If you want power – be it political or electrical — you need connec tions. No one knew that better than the super-slick executives of Enron, who in the past year desperately tried to stave off the largest bankruptcy in history.

And when it came to connections, Enron had the best money could buy in George W. Bush, whose most generous campaign supporter to date has been longtime Enron head Kenneth Lay.

According to a recent report in The Nation, Bush’s connections with Enron go back to 1986, when the future president went from a struggling oilman to a millionaire through a series of deals and partnerships, one of which was with Enron and its new chairman, Lay.

The Nation had previously reported that, in late 1988, the then-president-elect’s son allegedly called Argentine cabinet minister Rodolfo Terragno to urge him to award a contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Enron. Bush angrily denied the accusation when it was published in 1994, but Terragno recently stood by his claim in a commentary published in an Argentine daily newspaper.

“It looked bad and it surprised me,” Terragno said. “There was this political endorsement, apparently from the White House. I don’t know if George Bush the father was aware of it, or if it was only a business contact by his son, who hoped that his family name would have some influence.”

So, it should come as no surprise that Enron’s name has now surfaced as a major potential beneficiary of the proposed Afghanistan oil-and-gas pipeline the Bush administration purportedly pushed for during secret negotiations with the Taliban that started shortly after Bush took office and continued through August.

French intelligence analysts Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie claim in their book, Bin Laden, La Verite Interdite (Bin Laden, the Forbidden Truth), that the administration’s main objective in the talks was to buy off the Taliban with promises of aid and international recognition in return for a pipeline to transport the oil and gas reserves in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Until now, the book says, “The oil and gas reserves of Central Asia have been controlled by Russia. The Bush government wanted to change all that.”

A secondary American goal was to get the Taliban to turn over bin Laden, who had moved his terror network to Afghanistan in 1996. When the talks began last February, the Taliban regime reportedly indicated it might be willing to hand over bin Laden. But by June, Brisard and Dasquié write, the Taliban had changed its mind. “The U.S. thought they could ‘decouple’ Osama bin Laden from the Taliban,” Brisard says. “What they did not understand was that without bin Laden, the Taliban regime wouldn’t have existed.”

When the Taliban negotiators balked at the American proposals, Brisard told a wire service, U.S. representative Tom Simons bluntly told them that “either you accept our offer of a carpet of gold, or we bury you under a carpet of bombs.” Although he denied making that specific threat, Simons admitted to the British newspaper The Guardian that he told the Taliban negotiators “that military action was one of the options down the road” if they didn’t accede to America’s demands.

The Guardian speculated on September 21 that “the serious nature of what [the Taliban was] told raises the possibility that bin Laden, far from launching the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon out of the blue 10 days ago, was launching a preemptive strike in response to what he saw as U.S. threats.”

Brisard and Dasquie also report in their book that the administration had told U.S. intelligence agencies to “back off” their investigations of bin Laden during the negotiations, which could explain how numerous warnings of the September 11 suicide hijackings were missed.

Enron’s interest in the pipeline was part of an unsuccessful attempt by the Texas energy titan to get cheap liquid natural gas for its $3 billion power plant in Dabhol, India. The huge plant had become a white elephant when its electricity turned out to be several times more costly than its competitors’.

To help persuade the Taliban to approve the pipeline, Enron reportedly showered the regime with millions of dollars, some of which may have gone to bin Laden. The Bush administration’s attempt to help Enron is believed to be why it has gone to unprecedented lengths to conceal records on Vice President Cheney’s energy-task-force meetings in 2001.

The General Accounting Office has sued Cheney to get records concerning three secret meetings he reportedly had with Lay and other Enron executives in the first months of the Bush administration. It is the first time the nonpartisan agency has taken the executive branch of government to court to obtain records.

One possible result of Cheney’s meetings with Enron executives was a proposal of aid to India so it could increase its oil and natural gas production, which would give the Dabhol plant another potential source of cheap fuel.

Cheney is no stranger to America’s interest in the abundant energy resources of Central Asia and the Mideast. For several years before he was elected vice president, Cheney was CEO of Texas-based Halliburton, the world’s largest oil-services company. In that role Cheney helped broker a deal between Chevron (now ChevronTexaco) and Kazakhstan when he sat on the country’s oil advisory board. National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice was a Chevron director at the time.

According to The Financial Times, Cheney also oversaw $23.8 million in sales to Iraq in 1998 and 1999. That means that Cheney, who was paid $36 million in salary by Halliburton, profited from the destruction of Iraq that he supervised as secretary of defense during the Gulf War. While the sales were legal because of a 1998 U.N. resolution giving Iraq the right to resuscitate its oil industry, Halliburton reportedly made its equipment sales through foreign subsidiaries to avoid upsetting U.S. officials or Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein.

Last May, Cheney’s old company signed a 12-year contract with Azerbaijan, another energy-rich state in Central Asia. Azerbaijan is bordered on the south by Georgia, to which Bush has extended his ever-expanding war on terrorism.

Cheney’s task force was not the only place Enron was getting special attention in Washington. E-mails obtained by The Washington Post show that the National Security Council set up a “Dabhol Working Group” to help Enron to make its power plant competitive or to sell it.

Records obtained by The Post through a Freedom of Information Act request also showed that the working group’s plans in August included an “Enron trip” to a location officials blacked out before it was released. Plans for September included a visit to India by U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick, a former paid Enron consultant.

The records also showed that Cheney raised the issue with Sonia Gandhi, leader of India’s Congress Party, in June and with Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh in October. Undersecretary of State Alan P. Larson reportedly also discussed Dabhol with Singh that month.

The Post said Larson revived the issue during a visit to India with Secretary of State Colin Powell in January, weeks after Enron had filed for bankruptcy protection. The Post said Powell himself warned Singh last April that “failure to resolve the matter could have a serious deterrent effect on other investors.”

The Bush administration justified helping Enron because the plant was partly financed through the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, which gave Enron $554 million in loans and $204 million in risk insurance, and the Export-Import Bank, which lent the company $675 million.

Not surprisingly, the federal investigation of possible fraud committed by Enron’s executives also has the company’s fingerprints all over it.

FBI Director Robert Mueller, for example, was hired by Enron in 1993 to investigate a $600,000 payment by a subsidiary for a property assessed at $41,000. When Mueller concluded the deal was not improper, a private investigator working on the case quit in protest. Despite this association, Mueller announced that it was not enough to cause him to step down from the Enron investigation. Mueller said that Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson — who previously worked for a law firm that represented Enron — agreed.

Enron was not the only potential beneficiary of the proposed pipeline in Afghanistan. Another key player was the Unocal oil conglomerate. In January 1998, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and the Taliban agreed to arrange funding on a proposed 890-mile, $3 billion pipeline in conjunction with a Unocal-led consortium. The proposed pipeline would transport natural gas from Turkmenistan across Afghanistan to an Indian Ocean port in Pakistan.

Eight months later, however, Unocal announced it was suspending the project because of the U.S. government’s attack on a bin Laden terrorist training camp in Afghanistan in retaliation for the bombing of two American embassies in Africa. Another factor in its decision, Unocal said, was the fighting between the Taliban and rebel groups. Unocal stressed that the pipeline project would not be built until a coalition Afghan government was formed and internationally recognized. U.S. negotiators also pushed the Taliban toward this goal.

An army of officials in previous Republican administration has also been busy helping Unocal. Among them are former secretaries of state James A. Baker and Henry Kissinger and Robert Oakley, the former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan who armed the mujahadeen in the 1980s. Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh identified Oakley as a key player in illegal arms shipments to Iran in return for funds sent to the right-wing contras in Nicaragua during that period.

Deputy Defense Secretary Richard Armitage is another Iran-contra conspirator who worked for Unocal. Armitage was also implicated in a lawsuit filed by villagers who suffered human-rights abuses during construction of a controversial Unocal pipeline in Burma for which Cheney’s Halliburton did contract work.

Unocal has two other important operatives. One is Hamid Karzai, Unocal’s former representative in Afghanistan who was handpicked by Bush to become head of Afghanistan’s interim government. The other is Afghan-born Zalmay Khalilzad, another former Unocal aide, whom Bush appointed special envoy to Afghanistan. As a Unocal adviser, Khalilzad participated in Unocal’s talks with the Taliban in 1997. In a 1998 column in The Washington Post, Khalilzad argued that the Taliban was not a sponsor of terrorism and that the United States should reengage the regime. This was, of course, just what Unocal wanted.

Once in office, Afghan leader Karzai wasted little time trying to help his former employer. During his first visit to Pakistan on February 8, Karzai announced that he and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf had agreed to revive the pipeline.

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, another American ally in the U.S. war in Afghanistan, expressed delight with Karzai’s announcement, saying the pipeline would provide a crucial new export outlet for his country’s huge gas reserves. Karzai took the cue and visited the Turkmen despot within a month to get his endorsement of the pipeline plan.

If Bush follows up on his threats to attack Iraq, U.S. forces could also end up controlling the nation with the world’s second-largest oil reserve. At that point, Saudi Arabia, with its larger oil reserve, homebred terrorists and the terror network’s biggest financial supporters, would no longer be so important.

If Bush’s friends make a little money as a result, it just goes to show that while oil may not mix with water, it mixes very well with war. Unfortunately, very few have noticed the stench the deadly concoction gives off.

Martin Yant is the author of four books, including Desert Mirage: The True Story of the Gulf War.

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