Oceanfront views, 24-hour doorman, heated pool, and perhaps best of all, a “private tunnel to the beach.” This $3 million Palm Beach, Florida penthouse could be yours, but unfortunately it isn’t because this prize has already been claimed by a former high-level U.S. official who helped pave the way for the over decade-long “war on terror,” which has been a near complete catastrophe.
Iraq is aflame, the Islamic State is on the rampage, the situation in Afghanistan worsens by the day, and thousands of Americans—and many more Iraqis and Afghans—have died during the post-9/11 conflicts. Meanwhile, the combined cost of the “war on terror” comes to an estimated $1.6 trillion.
But if the American people got screwed on the deal, a lot of former senior government officials who played important roles in this debacle have done quite well for themselves. It’s New Year’s Eve and I need to write a final sendoff to 2014, so I thought I’d take a look at the fortunes (literally) of some of these figures: Former CIA director George Tenet and former FBI director Louis Freeh (I’ll cover former Department of Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge in a New Year’s post).
Consider Tenet. As head of the CIA, he missed multiple signs of a major Al Qadea attack directed against the United States, called the case against Saddam building Weapons of Mass Destruction a “slam dunk,” and approved the Bush administration’s torturing of terror suspects.
In any fair world Tenet would be tried for criminal incompetence. Instead, he got the Presidential Medal of Freedom and after resigning in 2004 (at which point his agency salary was south of $200,000), he received a $4 million advance to write a memoir. In it, he confessed to “a black, black time” a few months after 9/11 when he was sitting at home in his favorite Adirondack chair thinking about the tragedy that killed 3,000 Americans on his watch and asked, “Why me?”
Tenet has received millions more in his current role as managing director of a privately held New York investment bank and as a board director and advisor to intelligence and military contractors. Meanwhile, he collects fat speaking fees to talk about “current global threats to U.S. security and what the future holds for the U.S., our allies and interests around the globe.” (Top Secret: Here’s where he gets his best intelligence.)
Not bad for the son of Greek immigrants who before entering government service in 1982 (as legislative director to then-Senator H. John Heinz III) worked at the American Hellenic Institute and the Solar Energy Industries Association. When he headed the CIA, Tenet lived in a ranch house in Potomac, Maryland, which he bought in 1986 for $179,000. He currently splits his time between New York and the affluent D.C. suburb of Bethesda, where he reportedly lives in a neighborhood “known for its tree-lined streets, vintage brick homes, and atmosphere oozing with understated luxury.”
Then there’s Louis Freeh, Tenet’s counterpart at the FBI during the run-up to 9/11. (He resigned a few months before the attacks.) The former FBI director was seriously injured in a car wreck this August, but told police he had no idea what happened because he’d been asleep at the wheel, which is a perfect metaphor for his FBI stewardship. (And let me sincerely say I wish Freeh a speedy recovery, but the metaphor is precise.) Like Tenet, Freeh failed to act on a mountain of evidence pointing towards 9/11, i.e. an April 2001 memo sent to him by his assistant director that cited “significant and urgent” intelligence of “serious operational planning” for terrorism attacks by Islamic radicals linked to Osama bin Laden. He also botched cases involving Richard Jewell, Wen Ho Lee, and Robert Hanssen.
Freeh resigned from the FBI two months before 9/11. When he worked there he was making an annual salary of $145,000 and lived “in a heavily mortgaged house in Great Falls, a Virginia suburb,” according to an old and admiring New Yorker profile. He and his wife now own at least four lavish estates worth many millions of dollars, including a residence in Wilmington, Delaware, a six-bedroom summerhouse worth more than $3 million in Vermont, and a beachfront penthouse at 100 Worth Avenue in Palm Beach, Florida, which was bought for $1.4 million and now has an estimated value of $3 million.
How’d that happen? Well, Freeh is one of many former U.S. officials who got paid big speaking fees (reportedly up to $50,000 a pop) by a creepy Iranian group called the People’s Mujahedin, also known as Mojahedin-e-Khalq, or MEK, to successfully advocate for its removal from the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. He also opened up a consulting firm whose clients have included Saudi Arabia’s Prince Bandar, who the U.S. Department of Justice accused of taking massive bribes from a British defense contractor. That’s right, Freeh represented a prince from America’s old pal Saudi Arabia, home to fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers, and whose export of Wahhabism is credited with giving rising to the Islamic State.
Freeh is also hired to conduct investigations, like the controversial report he produced about Penn State’s football program. Nasser Kazeminy, a Minnesota businessman who in 2008 was accused of bribing former Senator Norm Coleman, also hired Freeh to conduct a “thorough investigation” of the allegations against him in the hopes of clearing his name.
In 2011, Freeh issued a public statement saying that his investigation had “completely vindicated” both Kazeminy and Coleman. Sure, Kazeminy had bought Coleman $100,000 worth of presents, but, Freeh said at a press conference, “There was no quid pro quo in the gifts. There was no wrongdoing.” Freeh also met with the Justice Department – which was investigating the bribery charges but declined to bring a case—on Kazeminy’s behalf.
Oh yeah, about Freeh’s Palm Beach penthouse. As I discovered through Florida property records, Freeh’s wife co-owns it with Kazeminy, which kind of makes you wonder about just how thorough and impartial his investigation was. The quit claim deed giving Freeh’s wife one-half ownership of the penthouse was signed nine days after Freeh’s vindication of Kazeminy.
Freeh declined to comment for this story.
– Researcher Sheelagh McNeill contributed to this report.