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Bechtel was a participant or observer in the following events:
The US State Department invites Bechtel officials to Washington to discuss plans for constructing the proposed Iraq-Jordan Aqaba oil pipeline. Former Bechtel president George Shultz is US Secretary of State at this time. [Vallette, 3/24/2003]
Bechtel official H.B. Scott informs his colleagues in a memo that “US government officials at the highest level in Washington know of the [Aqaba pipeline] project and the president supports the concept…. I cannot emphasize enough the need for maximum Bechtel management effort at all levels of the US government and industry to support this project. It has significant geopolitical overtones… The time may be right for this project to move promptly with very significant rewards to Bechtel for having made it possible.” [Vallette, 3/24/2003]
Over 100 Americans are trapped in the US Embassy in Kuwait City. Perhaps 2,000 Americans are hiding from Iraqi soldiers throughout the capital city, and at least 115 are already in Iraqi custody, essentially being held as hostages. Iraqi forces bring a number of Americans, mostly oilfield workers, to Baghdad, where they are put up at local hotels. The Iraqis do not allow the “freed” Americans to leave the hotels or meet with US Embassy officials. It is clear that though the Iraqis call them “guests,” they are hostages. Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson, the ranking US diplomat in Baghdad, learns to his dismay that his superiors in the US are similarly reluctant to consider the Americans as hostages, arguing that if US officials begin calling them hostages, then the Iraqis will treat them as such. Perhaps Iraq is holding the Americans only until their control of Kuwait is complete, and will release them. But, except for the release of a single American girl (see Early August, 1990), the Iraqis release no hostages. Embassy personnel succeed in rounding up around 100 Americans, mostly workers for the Bechtel Corporation, and housing them in the confines of the Embassy building. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 117-118, 126]
Aguas del Tunari, a subsidiary of the privately-owned US corporation Bechtel through International Water, purchases a 40-year concession to operate the public water system of Cochabamba, Bolivia after the country is pressured by the World Bank and IMF to privatize its water services in return for a $25 million loan. It had been an apparent easy win for Bechtel, whose bid was the only one considered for the contract. Despite promises that the privatization of Cochabamba’s water would not send prices skyrocketing, that is exactly what happens. In December of 1999, Aguas del Tunari doubles the price of water and as a result, water bills in some households jump to over $20 per month. This is devastating to Cochabamba’s poor, many of whom earn monthly wages of about $67. But the privatization scheme is not limited to just the privatization of water services. The World Bank also pressures the Bolivian government to pass several other laws protecting the interests of the water company. One law pegs the cost of water to the US dollar in order to eliminate the company’s exposure to changes in the Bolivian currency’s exchange rate. Another law grants water privateers exclusive rights to Bolivia’s water. Now, Bolivians would have to pay for every drop of water they use, even if it comes from their own wells or is rainwater they collect on their own property. And to protect Bolivia’s creditors from the risk of Bolivia defaulting on the loan, the World Bank prohibits the government from using a portion of the aid money to help the poor pay for their water. Angered by the water privatization, Bolivians take to the streets. Hundreds of demonstrators are injured and one youth is killed during the protests. Finally, in April 1999, the company leaves Bolivia. Bechtel will later attempt to sue the Bolivian government for $25 million for breach of contract. [Z Magazine, 4/24/2000; PBS Frontline, 6/2002; Pacific News Service, 11/11/2002; Democracy Center, 9/15/2005]
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld begins his vaunted transformation of the functions of the Defense Department by issuing the first in the “Anchor Chain” series of “snowflakes,” or unsigned memos from Rumsfeld. The memos are written by Rumsfeld and annotated and edited by, among others, Rumsfeld’s personal assistant Stephen Cambone, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. The first memo is a sprawling, overarching combination of mission statement, fix-it lists, and complaints, reflective both of Rumsfeld’s sincere ambitions to cut through the bloated and unresponsive military bureaucracy, and his more personal desire to run the US military from his office. Rumsfeld fells that congressional oversight cripples the ability of the military to spend what it needs to on getting buildings built and weapons systems constructed. He complains that talented officers skip from one assignment to another every two years or so, too fast to “learn from their own mistakes.” He complains that the military “mindlessly use[s] the failed Soviet model: centralized government systems for housing, commissaries, healthcare and education, rather than using the private sector competitive models that are the envy of the world.” This apparently is the origin of the “privitization” of the military’s logistical systems that will come to fruition with Halliburton, Bechtel, and other private corporations providing everything from meals to housing for military personnel both in Iraq and in the US. Forgetting, or ignoring, the fact that the Defense Department has repeatedly demonstrated that it will squander billions if left to its own devices, he complains that Congressional oversight so hampers the department’s functions that the Defense Department “no longer has the authority to conduct the business of the Department. The maze of constraints on the Department force it to operate in a manner that is so slow, so ponderous, and so inefficient that whatever it ultimately does will inevitably be a decade or so late.” Without transforming the relationship between the Defense Department and Congress, he writes, “the transformation of our armed forces is not possible.”[O]ur job, therefore, is to work together to sharpen the sword that the next president will wield. [Woodward, 2006, pp. 26-27]
Bechtel wins a second contract from USAID to work on rebuilding Iraq’s infrastructure. Work will include the “repair of power generation facilities, electrical grids, municipal water systems and sewage systems; continued rehabilitation or repair of airport facilities; and additional dredging, repair and upgrading of the seaport at Umm Qasr.” The company will also “repair and build government and public facilities such as schools, selected ministry buildings and major irrigation structures, as well as restore essential transport links.” The contract has the potential to be worth as much as $1.8 billion. [US Agency for International Development, 1/6/2004; Financial Times, 1/7/2004]
The US Agency for International Development (AID) announces that it has contracted California-based engineering firm Bechtel Corp to repair and rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure. The contract is worth $34.6 million initially, and up to $680 million over 18 months. Specifically, Bechtel will assess and repair power generation facilities, electrical grids, municipal water and sewage systems, and airport facilities. The company will also dredge, repair, and upgrade the Umm Qasr seaport. Additional projects may include rebuilding hospitals, schools, ministry buildings, major irrigation structures, and the country’s transportation infrastructure. [US Agency for International Development, 4/17/2003] Some experts believe that Bechtel’s contract could ultimately be worth as much as $20 billion. [New York Times, 5/21/2003] The bidding process draws criticism from various congressional Democrats and British companies who say that the process was overly secretive and limited. Only a small number of US-based construction companies were allowed to take part in the bidding. [New York Times, 4/18/2003] The company’s connections to the US government also brings about allegations of cronyism.
Bechtel’s CEO, Riley P. Bechtel, currently serves on the President’s Export Council, which advises the White House on how to create markets for American companies abroad. [New York Times, 4/18/2003]
The company’s senior vice president, Jack Sheehan, is a member of a Pentagon advisory group called the Defense Policy Board, whose members are directly approved by the Defense Secretary. [Guardian, 4/18/2003]
One of its board members is George Shultz, who served as secretary of state under the Reagan administration and who currently leads the advisory board of a pro-war group called the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. [San Francisco Chronicle, 4/18/2003; Guardian, 4/18/2003]
Daniel Chao, a Bechtel senior vice president, serves on the advisory board of the US Export-Import Bank. [CorpWatch, 4/24/2003]
The Bush administration installs L. Jean Lewis as the Defense Department’s inspector general. Her office investigates fraud and audits Pentagon contracts, including the billion-dollar arrangements with companies like Halliburton and Bechtel. While the post is traditionally non-partisan, Lewis is a strongly partisan Republican. Lewis is best remembered as the driving force behind the Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC)‘s relentless investigation of then-President Bill Clinton over a parcel of land called Whitewater. FBI investigators refused to pursue Lewis’s work, calling it sloppy, biased, and incompetent. Lewis repeatedly lied under oath during the Whitewater investigation before bringing the questioning to a halt by suddenly “fainting.” Her partisanship was on display throughout her career with the RTC, having once proposed selling coffee cups and T-shirts with the slogan “Presidential B_TCH” emblazoned under a photo of Hillary Clinton out of the RTC offices, and calling President Clinton a “lying b_stard.” (Lewis claimed under oath that neither instance indicated any bias she might have towards the Clintons or towards Democrats.) She now has the prime responsibility for ensuring that billions of tax dollars are spent wisely by the government and its private contractors. Lewis says that, although her employers are well aware of her background, “I would prefer to think it was my ability and skills they were interested in.” [Newsweek, 9/14/2003; Carter, 2004, pp. 71; New York Observer, 3/18/2007]
The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, located on 3,500 acres in the Mojave Desert, begins generating electricity. The solar thermal power plant uses a circular array of mirrors to concentrate sunlight at a water-filled central tower. The resulting steam powers turbines, which in turn produce electricity. When fully operational, the Ivanpah plant will feed 377 megawatts of power into two California utilities, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) and Southern California Edison. During some days, the power generated could serve up to 200,000 residential consumers. The project is a partnership between NRG Energy, BrightSource Energy, Google, Bechtel, and the federal government, which leased public land to the plant and provided loan guarantees (see February 2009). Some environmentalists have been sharply critical of the impact on the desert environment (see August 13, 2013), and other critics have asked why a desert solar power plant is not using photovoltaic panels to collect sunlight. NRG Solar president Tom Doyle says, “Given the magnitude and complexity of Ivanpah, it was very important that we successfully complete this milestone showing all systems were on track.” Unit 1 is producing energy; Units 2 and 3 are coming online soon. When fully operational, the three plants will almost double the amount of commercial solar thermal energy capacity now operating in the US. [NRG Solar, 2012; Business Wire, 9/24/2013; Grist Magazine, 9/25/2013]
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