Press Box

Richard Perle Libel Watch, Week 4

He’s just too busy resigning to sue this week!

Resigning for the good of the war effort? Yeah, that’s it

Richard Perle may have lost his chairmanship of the Defense Policy Board, but he’ll still get his day in court to repair the damage he claims The New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh did to his name—if he ever gets around to filing that promised libel suit.

As you recall, Perle squealed libel four weeks ago immediately following publication of Hersh’s New Yorkerfeature about the potential conflict of interest posed by his dual roles as DPB chair and homeland-security industrial-complex entrepreneur. Perle called Hersh a “terrorist” and vowed to sue the Pulitzer Prize winner in a British court where, pardon the expression, plaintiffs’ cases are supposed to be “cakewalks.”

Instead of turning up the heat on Hersh, Perle’s antics attracted the attention of other ethicists in government and the press. A member of Congress asked the Department of Defense inspector general to examine Perle’s work on the behalf of the bankrupt telecom company Global Crossing, which is trying to sell itself to a Chinese concern. (The FBI and Defense Department oppose the deal on national security grounds.)

Coincidentally, on March 26, the day this libel watch posted its third installment, Perle  had a snit and resigned from the chair of DPB—but remained on the board itself. Two days later, the New York Times’ Stephen Labaton, who had uncovered the Global Crossing connection, served Perle another bowl of grief. Labaton reported that Perle, while chairing the DPB, had also advised Loral Space & Communications as it contested U.S. government charges that it had improperly transferred rocket technology to China.

(Perle’s coziness to companies doing business with—or selling themselves to—Chinese interests clashes with his previously stated views on the country. An article in the May 18, 1997, Washington Post “Outlook” section quoted Perle thusly on the Chinese menace: “China is laying the foundations for an aggressive claim to preeminence in the Pacific. It ought to be very clear that this is a catastrophe for all of us, and could foreshadow a Cold War as bad as the last.”)

As this column reported last month, Perle had to be bluffing about suing Hersh. The British courts don’t take kindly to forum shoppers like Perle, and besides, Perle has yet to identify the specific libel that so aggrieves him beyond calling the article “all lies, from beginning to end“—which is several pages short of a legal brief. If anything, the recent revelations about Perle’s dealings with Loral and Global Crossing only strengthen Hersh’s case about Perle’s potential conflicts of interest. If Perle intends to sue Hersh, he might want to kill two birds with one libel attorney and sue the New York Times, too.

After Perle resigned from the DPB chair, his friends at the Wall Street Journal editorial page gave him 1,500 words in which to vent. He wasn’t quitting, he told us, because his critics were right about potential conflicts of interest but because the controversy might “distract” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from the prosecution of the war in Iraq—a war that counts Perle as a major architect. The Journal editorialists, who once delighted in measuring the ethical transgressions of Clinton’s posse with a micrometer, discovered a hidden agenda behind the scrutiny: “Our own view is that Mr. Perle should have understood that Global Crossing was politically toxic. But you can tell something else is going on here because the ethics attack is now extending to the rest of the Board.”

The best critic of Richard Perle’s willingness to work both sides of the revolving door between government and business turns out to be … Richard Perle. Craig Hooper, a “Press Box” Auxiliary member, dug up a revealing quotation from ex-Chairman Perle collected during his last ride on the ethics-go-round.

The background is that back in 1989, after seven years of boosting Turkey inside the Pentagon as a Bush I appointee, Perle helped found International Advisors Inc., which lobbied for Turkey. Perle negotiated his way around federal regulations that prevent Pentagon officials from immediately serving interests, like Turkey, that they recently dealt with in an official capacity. He told the Wall Street Journal’s John J. Fialka he wouldn’t lobby the Pentagon on behalf of Turkey but he would head the firm’s advisory committee, for which he was paid  $48,000 a year between 1989 and 1994.

In the Journal piece, the ethical Perle stated:

I find very distasteful this business where people leave the government and the next thing you know, they’re on the other side of the table negotiating with the U.S. 

Perhaps this was Perle’s way of saying it’s more ethical to stay inside government and negotiate with the U.S. than to spin through the revolving door and negotiate from the outside.


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