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THE NATION

Private, Public Roles Overlap in Washington

Insiders are advising officials and working for businesses that profit from government contracts. It's a growing pattern of networking.

August 08, 2004|Walter F. Roche Jr. | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Suzanne H. Woolsey is a trustee of a little-known defense consulting group that had inside access to senior Pentagon leaders directing the Iraq war. Last January, she joined the board of California-based Fluor Corp.

Soon afterward, Fluor and a joint venture partner won about $1.6 billion in Iraq reconstruction contracts.

Her husband, former CIA Director R. James Woolsey, a leading advocate for the war, is serving as a government policy advisor. He too works for a firm with war-related interests.

The Woolseys' overlapping affiliations are part of a growing pattern in Washington in which individuals play key roles in quasi-governmental organizations advising officials on major policy issues but also are involved with private businesses in related fields.

Such activities generally are not covered by conflict of interest laws or ethics rules. But they underscore an insiders network in which contacts and relationships developed inside the government can meld with individual financial interests.

Suzanne Woolsey, 62, is a former executive with the National Academies, the institution that advises the government on science, engineering and medicine. In October 2000, she was named a trustee of the Institute for Defense Analyses, a nonprofit corporation paid by the government to do research for the Pentagon.

James Woolsey, 62, who headed the CIA from 1993 to 1995, is a member of the Defense Policy Board, an unpaid advisory panel serving Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other senior Pentagon officials. Woolsey is also on CIA and Navy advisory boards and was a founding member of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, a private advocacy group set up in 2002 at the instigation of the White House to build public support for the war.

He is also a vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton, a consulting firm that co-sponsored a May 1, 2003, conference on business opportunities in the reconstruction of Iraq. Woolsey was one of the keynote speakers for the event.

Booz Allen is a subcontractor on a $75-million telecommunications project in Iraq. The firm does extensive work for the Defense Department as well. It was recently awarded $14 million in contracts by the Navy. The former CIA director said in an interview that he had not been involved in Booz Allen's Iraq contracts.

Last month, Woolsey appeared at a Capitol Hill news conference to announce the creation of a group called the Committee of the Present Danger, which he said would try to focus public attention on the threat "to the U.S. and the civilized world from Islamic terrorism."

Others with war-related overlapping interests include Richard N. Perle and Christopher A. Williams.

Perle, assistant secretary of Defense in the Reagan administration, was chairman of the Defense Advisory Board but stepped down from that post and eventually the board itself after questions were raised about possible conflicts between his advisory role and his private business interests.

Christopher A. Williams, a former aide to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), is another Defense Policy Board member. He has registered as a lobbyist for Boeing and other defense contractors.

In Suzanne Woolsey's case, during the U.S.-led attack on Iraq, the Institute for Defense Analyses provided senior Pentagon officials with assessments of the operation.

Personnel from the institute formed part of an 18-member civilian analysis team working from the Joint Warfighting Center in Virginia.

The operation was described in a June 3, 2003, briefing by Army Brig.Gen. Robert W. Cone. "This team did business within the Centcom headquarters on a daily basis by observing meeting and planning sessions, attending command updates, watching key decisions being made, watching problems being solved and generally being provided unrestricted access to the business of the conduct of this war," Cone said, according to a transcript of the session.

Tax records show Suzanne Woolsey was paid $11,500 in trustee fees for serving on the Institute for Defense Analyses board last year.

A spokesman for Fluor declined to discuss why she had been invited to become a director or what role if any she played in the company's Iraq contracts. Fluor pays its outside directors $40,000 a year, plus stock options and additional fees for attending meetings, according to Securities and Exchange Commission records and the Fluor spokesman.

At the National Academies, Suzanne Woolsey served as chief operating officer from 1993 to 2000 and as chief communications officer from 2000 to 2003. She also is a former newspaper editorial writer and holds degrees in psychology.

Her appointment to Fluor's board came in late January 2004, while Fluor and its joint venture partner, AMEC, were competing for two federal contracts to do reconstruction work in Iraq.

A little over a month after her appointment, Fluor and AMEC got both contracts, with a combined value of $1.6 billion.

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