What do you think about the shadowy side of international business — multinational companies that make secret payments to win billions in contracts?
When money given for a contract is a percentage or two of the total contract, that is bribery. The victim is the purchaser. When the money involved is a large percentage of the contract the "victim" is the supplier. Ask yourself, where did the money come from? There is no way to make a profit in paying such large amounts to win a contract, unless the buyer is deliberately paying for the "bribe".
You missed the larger story, it is blackmail not bribery at work here. More precisely, it is money laundering. Who's doing it? When? Why would the host country permit much less support it? Report that. That's why so many companies work so hard to work around strict new anti-bribery laws. They feel compelled to submit to the arrangement, and after all, its not their money.
This program was informative, but not for the obvious reasons. The main point, as I saw it, was that nationalism is of no consequence to the super rich, only to fools. Warfare has always been profitable, but it is now the biggest business there has ever been in human history. Along with that goes corruption on a massive scale to win business from that. That is the problem. Human nature never changes in that respect. Prince Bandar was correct about that.
Yesterday I ordered "Health Care NOT Warfare" bumper stickers.
While I was watching this program I was thinking how much healthcare, worldwide, for sick and dying people that one shopping spree and the trip home on the 747 to carry it all would cover – and all of that was just “a drop in the ocean”, as the French prosecutor put it, of the scope of this.
I'm still going to put the “Health Care NOT Warfare” bumper sticker on my car - right next to the only other one I have on my bumper that says, "Those that can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities" (Voltaire).
More of us need to quit worrying about how a former director of the FBI can defend a Saudi prince and open our eyes to the big picture. Nothing is going to change until everyone realizes that, “they are doing it to you”, is actually, “we are telling you that they are doing it to you to distract you while we do it to you”!
Port Angeles, WA
If Obama and others are actually sincere about creating a more peaceful global community, then we should at least strive to clean house: politically AND economically. Heaven knows that most people around the world understand that banking and other economic violence have been and are much more damaging than open warfare.
This well-made Frontline episode outlines a good place to start making the black box of this issue less opaque. For the cynics, of course, "cleaning house" on a global scale is simply a massive pipe dream.... but since everyone is striving to be in a positive mood in recent months (i.e., pushing for more equal distribution of wealth worldwide after the economic collapse): why not?
First, let me compliment Frontline on an effective expose. Having said that, Frontline clearly expended considerable resources on a story I doubt most viewers will find particularly surprising or proficuous - bribery in one form or another has always been inherent in business and always will be.
Of deeper interest and danger: several references were made within the story clearly indicating that the initial arms arrangements that led to the expose were necessitated by a desire to avoid challenges by the Israeli Lobby. The Israeli Lobby is arguably the 800 pound gorilla of American politics and self evidently antithetical to U.S. interests.
But I see Frontline doing no story on that subject, which would require a level of courage and independence far beyond that heretofore demonstrated by Frontline or any other major U.S. media. So keep up the good work Frontline, and be sure to stay well within the bounds of imposed proprieties including prohibitions about publishing letters like this one.
Your program on Black Money was well done. I read Princes of Darkness (2003) by Laurent Murawiec. We, and the rest of the western world, have been held hostage by the Saudis for forty years, paying exorbitant blackmail while they mastermind and fund terrorist organizations with our payoff money---like making a condemned man dig his own grave. And unless we commit to using alternative fuels fast, we WILL dig our own graves.
La Jolla, CA
What a compelling story Frontline exposed that has haunted the human race since it's beginning; that of whether to choose to do what is right or choose to do what is wrong.
Unfortunately for Louis Freeh, the Saudi Arabian govt., members of the British govt. and the other spokespersons and players in the BAE bribery case, their choice to conduct business in this manner has done more damage than we'll ever know and perpetuates an attitude of since everyone else is doing it, I might as well too.
Somewhere along the way, these individuals lost perspective and perhaps even what they were taught when young, which is to maintain your character and to do what is right even if it costs you something.
The heroes in the story, though they may not feel like it now, are those journalists and investigators who chose to bring to light this story. It won't rid corruption, but it does show us who we can and cannot trust. Trust and character is something you just can't buy.
I find it interesting that the Saudi Arabian prince in the 2002 interview with Frontline mentioned that corruption has been happening since the beginning of time, as if this excuses him of his shady business practices. Adam and Eve's choice to do what they wanted also cost them greatly in their walk with God. And though I'm no member of an elite group of decision makers and world players, I am a mother of two boys and you bet this pertains to our lives.
My reaction is to make sure they walk into the world with a very clear understanding that there is no glory in lying or taking that which is not rightfully yours.
Mountlake Terrace, Wa
Thank you for your exceptional program on Black Money and excellent journalism by Lowell Bergman. We need to understand how the richest of world corrupt corporations, governments democratic and not democratic with bribes and that there are still some in and out of government that recognize the corrosive effect on morality and ethics by such practices. It is good to know that our current Justice Dept. is going after this international black money corruption to prosecute what is a crime by those who practice and condone it. Keep up your excellent investigative journalism. We need it.
palo alto, Texas
Re: Black Money
An excellent, albeit disturbing, expose on "how the world really works" (and has since the beginning of time) in the shadowy realms of commerce, banking, pacification and justice. Seems to me there is only one way out for all parties involved in the Prince B.(A.E.) affair. It had to be a "rouge" employee at B.A.E. acting alone (kind of like a certain hedge fund manager in the not too distant past). I know most of us are powerless at these levels of the "global games", but do these guys really have to be so IN YOUR FACE about it???!!! What happened to the good old days when you at least lied about it or were much cleverer about the cover up (you know, the “plausible deniability planning” doctrine)?
Another face slap: the Brit on the show who insisted that due process required "prima facia" evidence of wrong doing, and since the Prince B.(A.E.) agreement was secret...no legal case possible, doesn't matter what the agreement says or what activities the parties actually engaged in!!! Wow, don't they realize if the faceless masses are told (in so many words), "Hey, I know it is wrong but: #1: I don't care what you think #2: I don't care about the consequences to you and your families #3: It's not your affair, besides, there is nothing you can do about it, and finally, #4: If it makes you feel any better, there are other people out there worse than me so you should feel lucky to have it so good", these little people begin to feel, talk and eventually act in desperate and destructive ways. But I think now, even these "power brokers" have begun to sense the acceleration of events in the news; the steady rise in random, widespread acts of anger and desperation. Perhaps the impending danger has hit home and they begin to lose their composure, engaging in defensive, defiant and arrogant slips of the tongue ("Let them eat cake.").
The masses were willing to go along with almost anything as long as they had a decent job and /or a good transfer payment from the government and the hope that the “system” was too big and too complex to be truly “rigged”.
Finally, I am not sure I could ever exactly describe in words what I felt upon seeing the face and hearing the name of our former Director of Intelligence introduced as Prince B.(A.E.)'s legal representative and/or spokesman. The ensuing conversation brought back memories of the O.J. debacle. However, there is still time to right the ship and create a new paradigm to lead the U.S. into the kind of future we all deserve, but time slips away so quickly. Well, here's to hoping that my new nickname in the near future will be "Chicken Little".
Saint Joseph, Michigan
"Pay to play" is still the name of the game in America's domestic politics; only we've legalized most of it under the pretext of "campaign contributions" and professional lobbying.
Shine a bright investigative light on just about any local political machine in the USA and you'll find endemic/systemic corruption of one sort or another....this is why from the Saudi POV we are the pot of dirty cash calling the kettle "Black Money".
If we're going to prosecute others; America needs to thoroughly clean it's own house (of the legalized and illegal bribery) and set a real example for the rest of the world. That would carry some real weight.
Bottom Line: One would be hard pressed to find any problematic area of American life/policy/business in which there is no pay to play connection. We are swimming in an ocean of pay to play/corruption, and the vast majority of it is "perfectly legal"
It's the system stupid.
Cliffside Park, New Jersey
Black Money program was excellent. Very tough to do research. I know whereof I speak having personally been involved in some. But hardly news. First thing I learned in 1956 when entering the aviation export business was: "In the Netherlands you cannot sell anything without paying off prince Bernhard."
In 1965 or '66, the US and UK jointly connived in the first government to government sale of military equipment to Saudi Arabia (US surface to air Hawk missile system, UK Lightning P1 supersonic fighter aircraft and joint US/UK Communications & Control system). Some of the players involved: Raytheon, Hughes, Prince Sultan (MoD&A), UK middle man, Adnan Khashoggi to name but a few. Although the FCPA did not exist then, the "generous commissions" payable by the sellers caused considerable indigestion to DoD officials.
Let's face it. Greasing the right palm is nothing new. It will not stop until greed and avarice have been eliminated from personal behavior. As your program showed, the system perpetuates itself, even after the OECD's adoption of a convention to end the practice. In multi-million/billion dollar deals, the highest levels of government generally are involved directly or indirectly either as buyer or seller.
How can a responsible government not support its industries in an international competition for sales that would have major impacts on its balance of trade, survival of an ailing industry, tens of thousands of jobs, keeping alive a critical industry (especially in the defense industry) and lowering its own defense expenditures through scale of production gains? The ultimate loser is the buyer. Yet it is the buyer (government or private) who makes the rules of acquisition and who is (or should) be held responsible by the people it governs or the stockholders.
The FCPA, at least so far, has only been an impediment to US corporations which must compete with industries in some countries where the commissions (bribes) are actually verified and approved by the taxing authorities prior to their payment!
Lastly, what constitutes a bribe? A bottle of Scotch, a case of beer, a crystal vase, a diamond encrusted watch or its monetary equivalent, a political contribution, a lavish meal .....? What politician, purchasing agent or other power wielding individual has not been the recipient of such emoluments, whether sought or given in hopes of gaining some future advantage? Can it ever be stopped?
Palm City, FL
In answer to the post "Why is a former FBI Director defending a Saudi Prince?" the answer clearly has to be the usually corrosive one of money. Obviously Freeh has sold himself to a high bidder; how terribly disappointing it is to see a man tarnish his former high public office by now being the paid shill to a corrupt power broker. Bindar's relationship to the Bush family over the years has also raised serious questions of cronyism and the misuse of money and power. I'm not sure that relationship can pass the smell test.
And the so called "first world", the U.S, Germany, Britain, France, Switzerland, etc, etc, say Africans are corrupt. As this documentary shows, very clearly, in bribery, there are "takers" and "givers". The West has devised a way to make themselves look good, by creating organizations such as "transparency international", TI index that rates country accordingly. Of course, who is in charge of the rating? It is the same people from the countries that created this organization, so therefore they tend to be biased, so they rate African countries such as Nigeria as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. We all know what kind of stigma that rating means for that country, it creates this endless loop of negative investment for the country, b/c of poor credit rating, and therefore a cycle of poverty for it's people. The western world of course is not solely balmed for this, but they share most of the blames, b/cos they are the ones that pull the strings at every step of this phenomenon. What a shame! Although I'm glad to see that this frontline documentary shows that, the western countries are just as corrupt as the third world countries.
Los Angeles, CA
Lowell Bergman, you are a rock star. Thank you for your exposure of this issue and thanks to the team at Frontline for letting us know the truth.
I cannot see what business it is of yours or anybody else's. If the BAE/Saudi deal satisfies both buyer and seller, whose business is it?If the FBI is interested in business transactions, why didn't they concern themselves with Madoff's $55 billion Ponzi scam, or the selling of fraudulent collectivized mortgages and securities purporting to insure the CDOs? This was a Pigeon Drop on an international scale and was a fradulent sting operated with the knowledge and cooperation of the US govt.Congress is pretending that it is not complicit and getting away with it.
I just finished watching your show on black money and want to tell you how thrilled I am that you continue to explore meaningful issues and news. Thanks for your continued excellent coverage of important issues - you never disappoint. As an american, I don't care how much anyone makes, I just want them to make it honestly, not at the cost of others with a reasonable spread of income from the lowest to the highest paid.