Louis Freeh Defending Iran-Contra Type Arms Deals Along with Bandar

There’s an aspect of the Louis Freeh interview on Frontline I find fascinating.

In defense of his client, Saudi Prince Bandar, on allegations that Bandar received billions in bribes associated with a huge BAE defense contract, Freeh mostly tries to pretend there’s a meaningful distinction between the Saudi family and high government officials in it. Thus, the plane and estate that Bandar got in connection with the BAE deal are actually government-owned facilities he has use of.

And conveniently, Freeh hasn’t looked at the Swiss Bank Accounts or the Yamamah contract, so he can’t comment on their legality.

But I’m also fascinated by a more subtle tactic Freeh uses–to implicate high ranking Americans (and Brits) in the use of the funds. 

He explains away that structure of the al Yamamah contract to Congressional intransigence during the Reagan Administration. Congress wouldn’t let the Administration sell planes to Saudi Arabia, so what was Reagan to do except encourage Margaret Thatcher to set up a big corrupt contract to bypass this restriction?

Freeh: In other words, the United States, was not able to sell the Saudis F15s, and I think you understand the origin to this contract. The King sent Prince Bandar, my client, to President Reagan with very specific instructions, “Buy F15s.” And of course the United States had armed the Saudi armed forces for the last 20 years before that.

President Reagan said to my client, “Congress will never approve the sale of F15s.” My client then went up to the hill, spoke to senior leadership on both sides of the aisle, and they said, “We can’t authorize the purchase of F15s by the King of Saudi Arabia.” He went back to President Reagan who said, “Go talk to Maggie Thatcher,” which my client did. That’s how Tornados and the treaty, not the contract but the treaty between the two countries, was originated.

He wanted to buy the planes in the United States.


So there was only one bidder here by default and that was the British Aerospace Systems and the Toranado, at least as the contract began. So the way the treaty was set up, if the Ministry of Defense and Aviation wanted to purchase U.S. arms, U.S. arms could be purchased through BAE and DESO, which was the U.K. Ministry that did the purchasing, and that was sort of a way to purchase arms, transparent way to purchase arms, but in a way that did not deal with the objection of the U.S. Congress to the selling of American equipment to the Saudis.

While we knew that was the purpose of the contract, I still find it galling that Freeh dismisses Reagan’s effort to bypass Congressional restrictions so easily.

And then Freeh makes a point of listing the Presidents who flew on Bandar’s plane the plane the Saudi government allowed Bandar to paint and use almost exclusively. 

Louis Freeh: No, absolutely not, absolutely not. The plane was assigned to him. He traveled more than the Minister of Foreign Affairs because of the intricate relationship he had between three United States presidents, Lowell, and the King of Saudi Arabia. But the king used the plane, three of our U.S. presidents used the plane, prime ministers used the plane. The fact of the matter is, you know, whatever arguments and inferences you want to make, he did not own the plane.

I’m assuming the three Presidents were Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II. But is this news? I mean, last I checked, the President–whichever one you’re talking about–has his own plane, Air Force One. But apparently all our presidents make a habit of flying around on Bandar’s own plane.


In any case, I find Freeh’s inclusion of those two details rather curious. At one level, he spends a lot of time excusing the Brits for dismissing the investigation after Bandar threatened to stop cooperating on terrorism.

Louis Freeh: No, not necessarily. If the President of the United States told the FBI, maybe this former supervisor’s equivalent, “Look, I know this is an important criminal investigation but for political reasons and for foreign policy reasons, we don’t want the Department of Justice to continue the investigation because there are very dangerous and impactful consequences that will flow from that investigation” the prosecutor is required to close that investigation.

The prosecutor can’t conduct totally unrestricted inquiries particularly if it impacts on the national security or the foreign relations of a country. So I think that’s what happened in England, not in the United States by the way, and I don’t find that to be unusual, given my experience and given the sensitive issues that were involved in this case. 

At the same time, neither Lowell Bergman nor Freeh mentions the allegations that this contract created a slush fund used to fund covert operations.

Freeh seems intent in raising details of those ops–and implicating all our recent presidents in them–along with his more general defense of Prince Bandar.

51 replies
  1. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Implied blackmail, Mr. Freeh? Would such an upstanding member of the bar be so crass? Surely, spilling the beans on the corrupt US relationship with the Saudis would be a two-edged sword with no handle?

    The meme feeds one the Dems seem in thrall to: the fear that outing scandals will lead to the complete stoppage of the federal government at the hands of tea baggers, former CongressCrittes and the RumpRepublicans still in office. That seems a possible part explanation for Mr. Obama’s choice not to veer off the brightly painted line on the political factory floor.

    • emptywheel says:

      There are a couple of interesting moments, too, where Bergman said, “well, you did X while you were Director of FBI”–including meet Turki bin Nasser, who also received benefits from the fund. Freeh gets a bit snippy there.

      It’s as if he’s using his former position to say, “all this is very normal” (and it may well be), but “I’m not implicated in it from my time at FBI.”

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Mr. Freeh, presumably, has an excellent memory for the many backgrounders and dirty tricks files he would have avidly read as head of the Eff Bee Eye. All put to good use, no doubt, for today’s clients.

  2. drational says:

    Maybe “used the plane” as in
    “Hey Bandar, this is W…. Can I use your plane to send some CI agents over to Morocco for a little R&R?”

  3. emptywheel says:

    Incidentally, Frontline includes this UAE denial that Al Yamamah was used to purchase US planes.

    Supplies of military equipment made by BAE Systems in the performance of its obligations as a contractor to the United Kingdom government in connection with the treaty were made only following the obtaining of all requisite national and international approvals.

  4. Synoia says:

    If there were to be a corruption investigation in Washington, where would it stop? Who would not be implicated? Is this why O is treading carefully, tiptoeing around too many piles of shit?

    Washington & New York. Hopelessly corrupt. Rotten to the core.

  5. fatster says:

    Speaking of Bandar, has he been sighted anywhere lately? Seems like last week there were rumors of struggles going among those “royals”, and those struggles do seem to get nasty.

    Thanks so much, EW, for once again shining your bright light on yet another area of creepy darkness.

  6. BayStateLibrul says:

    Thanks. I read most of the interview.
    What pure unadulterated double talk…
    So many secrets…
    We’ll never get to the bottom of anything…
    Makes me depressed.

  7. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    And conveniently, Freeh hasn’t looked at the Swiss Bank Accounts or the Yamamah contract, so he can’t comment on their legality.

    FOTFLMAO ;-)))

    And the snarky comments are just frosting on the cake of yet another deeeelicious thread.

    Synoia @6, my votes for ‘least likely to be implicated in DC corruption’ would be the 8 Senators who voted to oppose gutting Glass-Steagall. And Levin, no matter what else he may have done, for looking into offshoring.

      • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

        Wow, that is interesting.

        Wonder whether any of it will link up with former Texan ‘Sir’ (cough, cough) Alan Stanford. New Yorker’s 9 March 2009 issue had an article on him and I grabbed this ‘tea leaf’: Since 1999, Stanford Financial Group’s political action committee ‘and employees’ spent $4.8 million on lobbying: “mostly on issues related to money-laundering, financial services, and banking (p. 26)”.

        Interesting that Antigua is a former Commonwealth island with a piratical past.

        Meanwhile, speaking of Texans, money, and corruption… here’s an item for EW and all the eWheelies, from p. 125 of Nomi Prins “Other People’s Money“: ‘The SEC had an operating budget of $413 million in 2001. It took in $44 million in penalties, $478 million in disgorgements ($$ retrieved from ill-gotten profits), and $2 billion in fees…it doesn’t get to keep all the money: the US Treasury gets fees and penalties… .. Phil Gramm, then-chairman of the Senate banking committee, was downright hostile to proposals to increase the budget of the SEC in 2000. According to him, “We are collecting more than three times as much money as we need to run the {SEC}. This amounts to a general government tax on businesses that are trying to get capital to create jobs…. It is my objective as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee to end this situation.”

        So it would appear that Phil Gramm was not only turning a blind eye, but actively drawing up rules to aid and abet money laundering and financial shenanigans and banking secrecy to help out entities like BAE.

        Sen Carl Levin must have seen and heard plenty the past 28 years; I hope he keeps going after the tax cheats and frauds and offshore banking asshats. I’m sure he has no shortage of corrupt practices to track down — but I hope McCaskill keeps backing him up. I just wish that Whitehouse had time/energy to back up Levin, as well.
        I hugely admire Sen Levin’s work; that man is an inspiration (!).

  8. dosido says:

    While we knew that was the purpose of the contract, I still find it galling that Freeh dismisses Reagan’s effort to bypass Congressional restrictions so easily.

    Me too. I was wondering if anyone else was going to pick up on that.

  9. chetnolian says:

    A couple of things while I lurk.

    The aircraft is a Tornado, not Toronado, which if I remember correctly was a kind of car, Dodge I think. It suggests Mr Freeh’s briefing was less than complete.

    Two, and perhaps more important, is that there appears to be a misapprehension around in this interview, and thus your comments, that the Panavia Tornado is some sort of disguised Boeing F15. I know a lot of British, German and Italian engineers in a lot of companies who would be a tad surprised at that idea. And before someone starts talking about secret tech transfer or such crap, just to remind you the wings swing on the beast, more like an F14. But it isn’t one of those either. I know it comes as a surprise to Americans but these things can be designed outside the US of A. The Tornado was. Its eqipment fit was variously Brit, German and Italian as well.

    • emptywheel says:

      That’s not the allegation.

      Bergman’s got the documentation that this contract was used to buy other aircraft–Canadian and French. So we know it was used to buy more than the Tornado. And there are credible allegations–going back some time–that this was used in the wake of Iran Contra to do other buys. No one is saying this they’re confusing the F-15 and the Tornado. They’re saying the contract was used as a nice flexible pass through that, in the guise of selling one kind of airplane, allowed the UK to sell a whole range of stuff.

      As to Freeh’s pronunciation, I can’t explain that, though keep in mind this is a transcript, not a script (that is, the spelling is closest approximation to pronunciation, as witnessed by Freeh’s reference to himself as “Louie”).

      • chetnolian says:

        I don’t think from the actual text of the transcript “Tornado” is a pronounciation misunderstanding, it looks more like a genuine error.

        Forgive me, I sometimes miss episodes, but have we seen the document Bergman refers to? I ask because, from my knowledge of the programme, I found it surprising, not that the Saudis might have tried, but that they succeeded in getting anything non-UK through

          • chetnolian says:

            Thanks. For what it’s worth I don’t think that actually happened as planned, not least because France had its own Al Suwairi deal and I am fairly sure the UK told them to use their own pot..

            By the way I wouldn’t want you to think I liked Al Yamamah (ever)but was only trying to aid overall accuracy.

            I got a bit close to this flame and feel a little scorched!

  10. Leen says:

    EW way to follow the money. Remember when Former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neil was canned when he started to follow the money

    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      Leen, I blame you for getting me hooked on Frontline documentaries about financial meltdowns and black money. Meanie!

      • Leen says:

        thanks really like being blamed for leading to Frontline documentaries. What the hell would we do without FDL, Frontline, Moyers, Amy, Glenn.

            • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

              (Mine’ll get done when it gets done… and I’ll even still be sane when it’s done ;-))

              FWIW, I’m a devotee of David Allen’s GTD method, so it all manages to find its way to one workflow or another…

              • freepatriot says:

                oh, great

                I was gonna get a few things done

                instead, now I’m gonna spend all day reading links on how to get things done

                my “Ironic Lifestyles” support group is gonna have a field day with this …

                (duckin & runnin)

                • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

                  Whine, whine, whine ;-)))

                  When I was a kid, I had to go to confession and Father would tell me to say 5 Hail Marys, a Rosary, and about 10 Our Fathers to try and save my laggard soul.

                  I think a remark like that one @35 should require you to listen to a half hour of Sarah Palin speeches, 15 uninterrupted minutes of John McCain on “Economic Leadership”, Vitter wailing about the sanctity of marriage for about 20 minutes, and by then….

                  Well… by then, you’d probably want to go brew a nice, hot cuppa tea.
                  I’d recommend an organic jasmine, nicely brewed, and offered to your least favorite local wingnut with a big, happy smile — that outta piss off the wingnut; with any luck at all, they’ll go screaming off for Twinkies and Fritos ;-))

  11. MartyDidier says:

    Well finally it’s great to start reading DETAIL about the huge Drug system that I’ve been talking about involving the family I was in and many others within the Federal Government. Fasten your seatbelt though as there still is a lot more yet to surface!

    I personally know a few HUGE Drug Lords in the Midwest. Plus realize that these people are protected by the town’s police in their area who are supported by the Town’s Government. This is the case in my home town of Northbrook, IL.

    Marty Didier
    Northbrook, Il

  12. skdadl says:

    Isn’t there some term in law, some concept in law, that says that CYA is not a legitimate reason for making claims on behalf of the state? And in fact, if you try that and we can find you out, there will be consequences?

    I am NAL, but I find this so frustrating, because your guys do it; our guys do it; the Brits do it, and sometimes they are pretty much doing it in plain sight. The “national security” / “damage to international relations” dodge is being used to shut down serious investigations by fiat.

    They are mocking us — the law, democracy, and us.

      • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

        Oh, I’d say that Sarah Palin deserves a fair amount of credit.

        And actually, I know several ‘moderate Republicans’ who were really struggling with the idea of voting for Obama — until they heard Sarah Palin. Then, when Colin Powell gave his very thoughtful, quiet, comprehensive support to Obama/Biden, that clinched it for a couple people that I know (who are still afraid the old 1960s-style Union Thugs are going to come roaring out of some closet in the WH telling them how to run their companies).

        And Susan Eisenhower at the Dem Convention was someone that myself and several other women (and men) that I know felt like we could **really** identify with where she was coming from (!); what a breath of fresh air!

        • Leen says:

          I think your right Sarah did help because as Pissed off Patricia said “every time Sarah speaks we all feel smarter”

          Some folks realized that they really did want a Pres and V.P. who were smarter than than they are. Sarah one heartbeat away from the Pres position really scared some folks. Thanks Sarah…the gift that keeps on giving

          • freepatriot says:

            “every time Sarah speaks we all feel smarter”

            that’s the paradox of repuglitardism

            you feel smarter, but princess pandora is actually killing your brain cells

            that’s why “teh stupid” burns

            michele bachman has killed more brain cells than beer

  13. Leen says:


    Dennis Ross’s Iran Plan

    Widely viewed as a cog in the machine of Israel’s Washington lobby, Ross was not likely to be welcomed in Tehran–and he wasn’t. Iran’s state radio described his appointment as “an apparent contradiction” with Obama’s “announced policy to bring change in United States foreign policy.” Kazem Jalali, a hardline member of the Iranian parliament’s national security committee, joked that it “would have been so much better to pick Ariel Sharon or Ehud Olmert as special envoy to Iran.” More seriously, a former White House official says that Ross has told colleagues that he believes the United States will ultimately have no choice but to attack Iran in response to its nuclear program.

    Not quite a neoconservative himself, Ross has palled around with neocons for most of his career. In the 1970s and ’80s he worked alongside Paul Wolfowitz at the Defense and State Departments, and with Andrew Marshall, a neoconservative strategist who leads the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessments. In 1985 Ross helped launch the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), the Israel lobby’s leading think tank.

    From the late 1980s through 2000, Ross served as point man on Arab-Israeli issues for George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, acquiring a reputation as a highly skilled diplomat, albeit one with a pronounced pro-Israel tilt. He led the US side at the July 2000 Camp David summit, but he was deeply mistrusted by Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, and the feeling was mutual. At a crucial moment in the negotiations, Ross threw a tantrum, hurling a briefing book into a table full of juice and fruit. Not surprisingly, when Arafat rejected the Israelis’ less-than-generous offer, Ross heaped blame on the Palestinians for scuttling the talks, the failure of which led directly to Ariel Sharon’s rise to power and the second intifada. Daniel Kurtzer, an Orthodox Jew who served as US ambassador to Israel and Egypt and who was one of Obama’s top Middle East advisers last year, co-wrote a book in which he explained, “The perception always was that Dennis started from the Israeli bottom line, that he listened to what Israel wanted and then tried to sell it to the Arabs.”

    one perspective of Ross
    Who is Dennis Ross, what does he advocate, how was he positioned to become the adviser on Iran in the Obama Administration and what will he do to Iran if he gets the chance? Let me briefly review the case.

    Dennis Ross is best known as the dishonest broker who led the so-called negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians during the Clinton Administration. He was “Israel’s lawyer,” to use Aaron David Miller’s apt description of the role that Ross’s “negotiating team” played in the Clinton era, particularly in 1999-2000.[2]

    Ross, along with Martin Indyk—who was Clinton’s national security advisor and the US Ambassador to Israel—is a cofounder of the Washington Institute.[3] After leaving office in 2000, Ross became the director of the WINEP. Once the 2008 presidential election approached, Ross jockeyed for a position, left his directorship job and became a “Consultant” to the institute.[4] Originally, Ross and Indyk represented one wing of the WINEP, a wing which appeared to be close to the Israeli Labor Party. Another wing, closer to the Likud Party, and particularly Benjamin Netanyahu, consisted of individuals such as Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, individuals who played a pivotal role in planning the invasion of Iraq.[5] The difference between the Likud and the Labor wing of the Washington Institute was mostly one of the means employed rather than the end sought.[6] Both wings of the WINEP, similar to Kadima, strove toward a “Greater Israel” (Eretz Yisrael) that includes all or most of “Judea and Samaria.” They both saw Iran’s support for the Palestinian resistance as the biggest obstacle in achieving that goal.

  14. WilliamOckham says:


    Have you seen these documents (apparently authentic) about the genesis of the deal? I just happened across them in a desultory google search of the topic. Interesting reading, brings back the bad old days of Reagan-Thatcher.

    • chetnolian says:

      Without going into many of the the actual documents this looks right as to what happened.

      Bits of this kept leaking into the system at the time, as BAe were on tenterhooks.

      The next stage was that early on the Saudis failed to provide quite enough oil, which is why I don’t think there was a big surplus in the account for nefarious practices. Not saying such practices might not have occurred, only that the consistent message was not enough cash, rather than there ever being too much. People all down the supply chain were taking risks and worrying.

  15. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Just to show that shamming is not the same as shaming, see this der Spiegel article on the “fight” against tax havens:

    “The era of banking secrecy is over,” the official communiqué issued at the end of the G-20 summit in London concluded. From now on, the authors wrote, “non-cooperative jurisdictions, including tax havens,” can expect to face sanctions and be placed on a list of countries not in compliance with the “international standard for exchange of tax information.”

    The threat promptly produced astonishing results. Less than 120 hours after the close of the London summit, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published the shortest blacklist of all time — with exactly zero entries. Apparently not a single country today remains willing to serve as a place of refuge for global capital.

    The fact that all the world’s tax havens seem to have disappeared overnight is primarily the result of skillful diplomacy. Even the most notorious offshore financial centers have managed to quickly purge themselves of all suspicions of aiding and abetting tax evaders.

    How did they do it? By giving “solemn assurances” to abide by international agreements in future. Kinda like Mr. Obama and civil rights.

  16. Mary says:

    Wasn’t there something in Wright’s Looming Tower about the interactions of Freeh and O’Neill after the Khobar Tower bombings – with Freeh pumped and plumped on how spiffy keeno the Saudis were helping with that and O’Neill challenging that and Freeh getting huffy as a result?

    Can’t find anything online and don’t have the book with tme, but there is this from an old Slate piece:

    Freeh At Last

    Far from being vindicated in the intelligence committees’ report, Freeh (who vacated the FBI director’s office a mere 78 days prior to the World Trade Center’s toppling) comes in for a pasting. Some examples:

    “Regarding Saudi Arabia, former FBI Director Louis Freeh testified that, following the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing, the FBI ‘was able to forge an effective working relationship with the Saudi police and Interior Ministry.’ A considerable amount of personal effort by Director Freeh helped to secure what he described as ‘unprecedented and invaluable’ assistance in the Khobar Towers bombing investigation from the Saudi Ambassador to the United States and the Saudi Interior Minister. By contrast, the Committees heard testimony from U.S. Government personnel that Saudi officials had been uncooperative and often did not act on information implicating Saudi nationals.” (Page 110)

    Oh well – it’s good to get reassurance from Freeh that this is all a tempest in a crowded coach seat and it’s really all about business plane use – and that the only bad thing is that investigating the business plane use would have, “very dangerous and impactful consequences” for the national security of the United Kingdom. See – it’s all fine as long as no one triggers those “very dangerous and impactful consequences” by investigating.

    Must be all my horse background – impactful makes me think of enema-tic more so than spyboy enigmatic.

    • skdadl says:

      Must be all my horse background – impactful makes me think of enema-tic more so than spyboy enigmatic.

      Heh. No horses here, but I had a similar thought. So that’s the level of English among the best and the brightest these days, is it? Feh.

      I know I should be beyond being shocked by these guys, but I just stared at that man all the way through the interview, trying to figure out how anyone could go that bad. In public. And not be ashamed.

      And of course I can’t.

    • prostratedragon says:

      There are many such stories. Have The Looming Tower but alas haven’t read it yet, so I guess similar are in circulation elsewhere, or in the author’s mag articles.

      But that type of story, often via O’Neill’s recount to someone, are the biggest reason (well, I always did think he was a minder and a real JEH throwback) for my tingling nerve endings.

    • pdaly says:

      Must be all my horse background – impactful makes me think of enema-tic more so than spyboy enigmatic.

      I like the quote. Makes me recall (from TV viewing, not life experience) the arm-length gloves they use on elephants and other large mammals. A clean pair we could send to any Obama administration person showing initiative and willingness to get to the bottom of this mess.
      They deserve our support and protection.

    • Nell says:

      Freeh (who vacated the FBI director’s office a mere 78 days prior to the World Trade Center’s toppling)

      So Freeh is the director under whom early warning signs were brushed off?

      This gets more and more interesting.

  17. pdaly says:

    This is a funny quote starting on page 39 of the Freeh interview Marcy linked to at the top of her post

    Louis Freeh: [snip]
    But everything my client and his family did was totally proper.

    And you know, whether you think you should be dealing in large amounts of cash or not, totally consistent with anti-money laundering and no evidence of any terrorist financing or any other improper activity, so those are the facts. And, you know, we can talk about why somebody should have large cash transactions or not. Many wealthy people, many Americans do that every day. Bernie Madoff did it for 20 years. Uh, but that’s not what . .

    Lowell Bergman: And he turned out to be a crook.

    Louis Freeh: Well, that’s not the point with respect to this FBI investigation. The findings were that my client was totally absolved and his family of any wrongdoing. The bank, on the other hand, had to pay $25 million.

    Nice pick up, Mr. Bergman!! Yes, Madoff was a crook. Why did Freeh think of Madoff first when defending Bandar?

  18. oldtree says:

    Our tax dollars at work, paying a consigliere and pimping for a saudi whore. Sad, pathetic, and criminal.
    Time this crap ended, badly.

  19. Mauimom says:

    Louis Freeh is a turd.

    When I was a secretary @ Harvard Law School, I used to go “backbench” in various classes. Freeh was obnoxious then, as now.

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