That, at least, is the verdict from Tony Perry of the LA Times in his review of “Frontline: Black Money.” The PBS documentary by Lowell Bergman and Oriana Zill de Granados features the story of BAE and the Saudi Prince. Perry says the show “is first-class journalism: high-minded, fact-filled and balanced, with some eye-catching visuals.” The problem, he says, is that Americans have moved on.
“Months ago,” Perry writes, “in the world before the AIG bonuses, Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme and credit derivatives, news that the U.S. was looking at BAE as a test of U.S. anti-bribery laws would have seemed interesting, a nice bit of reporting. Now there’s something unsettling about the prospect of government lawyers taking actions that could throw more Americans out of work. . . In journalism there is a concept called ‘being overtaken by events’ in which news developments undercut your story before it’s published. ‘Black Money’ has been overtaken by a tidal wave.”
But while the Times’ Perry was lamenting the producers’ unfortunate timing, his colleagues at the paper, Tom Hamburger and Josh Meyer, apparently thought otherwise. What caught their eye wasn’t BAE or Prince Bandar, but Former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh. He’s been representing the Prince and speaks for him in the Frontline program.
Alexandra Wrage had this to say about Freeh’s on camera performance: If Bush and Blair make you wince, Louis Freeh will make you cringe. Freeh represents Prince Bandar and argues that a plane given to Bandar by BAE was for Saudi Arabia’s military purposes and was not a personal gift. And, no, according to Freeh, the fact that Bandar used the plane himself and had it painted in the colors of his beloved Dallas Cowboys doesn’t change the aircraft’s military nature.
Hamburger and Meyer report that Freeh’s staunch defense of Prince Bandar is drawing some high-level flack. They quote Richard Clarke, a counter-terrorism advisor to Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush. He told the Times, “Someone [like Freeh] who characterizes himself as a U.S. patriot and national security advocate ought not to be on the side of someone blackmailing people not to investigate crimes by threatening to withdraw a nation’s cooperation against terrorists.”
Freeh has said “the claim that Prince Bandar attempted to interfere” with the British investigation is “refuted by the facts.” But the U.K. High Court found otherwise. It said that in July 2006, as the Serious Fraud Office was about to obtain access to Swiss bank accounts, “those described discreetly as ‘Saudi representatives’ [made] a specific threat to the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, Jonathan Powell: if the investigation was not stopped there would be no contract for the export of Typhoon aircraft and the previous close intelligence and diplomatic relationship would cease.” (See our post here)
And the U.K. Guardian reported that the two-judge High Court panel “heard unchallenged allegations that it was Prince Bandar, the alleged beneficiary of £1bn in secret payments from the arms giant BAE, who threatened to cut off intelligence on terrorists if the investigation into him and his family was not stopped. Investigators said they were given to understand there would be ‘another 7/7’ and the loss of ‘British lives on British streets’ if they carried on delving into the payments.”
Dennis Lormel, a former supervisory agent with the FBI working on the BAE case, said although he has “utmost regard” for Freeh’s integrity, it’s still “a mistake for him to represent someone who reportedly helped shut down the British investigation into BAE,” according to the LA Times’ story.
BAE, meanwhile, seems to be heading in another direction from the Prince. Its statement quoted in the LA Times said: “BAE Systems’ view is that the interests of the company as well as of all its stakeholders, including the general public, are best served by allowing these investigations to run their course. The company is working with regulators towards that end, with a view to achieving resolution of the ongoing investigations.”