Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Weldon's OTHER daughter, Kim

With Kurtastrophe Weldon and his shenanigans in the news again, let's not forget this:
Was Presidential Helicopter Deal a Pay Off for Italy's Pre-War Yellow-Cake Intel Role?

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What did the Berlusconi government get in return for providing the Bush administration with a convenient "smoking gun" to attack Iraq? At the end of the yellowcake trail may be the prestigious contract an Italian firm won to manufacture Marine One -- the fleet of presidential helicopters. In January 2005, the U.S. Navy awarded the contract for the construction of 23 new Marine One helicopters to AgustaWestland. Marketing itself as an Anglo-Italian firm, AgustaWestland is wholly owned by Finmeccanica, Italy's largest defense conglomerate.

The choice of AgustaWestland for Marine One surprised most industry observers because U.S.-based Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. was the heavy favorite.
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Not only did Sikorsky lose, but it lost to a foreign firm that has no problems selling its helicopters to the United States' adversaries. (See side bar, "Choppers for Sale, to Everyone")

As with the yellowcake dossier, the key figure in the Marine One contract is Gianni Castellaneta. When the Pentagon put the Marine One contract out for bid, Castellaneta was deputy chair of Finmeccanica and national security advisor to Prime Minister Berlusconi. By the time the contract was awarded, Castellaneta had been appointed Italy's ambassador to the United States.
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With center-left opposition leader Romano Prodi taking the helm of Italy's new government, the newly reconfigured Parliament is expected to open a probe into the "Yellowcake One" affair. For Italians, the main question is whether Berlusconi personally profited from the helicopter deal. For Americans, the question is whether the Bush administration paid the Italians back for providing the false intelligence that helped justify launching the war in Iraq.

SIDEBAR

Long before the Dubai ports controversy raised security concerns about foreign management of U.S. ports, the Bush administration awarded a $1.6 billion contract to an Italian firm to build new Marine One helicopters -- the specialized fleet that carries the president. Ultimately, the contract will be worth $6.1 billion -- $3.6 billion for 23 Marine Ones and the rest for research and development. Though the deal has eluded serious media scrutiny, it could become more explosive since the Italian firm, Finmeccanica, subsequently sold helicopters to Libya and China, and has sought a deal with Iran.

In February of 2005, just a month after it was awarded the Marine One contract, Finmeccanica was pitching its helicopters in Iran, at Kish's annual international air show. (See http://www.iran-airshow.com/exhibitors.htm) When questioned about this by the Connecticut Post, a spokeswoman for AgustaWestland, Finmecannica's wholly owned subsidiary charged with building the new Marine One, said the company was not involved in the air show and had not sold anything to Iran in the last 20 years. But Steven Bryen, the president of Finmeccanica in the United States, conceded to NBC's Lisa Meyers that Finmeccanica does business with Iran. Why? "In Europe, they don't call it the enemy," Bryen said.

"Analyzing the defense industry for nearly 30 years, I try to stay calm and nonpartisan," says John Pike, head of GlobalSecurity.org, a nonprofit think tank based in Virginia near the Pentagon. "But the Finmeccanica deal raised every hair on my neck. Apparently no one else sees the irony in a foreign military contractor building Marine One and Ayatollah One."
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Few industry observers expected the Rome-based company to win the contract, given the widespread expectation the White House would never allow a foreign-designed helicopter to serve as Marine One... Certainly the business stakes for Sikorsky couldn't have been clearer. George David, chief executive of United Technologies, the parent company of Sikorsky, told industry analysts that getting the contract for Marine One was "win or drop dead as far as we are concerned."

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While seeking the contract, Finmeccanica's helicopter subsidiary, AgustaWestland, positioned itself as an Anglo-Italian firm even after it had bought out Britain's remaining ownership in the firm. AgustaWestland also partnered with U.S. companies Bell Helicopter and Lockheed Martin; although Lockheed doesn't make helicopters, it acted as the lead partner on the bid.

Don & Kathleen talked about this a lot at the time - (see the comments here and here and here - Kathleen being an expert on Italy and Connecticut among other things, and Don being a helicopter expert, among other things)

I won't rehash too much of the details, but Finmeccanica has offices in Weldon's district. And Weldon's OTHER daughter, Kim, works for Finnmecc's wholly-owned helicopter-making subsidiary, AgustaWestland (the crew that got the MarineOne contract)

And, Steven Bryen's name (the president of Finmeccanica in the United States) also came up twice in my interview with the co-director of Sibel's film. Firstly:
" On many occasions, both Perle and Feith (not to mention their like-minded friends Harold Rhode, Michael Ledeen, Stephen Bryen) have been investigated by the FBI for passing secret information to Israeli officials. And none of what I tell you is secret, it’s been public record for… what… over three decades!"
Secondly,
MV: (laughs)… Right! Let me give you an unbelievable example of that. In 2000, in the last months of the Clinton Administration, a panel was established by Congress in order to counter "back door" technology leaks to China. This ‘China Commission’ had already established Israel as a supplier to Beijing of radar systems, optical & telecom equipment, drones & flight simulators. OK, guess who was appointed in 2001 to this China Commission, with the support of Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz ? An ex-assistant to Richard Perle by the name of Stephen Bryen. Bryen was this ex Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer who had to resign in 1979 after he was overheard in a DC hotel offering confidential documents to top Israeli military officials! Now guess who brought ‘Bryen the fox’ into the hen house by appointing him? Speaker Dennis Hastert!
It's a small world.

updating to add that Unger's piece in VF also mentioned the curious finmecc/MarineOne connection

6 comments:

Don said...

...Don being a helicopter expert, among other things.

[**snort**]

Expert? No. Looooooong time military aircraft afficionado? Definitely. After watching many so-called 'experts' (including most pundits) on CNN for years, I'm reminded of a definition for the word I once read:

Expert: someone who claims to know 1000 ways to make love but has never been with a partner.

(side note: my 'masterpiece' on the MIC was set aside some time ago in favour of other life priorities. OTOH, with the Weldon developments and this bit on Bryen, it seems to be writing itself!)

I've been noting little points on the Merlin/S-92 spat from time-to-time. For instance, DefenceTech recently ran a blurb on the Merlin's performance for Brit forces in southern Iraq, and their preference for it. The author, David Axe, noted at the end:

The Brits aren't the only ones in love with the Merlin. The Marine Corps is buying an American-made version for its new Presidential Helicopter. And the so-called US.101 model is a strong contender for the Air Force's 141-plane competition to replace the ageing HH-60G Pave Hawk.

The competition for the Personnel Recovery Vehicle (PRV) (formerly the Combat Search and Rescue CSAR Replacement or CSAR-X) has been intense. While the Marine One win was a feather, the contract going to the US-101 in this competition would be a much bigger win, with lots of gravy to go around. Cui bono? While AgustaWestland/FinnMecc is a subcontractor, and will benefit, it's the domestic dealers of death and destruction (LockMart, Bell and their friends in the Pentagon and Congress) who stand to make the most from this.

Axe's article touches on the Merlin's performance in the key requirement areas for the PRV role: speed, power, endurance, cabin space, stability, survivability & 'hot & high' (high temperature/altitude) performance. While 2 of his 3 commenters are critical (one definitely pro-Sikorsky), the article could be read as a solid promotion for the Merlin. Coinicidence? Probably, but with the contract still unawarded, it's still curious.

I've noted before, in my admittedly non-expert opinion, that based on the information I've gathered, while the Sikorsky S-92 is proving to be a good chopper, I believe the EH-101 is still the better aircraft for the roles discussed. I still hold that opinion. However, troops' equipment and welfare having already been demonstrated to be low on the current DoD's list of criteria for procurement & logistics, if the Merlin is selected for the PRV role, its selection would be almost certainly be an unintended fortuate result for the men & women whose lives will be depending on it.

lukery said...

don - i've been wondering about your masterpiece, particularly today.

thnx for the extra data.

you may be right that this helicopter is better than the others - still, it seems weird that they went 'offshore' for it.

Don said...

It's unusual but not unprecedented. The rule has always been "Buy American", and while there have been exceptions (like the B-57 or the T-45), I could count them on one hand. In any case, like the US101, they're typically foreign designs 'tailored' for US service, built by US contractors, and generally end up costing more than the original aircraft if purchased 'off-the-shelf'.

Mind you, it is very unusual that a flag aircraft, the Marine One, was chosen from an overseas design. While being a smaller contract than the PRV, that's a prestigeous win. Prestige aside, while the EH101 is the better performing bird and better suited to the PRV role (where combat performance is paramount), Sikorsky's proposal could have handled the less demanding domestic transport mission profile of the Marine One helicopter. That is, it would unless they're planning for a major armed insurgency in the US, in which case combat performance trumps all. Otherwise, the only applicable (non-shady) advantage for the EH101 would be the design's maturity, some of which will be offset by the time spent integrating new systems and 'tailoring' it to US needs (read US contractors and suppliers).

Mind you, the DoD/MIC has never thought twice about pressuring another government to abandon a potentially superior project in favor of a US product (i.e.: the Canadian Avro Arrow, the UK's BAC TSR-2, and the Israeli IAI Lavi).

(side note on the topic of Israel/China arms sales/support: it has been suggested that one of China's newest production fighters, the J-10, was developed with Israeli assistance based on technology developed from the Lavi. Compare the photographs of the two and you'll see where people might get that idea. Potentially superior to the F-16 and F/A-18, the J-10 has also been sold to Pakistan. Feel safer?)

Kathleen said...

Well Don sounds like an expert to me, and not an inexperienced one.

Congressman Rob Simmons said that the administration is who wanted to give the Marine One contract to Finmeccanica, that he was 1 of 7 who voted against it. Simmons also said it was because their design was superior to Sikorski's. I'm wondering when competance became a priority to this administration.

Also, during the Bolton non-confirmation hearings, I read somewhere that Castellaneto was the person who delivered the Niger forgeries to the State Department in d.c. Cui bono and quid pro quo, rolled into one.

I asked Ned Lamont about this. He was unaware that Sikorski had lost the Marine One contract. I gave him the articles about it and asked him to challenge Joe Lieberman when he makes claims about bringing jobs to CT., but so far he hasn't mentioned it. I'm disappointed. It seems so key to me.

Don said...

At last check, the PRV contract was to be awarded "by the end of 2006" (pushed back from 2nd quarter). While losing the 21-plane prestige Marine One contract was unfortunate, awarding the 141-plane PRV to the US101 team would be a much greater loss, in money and work, for Sikorsky and CT. Granting that I still feel the 101's the better suited aircraft for the role, it'd be the right plane for all the wrong reasons: the FinnMecc payoff, the whole Weldon/Bryen thing, and political sops to the GOP south (Lockheed-Martin's mainly in Georgia and Texas, Bell in Texas, although Marine One will be built in Dem NY).

While I don't expect the contract to be awarded before the election, I'll keep an eye on it and, if it should go to the US101, I'll let you know.

Anonymous said...

I read all this nonsense with a chuckle. More than 100 technical experts evaluated the Marine One competition. In spite of that fact that the US101 was, as many of you want to lament, "foreign", it won. Why? Simple. It was the BEST PRODUCT. Hard to swallow huh? What about helicopter competition in the US? This was the first one (no kidding guys) in over 20 years. Your friends at Sikorsky (by the way a Russian who came to America) have had no competitors and just stood around and took orders. They recieved more than 5 billion dollars to produce the next scout helicopter and for that produced TWO FLYING MACHINES! WOW! Grow up guys, foreign companies can produce better products and our president needs to fly the best not the most common. And before you whiners start talking about the Queen riding in a Caddy be aware that the Queen's Flight LEASES (small) Sikorsky helicopters...no not the same as Marine One just to show that this is an international business.

As for CSAR-x lets hope the USAF buys the best product to save our airmen not the one that the Conn. pols think is the best!

Now go back to watching your Sony TVs and complaing why John Deere is using Japanese built engines.