Other segments from the episode on September 12, 2006
DATE September 12, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: T. Christian Miller talks about his new book "Blood
Money," about greed, waste and fraud undermining reconstruction of
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
The reconstruction of Iraq was supposed to show America at its best and
improve the lives of the Iraqi people. But as the new book, "Blood Money,"
points out, after more than three years, Iraqis have less electricity than
under Saddam Hussein, oil production is far below its prewar peak, and there
are outbreaks of easily-preventable diseases like hepatitis. "Blood Money" is
about the greed, waste and fraud that have undermined the rebuilding of Iraq.
My guest is the author T. Christian Miller. He's an investigative reporter
for the LA Times. Miller says the people who have profited from the billions
poured into Iraq include a motley assortment of retired Republican operatives,
US businessmen, Iraqi exiles with dubious histories and doubtful motives and
massive US corporations like Halliburton and Bechtel. In Washington,
political appointees did their best to make sure friends got in on the action.
Before we get into some of the specific stories of corruption, fraud and
waste, what was the ideal we were shooting for in the reconstruction of Iraq?
Mr. T. CHRISTIAN MILLER: That's a great question, because after almost
three years of covering that, I can't tell you, nor do I believe that any Bush
administration official could tell you, succinctly and clearly, what the goal
is for the reconstruction of Iraq. It changed over time from different
After a morning of fishing in August of 2003, President Bush went before a
group of reporters outside of Crawford, Texas, and told them that his vision
was to make Iraq have the best infrastructure in the whole region. Flash
forward three years, and you get to the current head or some of the senior
officials in the reconstruction program sort of meekly saying that the best we
can hope for is to build a foundation upon which the Iraqis can build their
own society, their own country.
So you've never really had a clear statement of what it was that we were
trying to achieve over there. That didn't stop them from spending $30
billion, but it did stop them from having a coherent vision.
GROSS: Of the $30 billion that we've spent so far in the reconstruction of
Iraq, how much of that money is unaccounted for or has gone to fraud and
Mr. MILLER: Well, nobody's going to be able to give you a figure on that.
And that's partly due to the complexity of the spending that happened.
There's two big pots of money in Iraq. One, which was Iraqi money--that is,
the revenue that did come from oil pumping, mostly. And that was about $20
billion that we had responsibility for, and then there was $30 billion in US
taxpayer money--that's money that you and I pay through taxes and flows over
there. On the Iraqi side of the equation, there are literally billions of
dollars which will never be accounted for. We just don't know how that money
was spent or where it went or what happened to it at all.
On the US side of the equation, that $30 billion, that has been much more
carefully tracked, and there have been numerous audits done that raise
questions about hundreds of millions, tens of millions, in different projects
in different portions. But the corruption and fraud and waste on the US side
of the equation appears to be less of an issue than it does on the Iraqi side
of the money, although we still bear responsibility for the Iraqi money that
was--we were spending it; it was in our wallets. But we seem to have been
much freer in how we spent that money.
GROSS: Your book, "Blood Money," is filled with stories of corporate greed in
Iraq. Let's start with one example, and this has to do with the cell phone
system in Iraq. There wasn't a cell phone system in place under Saddam
Hussein. Why not?
Mr. MILLER: The cell phone system is one of the strangest chapters of the
whole reconstruction. Saddam Hussein feared communications. He feared the
free flow of information amongst his citizens, and so he had never installed a
cell phone system, or much of a phone system at all, frankly, in Iraq. And so
when the US invades Iraq in March of 2003, they come upon a country which has
no cell phone system at all--26 million people. It was, as cell phone company
executives call it, the world's last green-field market, completely
exploitable, completely ready for a system to be installed.
Because Saddam Hussein had not installed a cell phone system because of that
communications issue, it became one of the primary first priorities of the US
occupation government, to get a cell phone system up and running so that
ordinary Iraqis could talk to each other, so that businessmen could get
business flowing, so that Iraqis could call their police forces, their
military, the US military to report any sort of insurgent activity or any
other sort of dangerous situations. So it really was one of the top
priorities of the first year in Iraq.
GROSS: And how were the different companies angling to get themselves a
Mr. MILLER: It was really a free-for-all at the time. You have to keep in
mind in sort of summer of 2003, Iraq was still relatively peaceful. And so it
was this billion-dollar marketplace, and everybody wants to get in there. And
so you had companies like Lucent, companies like Qualcomm, trying--and Middle
Eastern companies, Asian companies, European companies, all trying to get into
And so what the coalition government does is they say, `Well, we're going to
auction off licenses.' And they do that, and the process proceeds, and they
end up awarding three cell phone licenses for all of Iraq. None of those
three licenses goes to an American company, and that angers some individuals
inside the Pentagon, in particular, an individual named Jack Shaw, who was
then a deputy undersecretary of defense, a Rumsfeld appointee.
GROSS: And you said that he was designated as the Pentagon's liaison to Iraq
on telecom issues, even though he had no background in either defense
contracting or telecommunications.
Mr. MILLER: Yeah. Jack Shaw was a career political appointee. He'd served
numerous Republican administrations. There was nothing that obviously
qualified him for this job except for the fact that one of his good friends
was on the board of a company that was trying to get a cellular phone contract
in Iraq. That company was shut out in the cell phone licensing auction, so
they didn't get a license. They didn't get a phone system.
So Shaw then spends the next year or so, essentially, trying to get this
company, which was called Liberty Mobile or Guardian Net--it changed its name
over time--trying to make sure that company gets a piece of the action in
Iraq. And it's literally how they see it: a piece of the action. There's
just all sorts of things he tries to do over there. He hectors the local
people on the ground in Iraq to try and get them a cell phone contract. He
tries to have a member of the company's board of directors appointed the
minister of communications in Iraq. It's an endless saga that goes on and on
for months and months.
And, essentially, he tries to steer one particular contract to this company,
which--on whose board one of his friends serves. And that whole effort ends
up collapsing in March of 2004 when two whistle-blowers on the ground in Iraq
say, `This is just ridiculous. We don't need this company here, we don't want
them here, we don't need this sort of system here. You've got to back off.'
GROSS: Before we get to the whistle-blowers, let's talk a little bit about
what the plan was. One of things he did--one of the things that Shaw did was
to find a kind of backdoor way of getting the contract for his friend's
company, and this was through the help of legislation that gave special
preference to native companies, native corporations, in Alaska. Would you
describe what that legislation was?
Mr. MILLER: Right, this is what I'm referring to when I talk about one of
the strangest chapters in the reconstruction. What happens is there are
companies called Alaska Native companies. Those are companies which are
formed by Alaska natives, that is, tribal Alaskans. And they have special
contracting privileges, like many other minority groups do, but with one
enormous exception. Most minority contract awards are limited in their size,
but Alaska Native corporations can receive any size contract. Billion-dollar,
$2 billion, it doesn't matter.
Another special feature of these corporations is they don't actually have to
be--they don't have to be--they don't have to do the work, much of the work.
There's some small percentage they are required to do, but they can win a big
government contract for $2 billion and then immediately subcontract out to a
Lockheed Martin, let's say, and that's happened many times in the past. So
it's sort of a scam that a well-known industry--subindustry in the government
contracting world, that a big Native American corporation will get one of
these set aside, no-bid minority contracts, then immediately hand it over to
some other big corporation.
In Iraq, the way that particular system plays out is that Senator Ted Stevens,
who is the senior senator from Alaska, and has always been very aggressive
about protecting his constituents' interests, he inserts at the last minute
into one of the reconstruction bills a special clause which specifically
preserves those special contracting privileges the Alaskans have.
You fast forward a couple months and Jack Shaw seizes upon this, these no-bid
contracts of any size, and what he essentially does is he connects an Alaska
Native corporation called Nana Pacific with his friend's corporation, which is
called Guardian Net. And those two companies together, then, are going to get
a no-bid contract. And that no-bid contract will then, as he puts it, morph
into a cellular phone contract worth up to $1 billion for all of Iraq. And
that is what the whistle-blowers object to.
GROSS: So how did the whistle-blowers find out about this scheme?
Mr. MILLER: Well, the whistle-blowers were directly involved. They were
sort of the--Shaw was in Washington, overseeing this whole process. And there
was a phrase that the folks in Iraq had about Washington, which is that it was
the 8,000-mile-long screwdriver. The people in the Pentagon were kind of
turning the screwdriver and trying to make things work in Iraq and not giving
responsibility to the people on the ground in Iraq.
And so the people on the ground in Iraq, a man named Dan Sudnick, who was in
charge of the telecommunications effort in Iraq, he was basically watching all
this occur and watching it get worse and worse and worse, and he finally had
enough and tried to pull the plug on the whole process.
GROSS: But he was smeared?
Mr. MILLER: Oh, yeah. First of all, Jack Shaw, back here in Washington,
begins to spread rumors that Sudnick himself is corrupt and that his original
cell phone licensing deal was a problem, although the inspector general
investigated that and had cleared him. And he essentially--and Ted Stevens
himself makes a visit over to Iraq at about this same time and sort of raises
some issues as to why it is that--you know, are there problems with contracts
going to Alaska Native corporations. So Sudnick finds himself essentially
abandoned, his name smeared and his reputation tarnished. He's summarily
fired by the coalition, by then-Ambassador Paul Bremer, who's in charge of the
occupation government for the first year, is put on a plane and sent home.
And he struggles today to try and recover his reputation and to clear his name
GROSS: So the way that Shaw from the Defense Department gets this backdoor
deal for his friend through partnering with an Alaska Native corporation, it's
all legal? It is all legal. So what's the problem?
Mr. MILLER: Well, yeah, it's all legal. It sounds comical, but it is all
definitely legal. The problem was that--well, there was a couple of problems.
One, it wasn't what anybody in Iraq wanted. Nobody needed another cellular
Number two, the particular type of system that they wanted to install is a
system widely unused in the US, but it's not used anywhere else in the world,
so if you put the system in Iraq, nobody else would be able to use it, and it
would basically force the Iraqis in the Middle East to go on the US standard
of cell phone communications, which would basically reward very much companies
like QualComm, but wouldn't do very much for telecommunications in the Middle
East. So that was the second thing.
And the third thing was it was simply unseemly. It was a conflict of interest
at the very least, and both the FBI and the inspector general for the Pentagon
both looked into this matter, although ultimately the FBI filed no charges in
GROSS: Now, you say that this scandal set back the telecommunications
industry in Iraq. How?
Mr. MILLER: What happened with--well, the cellular phone system itself
continued apace, and it has grown, and it's actually one of the very few
success stories of the reconstruction of Iraq, is that the cell phone system
has grown and expanded. So Iraqis today have cell phone communications.
They're not great, but they have them.
On the other side, the particular contract that was involved in this deal
between the Alaska Native corporation and the US company involved police
communications. It was a contract to allow communications between police
systems, essentially. That whole effort collapses when Dan Sudnick leaves.
And it's only now, almost three years later, that there is a 911 system which
is up, but there was a recent inspector general report which got almost no
attention which, essentially, says that Iraqis today, three and a half years
later, still can't call their local police station. They still can't report
an insurgent attack or an insurgent--even tip off the Iraqi army or military,
because they still don't have an effective system of communicating both with
their emergency centers, their first responder centers and--nor do those
centers have an effective way of communicating with each other.
So three and a half years later, it's an amazing thing, where we've put this
focus on trying to tamp down the insurgency and yet we still can't create a
system that allows an Iraqi to call 911.
GROSS: My guest is T. Christian Miller. His new book is called "Blood
We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is T. Christian Miller, an
investigative reporter with the Los Angeles Times. His new book is called
"Blood Money," and it's about fraud, corruption and waste in the
reconstruction of Iraq.
Let's look at another story that you document in your book, "Blood Money." And
this is the story of Custer Battles, the company that got millions and
millions of dollars in security contracts in Iraq. The company was created by
Scott Custer and Mike Battles. What was their experience and track record in
security when they went to Iraq and started getting these contracts?
Mr. MILLER: None, essentially, the bottom line is. Or almost none. Scott
Custer had done some work in private security consulting, and Mike Battles had
been a CIA officer, had retired and then had run for Congress as a Republican
candidate in Rhode Island. And so, in the fall of 2002, after Mike Battles
loses that race, he and his friend Scott Custer--they're old buddies from the
Army--are looking around for work, essentially. And one of the obvious
opportunities is Iraq as Iraq begins to slowly grind toward war.
Only about a month after the invasion of Iraq, Mike Battles takes a taxi from
Amman, Jordan--he's got $475 in his pocket--and he arrives in Iraq, which at
the time is chaos. I call it like this, the cantina scene out of "Star Wars."
You've got contractors running around, you've got Iraqis running around,
you've got government officials. Nobody knows what's going on. It's complete
And into this chaos, Mike Battles arrives and he hears some talk in the
corridor that there's a need for a private security contractor out at the
Baghdad airport. And so he essentially negotiates on the fly with a coalition
official a contract to provide security at the airport, which--keep in
mind--the airport is, at this time, the only way, really, in and out of Iraq,
to move large quantities of goods in and out of Iraq. So, again, it's one of
these very crucial jobs in Iraq.
And within two months of arriving in Iraq, Custer Battles has a--I think it's
a $18 million contract to provide protection and security in the airport in
GROSS: So you have two guys there who were promising to get the job done and
get it done quickly but with nothing to back that up.
Mr. MILLER: Right. In fact, as it later turned out, they didn't even
actually have the money to hire people and to bring them over to Iraq. At the
time they get hired, they have four or five employees. They have no
weapons--and they're supposed to be a security firm. And they don't even have
an accountant. They essentially have the advantage of being there, of being a
body in front of a government official who's got a need to fill. And that's
all it takes, at that point in time, to get a contract.
GROSS: And then they got other contracts, too. What other contracts did they
Mr. MILLER: Yeah, one of the more remarkable things about that story is
that, almost from the beginning, government officials there--the guys who were
supposed to be doing oversight for our money and the Iraqis money--suspected
something was wrong. Very early on, they weren't delivering needed supplies,
they got a second contract, which was essentially to provide housing and
Internet services for other contractors who were involved in helping out
Iraq's banking system. And they weren't able to deliver trucks that were
needed, according to the folks I talked to. They were delivering things late.
So very early on, the government was kind of suspicious of Custer Battles.
But yet they kept winning contracts. They won this airport contract, then
they won this food and housing contract. The CIA hired them to provide
vehicles that were used in the hunt for Saddam Hussein and his family. And
they just kept racking up work.
GROSS: So how were they finally called out on this?
Mr. MILLER: Well, there's--again, it's the work of whistle-blowers. Some of
the whistle-blowers who're involved with the airport contract early on report
these problems, and the government at the time says, `We don't have--we can't
deal with this right now. Their work is too crucial, too vital, we've got to
put it aside. We just can't deal with this possible fraud.' And it isn't
until a year later, essentially, that the whistle-blowers' complaint surfaces
to the Pentagon's contract officers. And the Pentagon does an investigation
and finds out that, well, they don't really know where the money's going, and
so a year--almost a year to the day--after they get their last contract, they
have a suspension order, which essentially suspends all their works. They
can't get any more government contracts. And from there then begins a
criminal investigation. And there begins a lawsuit against them as well. And
this all culminates in a jury trial, in a civil jury trial in which they're
found guilty of fraud earlier this year, and then that gets recently
overturned and is now on appeal. So the case is still out.
GROSS: T. Christian Miller is an investigative reporter for the Los Angeles
Times. His new book is called "Blood Money." He'll be back in the second half
of the show.
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: Coming up, the hospitals in Iraq that never got built. We continue
our interview with T. Christian Miller about waste and greed in the
reconstruction of Iraq.
Also, classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz tells us about going to New Mexico
for the Santa Fe Opera's 50th summer season.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR.
I'm Terry Gross, back with T. Christian Miller, an investigative reporter for
the LA Times. He's written a new book called "Blood Money" about the greed,
waste, fraud and bad planning that have undermined the rebuilding of Iraq.
One of the things you write about is rebuilding hospitals. And in this, you
give one example of how Laura Bush asked a friend from Texas, John P. Howe,
to tour Iraq and make recommendations for improving the health care there.
What did he recommend?
Mr. MILLER: John P. Howe, who had the charity called Project Hope, comes
back from Iraq, and he has a vision that Iraq needs a children's hospital, a
high-end children's hospital, that his charity, Project Hope, specifically
will help to operate. They'll provide training and some of the equipment.
And so he approaches Laura Bush with this idea, and she thinks and lends
considerable weight and backing to this project, which evolves into being
building a very high-end care facility for children in Basra in southern Iraq.
GROSS: Did he stand to profit a lot from this hospital?
Mr. MILLER: No, the charity wasn't--it's a charity, so it's a nonprofit
organization. However, it certainly would've been a high-profile project if
Iraq had developed into the shining beacon of democracy that the
administration hoped that it would. The hospital would've obviously been
trained, people would've been trained by Project Hope, and Project Hope
would've been able to fill it with equipment from some of its medical backers.
So more than anything, it would've been a showcase for this charity.
GROSS: Now some experts in reconstruction thought that this hospital was
ill-advised. Why did they think that?
Mr. MILLER: This was a question of health economics. There's no real debate
that Iraq needs everything, a high-end hospital costing $50 million, Iraq
doesn't have anything like that. It'd certainly be a good thing. It's a
question of priorities. Iraq needs really fundamental things, and instead of
a $50 million high-end hospital, that $50 million could've bought and saved
the lives of many more children if that money had gone to such things as
vaccinations, clean drinking water, even real basic health clinics spread
throughout Iraq. Of course, that never happened, either, but it was a
question of priorities. Do we really need a hospital like this at a time when
it's difficult to even make sure that electricity flows in a place like Basra,
much less having a plastic surgery clinic.
GROSS: So what happened to this plan for the hospital?
Mr. MILLER: Well, if you go to today, three years later, inspector general
for Iraq just released a report which essentially accused USAID, which is the
US Agency for International Development, of botching this project, along with
the chief contractor, which is Bechtel, out of San Francisco. There's no
hospital there, $50 million has been spent, the project has been essentially
abandoned by Bechtel. Bechtel has said they don't believe they can complete
it at any cost. And USAID has been accused of some funny accounting to
essentially hide the true cost of this still unbuilt, unfinished, hospital in
GROSS: Looking at the larger health-care system in Iraq, you write that
Parsons Corporation, which won one of the largest rebuilding contracts, will
finish only 20 out of 150 planned health clinics?
Mr. MILLER: Yep.
GROSS: And nearly $70 million worth of medical equipment meant for the
clinics meanwhile sits unused.
Mr. MILLER: Yeah. Again, with the best intentions, the US was going to
build health clinics and hospitals throughout Iraq. Parsons Corporation,
which is in Pasadena, won that contract. And they just weren't able to
deliver. About--of the 120 to 150 health clinics that were supposed to be
finished, completed, only eight or nine were actually finished and turned over
to the Iraqis. And the rest of them will perhaps one day be finished.
They've been turned over to local Iraqi contractors to do. But the money's
running out. And so, in the meantime, we have lots of medical equipment which
is sitting around moldering in a warehouse somewhere in Iraq. And we have a
lot of walled-up health clinics that are now, instead of symbols of promise to
the Iraqis in these different neighborhoods throughout Iraq, they're symbols
of failure. And Iraqis will look at them, they'll point at them, and they'll
say, `Why isn't this health clinic open? Why isn't it working? Where is all
the money gone?' And that's a difficult question to answer.
GROSS: You offer schools and education in general as the biggest success
story during the US reconstruction of Iraq. What has made schools and
education more successful?
Mr. MILLER: I think the bar was kind of low, frankly. There was a lot of
schools in Iraq already, and essentially what that program did was painting
those schools and getting them up to--basically improving the furniture and
the desks and things like that. Bechtel, again, was given that job, which,
when you think about it, hiring a world-class engineering company like Bechtel
to paint schools in Iraq is like, you know, hiring Frank Gehry to design your
toolshed. It just doesn't make much sense. You could've given those jobs to
Iraqis rather than to a US multinational.
Nevertheless, the schools have been painted and new textbooks have been
provided, updated. I think one of the ironies with that particular project is
that they haven't been updated with the most recent information regarding the
US occupation and what it's meant, because that topic is still considered too
sensitive. So Iraqi schoolchildren today don't have any chapters in their
history books about the invasion-occupation of Iraq.
GROSS: You've cited a lot of projects that never really got completed.
Mr. MILLER: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: But the money was allocated to complete it, so what happened to that
money when there was a gap between what was allocated and what was actually
Mr. MILLER: The contractor walked away with that money. The contractor gets
paid whether or not the project--at least in Iraq, the contractors have been
paid whether or not the project has been completed, and they're often given
bonuses as well. The excuse is that Iraq was a tough place to work. It was
unlike any other contracting job in the world, and so even if Bechtel and
Halliburton and Parsons weren't able to finish the work, they got paid for
what they did and anything that was left over--there often wasn't anything
left over--could be used for--to complete the project. That hasn't happened
very often. The money has just run out.
GROSS: My guest is T. Christian Miller. His new book is called "Blood
We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is T. Christian Miller. He's an
investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Times and author of the new book,
"Blood Money: Wasted Billions, Lost Lives and Corporate Greed in Iraq," and
it's about the reconstruction of Iraq.
In reporting this story, how much of your work was looking through accounting
books and how much of it was actually going to Iraq and looking at
Mr. MILLER: Well, it was a mix. That was what I thought I most enjoyed
about my job, is that I was based in Washington, DC, and so I got to hear the
folks here in Washington talk about the reconstruction and the benefits it was
bringing to Iraq. And then it was part of my job to go over on a routine
basis--I went over four times in two years--to basically truth-squad what it
was that was being said in Iraq and to do that old-fashioned reporter's trick
of following the money. And so I would listen in Washington, DC, to what was
being said, and I would go to Iraq and I would just invariably discover the
disconnect. It was just enormous. You'd go to Iraq, and I would literally
tell them, `Take me to your model ideal best project you have going on.' And
so they would, the Army Corps of Engineers or USAID or whoever would take me
out to a water plant. And you would arrive, finally, at the end of a long
trail, money, taxpayer money, and congressional dictates and policy dictates,
to a water plant, let's say, up in northern Iraq, and there would be equipment
scattered around, and there would be a water that was not functioning and
maintenance that wasn't being done. And it was just obvious that there was a
lot of money going to waste. It just was a factor of actually putting your
feet on the ground and seeing the truth.
GROSS: Was it hard to find people willing to talk about what's going on in
the reconstruction of Iraq? Because from the way you describe it in the book,
it sounds like a lot of people have a lot to cover up, a lot that they're not
really proud of.
Mr. MILLER: Yeah. I think there was two--yes. One, there was a lot of
sensitivity about how the reconstruction was perceived, and it remains to this
day, there was a lot of hostility towards negative news. And there is, to be
fair, certainly there have been successes in Iraq, and those tend not to be
covered as much as the failures. But I think that's--the same thing can be
said for almost anything in the news media.
But the other thing was that, what I found most difficult, most challenging,
actually, was simply following the money trail. I can't think of any US
government program involving American taxpayer money that was more difficult
to simply figure out--OK, you pass this bill here, where does that money going
for in Iraq? What is it buying? Partly, that's a reflection of the chaos.
And partly, they say, it's a reflection of security. So you or I today, or
any taxpayer, if you were to go to the US Army Corps of Engineers and say,
`Show me a list of all the projects you've done,' they won't give you a list,
because they say, `If we tell you that this school here was built in this
place and it was done by the US government, the Iraqis will blow it up.' Which
I think, more than anything else, tells you how successful our
hearts-and-minds effort has been.
But you and I can't know, really. You won't be told what exactly that money
has gone for. So it's just a constant struggle to try and get out to a site,
and it was always under tight restrictions. I was rarely able to identify
where the site was or what it was called or who exactly was building it or
what companies were involved.
So there's just a lot of--a hole of information. A black hole where you just
don't know what Iraqi firms were hired, who they were, where they worked. You
don't know, necessarily, which American companies, what projects they were
doing or working on. It's just a mystery. It is. It's a black hole.
GROSS: Is there a personal adventure you had in reporting the story of
corporate greed and abuse in Iraq that reveals a larger story of the problem?
A personal adventure that reveals part of a larger story?
Mr. MILLER: Halliburton has been much maligned for wasting money in Iraq,
but when you get to Iraq and you get on the ground, you find that
Halliburton's made up of a lot of blue-collar people from middle America.
Truck drivers, cooks, people who couldn't make the American dream work in
America because the jobs don't pay enough money but who saw in Iraq an
opportunity to make $100,000 a year, which is what they were getting paid.
These folks are salt of the earth. And I rode with a convoy of truck drivers
who were delivering supplies. And you find out that they get into these
trucks, they're barreling across the most hostile landscape in the world, and
they've got no armor in their cabs. And so I'm driving with these
guys--they're just truck drivers--through Iraq. And, all of a sudden, ahead
of me, about 1,000 yards or so, some insurgents just open fire on this convoy.
And there is--I suddenly realize at that moment, there is absolutely nothing I
can do except, you know, squeeze myself into a space as small as possible and
hope that my bulletproof vest works because there's no armor in this cab.
It's just going to get shot up if this firing continues.
And, luckily, the military escort who was with that particular convoy manages
to return fire, and the insurgent either runs away or gets killed, and we
continue on our way, but I realize at that moment that in contracting out
these sorts of jobs to ordinary civilians, contractors, guys who are trying to
make a buck, the US is basically able to hide the true cost of the war. You
don't have to have as many soldiers over there, we don't have to have as many
casualties, and so it was a cheap way to conduct the war.
And today you've got, I think more than 500 contractors have now been killed
in Iraq and you never hear about those guys. If you add them to the death
toll, it'd be well over 3,000 people by now.
GROSS: Somebody who you single out for praise in your book is Stuart Bowen,
the inspector general for reconstruction in Iraq. What has been so good, do
you think, about his performance in that position?
Mr. MILLER: I think Bowen has surprised everyone. I think Bowen has
surprised in a positive way, the Democrats; in a negative way, some of the
Republicans. Stuart Bowen is--was one of Bush's closest legal advisers. He
worked with him in Texas and followed him to the White House here in
Washington. He was appointed to be the special inspector general for the
reconstruction of Iraq. And I believe that he has surprised everyone in how
aggressive he has been in revealing problems in the reconstruction of Iraq.
Bowen himself says that what he does is real-time auditing. And unlike other
auditors who will go to a project, review it and spend a year doing a report,
he tries to get in there quickly and quickly alert government officials to the
problem that he sees. And so he's rubbed a lot of people the wrong way
because he has produced numerous audits, numerous reports which have shown
problems. Laura Bush's hospital, he took that on and was the one who found
out there were some accounting questions. Halliburton. He criticized
Halliburton in the middle of an election year. So he has shown a stomach for
taking on politically sensitive topics and delivering critical reports. And
he's done that repeatedly.
GROSS: Now you've documented a lot of corporate greed and contracts given to
corporations by Americans with the works finally not done or not done well.
Do you think a lot of this work could've just gone to Iraqi companies and to
Mr. MILLER: Yes, absolutely. And three and a half years later, we're doing
that finally. One of the greatest tragedies of the reconstruction, in my
opinion, is that we're giving up on it. The money runs out at the end of this
month. Biggest chunk of money needs to all be contracted out by the 30th of
September. And here we are, three and a half years later, there's no more
money in the pipeline for the reconstruction of Iraq. This is at a time when
we finally figured out that, you know, we can--actually can send some money to
the Iraqi firms. They can do a lot of this work.
Yes, some of that money's still going to get wasted. But it'll be wasted with
Iraqi firms and, hopefully, it will trickle down somewhere in the Iraqi
economy. And so here we are, we've learned these lessons, and we're going to
give up on it. To me, that just doesn't make sense. It takes away a tool
that our soldiers, our diplomats, our public servants need in Iraq. And to
not send more money--and I acknowledge a lot of it's been wasted and there's
been fraud and abuse--but to give up on that effort now seems to me the final
tragic mistake of the reconstruction.
GROSS: T. Christian Miller, thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. MILLER: Thanks so much for having me, Terry.
GROSS: T. Christian Miller is an investigative reporter for the LA Times.
His new book is called "Blood Money."
Coming up, classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz talks about his trip to New
Mexico for the Santa Fe Opera's 50th summer season.
This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz talks about the
Santa Fe Opera's 50th anniversary season and why the Santa Fe
Opera is an important arts program
TERRY GROSS, host:
The Santa Fe Opera celebrated its 50th season this past summer, which makes it
one of the longest-running opera companies in this country. Classical music
critic Lloyd Schwartz spent the summer there 35 years ago. Over the summer,
he went back again for the first time.
(Soundbite from the "Toreador Song")
Mr. LLOYD SCHWARTZ: This summer, enticed by an exciting schedule of operas,
including an important American premiere, I made a nostalgic return visit to
the Santa Fe Opera. Back in 1971, I spent the whole summer there, visiting my
girlfriend who was part of Santa Fe's pioneering apprentice program, a program
that gives gifted young singers a chance to work with established vocalists,
directors and coaches. The buzz that summer was about a young soprano from
New Zealand with the unusual name Te Kiri Kanawa, who was making her American
But I actually got more involved with the company than I expected to. I
helped paint sets, I did some acting, I played the guard who arrests the hero
in Verdi's "Don Carlo." And I ended up writing my first professional music
review of one of Santa Fe Opera's world premieres. All ears and no threat, I
listened to musicians joke about their experiences and worry about the
precariousness of their careers. I didn't know it at the time, but that
summer in Santa Fe had been a turning point in my life.
Mostly, what was new for me this summer was the spectacular high-tech open-air
theater, which was built in 1998. There's probably no more beautiful spot on
Earth for opera than Santa Fe. When the back of the stages open, you can see
the lights of Los Alamos glittering in the distance. The old theater, with
its two dramatically cantilevered roofs, also left a dramatic opening for
rain. I remember sharing an umbrella during numerous performances.
In the new production of "The Tempest," by the young British composer Thomas
Ades, an opera based on Shakespeare's play, unscheduled lightning flashed as
if on cue, but no one except the shipwrecked characters got wet.
The Santa Fe Opera has a brilliant record of American and world premieres.
Audiences trust the company and fill the theater, even for new works. Ades,
who is only 34, is the most impressive British opera composer to come along
since Benjamin Britain. Ades' librettist, Meredith Oakes, follows
Shakespeare's plot but uses contemporary English and makes up new rhymes which
are not really an improvement on Shakespeare.
I was especially taken with Ades' otherworldly higher-than-human for the
sprite Ariel, sung by the phenomenal Cyndia Sieden, who created this role in
London two years ago. Here's Ariel obeying the orders of Rod Gilfry's
(Soundbite from "The Tempest")
Ms. CYNDIA SIEDEN: (As Ariel) (Singing) (Unintelligible).
Mr. ROD GILFRY: (As Prospero) (Singing) (Unintelligible).
(End of soundbite)
Mr. SCHWARTZ: The Santa Fe 50th anniversary season was elegantly put
together. The poet WH Auden considered "The Magic Flute" to be Mozart's
version of "The Tempest," so it was revealing to see these two operas back to
back. The productions ranged from powerful and dazzling to silly.
In "The Magic Flute," I thought it was a terrible idea to alternate between
sung German and spoken English, to mingle Elizabethan gowns and baseball caps,
to have the villain dressed as a Nazi and the Queen of the Night's daughter
Pamina look like Maria in "West Side Story." But French soprano Natalie
Dessay, the latest in a long line of wonderful singers attracted to Santa Fe,
made a ravishing and heartbreaking Pamina.
Ms. NATALIE DESSAY: (As Pamina from "The Magic Flute") (Singing in foreign
Mr. SCHWARTZ: At its best, the Santa Fe Opera can compete with the top opera
companies in the world. With its commitment to new works, its apprentice
programs and its creative outreach, the company pioneered having translations
flash on the back of the seat in front of you, and you can even choose English
or Spanish. The company is making a concerted investment in the future of
opera, which makes it one of the most vital art institutions in this country.
GROSS: Lloyd Schwartz is classical music editor of The Boston Phoenix and
teaches English at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
(Soundbite from the "Toreador Song")
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