing war on terrorism. As a major investor in
a number of defense companies, he stands to reap
considerable benefits from war and homeland security
contracts. Apparently his dual roles as a major policy
adviser to the Pentagon and a business dealmaker can be
a bit confusing at times.
A few weeks ago, Perle was hired by Global Crossing, the
bankrupt telecommunications giant that is trying to sell
itself to a Chinese consortium. The Pentagon and FBI are
against the sale because it would put the company's
fiber optics network, which is used by the U.S.
government, in Chinese hands. Perle's job is to change
their minds. And if anyone can, it is the "Prince of
Darkness," as Perle is known by friend and foe in
As he said in an affidavit dated March 7, his position
as chairman of the Defense Policy Board gives him a
"unique perspective on and intimate knowledge of the
national defense and security issues that will be raised
by the CFIUS review process." The CFIUS, the Committee
on Foreign Investment in the United States, has the
power to block the deal. Global Crossing is paying Perle
$750,000 for this "unique perspective" and "intimate
knowledge." Perle's incentive: $600,000 of his fee is
contingent on government approval of the deal.
But this little phrase led to a funny exchange with New
York Times reporter Stephen Labaton. Perle insisted,
"I'm not using public office for private gain, because
the Defense Policy Board has nothing to do with the
CFIUS process." But when asked about his "unique
perspective" and "intimate knowledge," Perle claimed he
had not noticed that phrase, saying it "was drafted by
lawyers, and frankly I did not notice it." He is a busy
man, we understand.
But then, he called Labaton back to clarify, saying that
the problematic phrase was in an earlier draft, he had
noticed it and crossed it out. "You have a draft that I
never signed," he said. OK?
After consulting with Global Crossing's lawyers, Perle
called Labaton again to say that he had told the lawyers
to strike the phrase because it "seemed inappropriate
and irrelevant." But then someone put the phrase back
in, and Perle signed it without noticing. "It is a
clerical error," he explained, "and not my clerical
error." When in doubt, blame the lawyers.
So the final version will be submitted without referring
to Perle's "unique perspective" and "intimate
knowledge." But that doesn't mean those are not what
Global Crossing is paying him for.
This is not the first time someone has questioned
Perle's ethics. Pulitzer Prize-winner Seymour Hersh,
writing in the March 17 issue of The New Yorker, cited
possible "conflicts of interest" in Trireme Partners,
Perle's venture capital company. The company, which
invests in companies dealing in homeland security and
defense products, has raised $45 million in capital so
faralmost half of that coming from U.S. defense giant
Boeing. When asked about the article in a TV interview,
Perle declared that "Sy Hersh is the closest thing
American journalism has to a terrorist, frankly."
There is also the matter of Autonomy Corporation, where
Perle is a director, with 75,000 shares of stock. The
firm has developed a high-tech eavesdropping software
that is capable of monitoring hundreds of thousands of
e-mail and phone conversations at the same time. In
October 2002, the Department of Homeland Security
granted the company a huge contract. A few months later,
Autonomy was granted $1 million in contracts from a
number of government agencies, including the Secret
Service and National Security Agency.
As a former Clinton adviser observed with admiration,
Perle "enjoys all the benefits of being an insider
without any of the constraints."
* Frida Berrigan is a senior research associate with the
Arms Trade Resource Center, a project of the World