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Jane Mayer on Halliburton and Dick Cheney

Mayer is a staff writer for The New Yorker. She talks about Vice President Dick Cheney and Halliburton, the company where Cheney served as chief executive for five years. Halliburton is the world's largest oil-and-gas-services company, and is now the biggest private contractor for American forces in Iraq. Mayer's article "Contract Sport: What Did the Vice-President do for Halliburton?" is in the current issue of the magazine (Feb. 16 and Feb. 23 issues).


Other segments from the episode on February 19, 2004

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, February 19, 2004: Interview with Jane Mayer; Review of Norah Jones' new music album "Feels Like Home."


DATE February 19, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Jane Mayer on her article in The New Yorker about Dick
Cheney's relationship with Halliburton

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

The relationship between Vice President Dick Cheney and Halliburton has raised
many questions about the revolving door between government and private
industry and about the increasing reliance on private industry to do jobs that
used to be handled by the military. Halliburton is the world's largest oil
and gas services company and is now the biggest private contractor for
American forces in Iraq. Dick Cheney was Halliburton's CEO from 1995 to 2000.
Before that he served as secretary of Defense under President George H.W.

In the current edition of The New Yorker, my guest Jane Mayer examines the
relationship between the vice president and Halliburton in the article:
"Contract Sport: What Did the Vice President do for Halliburton?" Mayer is a
staff writer at The New Yorker and the co-author of the books "Landslide: The
Unmaking of the President, 1984-'88" and "Strange Justice: The Selling of
Clarence Thomas."

Vice President Cheney has declined to discuss Halliburton in depth. And you
point out that even his official White House biography, which is posted on his
Web site, notes that he's been a businessman, but it doesn't even mention his
five years with Halliburton. Is that why you wrote this piece? Because he's
been so unforthcoming about it and because there's so little information?

Ms. JANE MAYER (The New Yorker): Well, it's not really why I wrote the piece.
I wanted to try to get to the bottom of the story, and I would have liked it
if he had made himself available and answered some of the questions that we
had about his role in helping Halliburton through the years. I mean, I was
interested in Cheney because people here in Washington, you know, debate not
whether he's powerful but just whether he has more power than the president or
not. I mean, he's really thought of as one of, you know, the single important
power centers in Washington and in the world right now. So I was interested
in him, per se. And then, of course, Halliburton's become a major campaign
issue. It's become shorthand for kind of cronyism and the notion that maybe
the Bush administration is too close to corporate America. And so I was
interested in trying to find out, `Well, what's the truth beneath all of this?
Can we get to the bottom of it and figure out, you know, is there anything
wrong, you know, here?'

GROSS: You say that Dick Cheney has been an architect and a beneficiary of
the increasingly close relationship between the Defense Department and an
elite group of private military contractors. What did he change when he was
in government and when he was with Halliburton in terms of that relationship
between the Defense Department and private military contractors?

Ms. MAYER: Well, it's a complicated history, and I think the thing is people
are looking politically for, you know, something obvious and direct; that, you
know, money might be flowing directly into Cheney's pockets from Halliburton
in exchange for the government giving this contracts out. And it really is a
much more complicated but, in many ways, more interesting story. What it is
is the story of over a couple decades Cheney has long been a proponent of
privatizing government, of cutting bureaucracy, getting rid of the civil
servants, where possible, and instead taking the business of the government
and putting it in the hands of private industry, wherever possible.

And when he was at the Department of Defense as secretary of Defense, he moved
the department into a whole new realm of defense contracting where they
decided to hand over all of the business of supporting US troops abroad to a
single company. And the idea was that building barracks and feeding the
soldiers and, you know, doing the laundry, all the kind of scutwork that sort
of you think of as KP duty, could be done by private industry and not just
done by many different private industries. But they decided to give all of
that business, which turned out to be a tremendous amount of money, to one

And what was interesting was that--you know, I find frequently in the case of
Cheney that he doesn't have a very adept antenna about the subject of
conflicts of interest. And in this particular case, he had Halliburton draw
up the plans and figure out whether it was possible for one company to do this
kind of work. And then, subsequently, Halliburton turned in a report saying,
`Yes, we think that, you know, a single company could easily do this kind of
work.' And, lo and behold, Halliburton then was asked to do the work. So, in
many ways, it defined its own market by describing the kind of work it could
do and then getting all of that business, which is what happened. And so when
you look back over the relationship between Cheney and Halliburton, what you
see is that he put the company in the position to benefit gigantically from US
military being station abroad. And the company, indeed, has made billions of
dollars from this.

GROSS: Was it after Dick Cheney helped Halliburton get this enormous contract
from the government that Cheney then became the head of Halliburton?

Ms. MAYER: Yes, it was. And so there's been a kind of a revolving door,
sort of circular, relationship between Halliburton and Cheney. And if you
look back, you can find that--I took at look at, for instance, in 1994, Dick
Cheney thought about running for president himself. And I went through the
FEC records to see who the donors were to his political campaign PAC at the
time, and among the early funders that he had were executives from
Halliburton; the head of the company gave him money as did the head of several
other companies that subsequently won Iraqi contracts. He decided not to run
for president and, instead, was on a hunting trip when several corporate
captains were discussing the subject of Halliburton needing a new CEO. And
the question came up, `Why not Dick?' He had no business experience, but he
was drafted to become the next chairman of Halliburton, nonetheless. And so
there is this kind of sense that there's a revolving door here, where, you
know, billions are being given to the company in the way of contracts, and
then millions are being earned by Cheney as he's running the company.

GROSS: Dick Cheney earned about $44 million during his tenure at Halliburton.
What were his greatest accomplishments when he was there? What were perceived
as his greatest accomplishments?

Ms. MAYER: Well, actually, it's funny because the thing that he cited at the
time as his greatest accomplishment actually turns out to have been something
of a fiasco, which was he engineered the merger with one of the major rivals
to Halliburton, Dresser Industries. It was a $7.7 billion deal, and he
oversaw it. And it was considered by Wall Street a stroke of genius for a
little while, until it turned out that Dresser Industries had some baggage
that nobody at Halliburton had noticed. And it turned out that there were a
number of asbestos suits against Dresser, which Halliburton then inherited,
which became a huge financial drain on the company. And, actually, one of the
divisions had to file for bankruptcy. So I was interested in that as an
indication of what Dick Cheney's judgment was like as a businessman. And more
in general, he's just seen as such a wise man in Washington, and I guess I
wondered, you know, `Is he as far-seeing as we all thought he was?'

GROSS: You mentioned that after this acquisition, that the stock fell by about
80 percent in just over a year.

Ms. MAYER: It did. It tanked at a time when many other stocks were also
falling hugely, as Cheney has pointed out. And, you know, in his defense,
people have said that it would have been impossible for him to know about
these lawsuits, some people have said, though others--and, in fact, in this
story I interviewed somebody who was on the board, Lawrence Eagleburger, who
used to be secretary of State under the first Bush administration, who said
that he thought they really should have caught this and that there was a
problem with the due diligence in this particular deal. He said, `I can't
blame Dick Cheney in particular, but they really did slip up.'

GROSS: In `a small world' category...

Ms. MAYER: Yeah.

GROSS: ...there's somebody in President Bush's family tree who used to be an
executive at Dresser, the company that Halliburton acquired.

Ms. MAYER: Yeah. I think it's the first President Bush's father was on the
board of Dresser. And, in fact, I think the first President Bush's first job
was at Dresser. And so when this merger was engineered by Cheney, it was a
kind of part of this clubby, insular world that people sort of refer to
sometimes negatively as kind of a world of cronies. And I think the question
to ask about it was, you know: Were deals made among friends without proper
vetting, without sort of kind of enough outside view and, you know, critical
analysis? I mean, are too many things done over sort of handshakes over
hunting trips? And an awful lot of decisions in the life of Dick Cheney, I
have to say, have taken place on hunting trips one way or another. And so,
anyway, I think that the Dresser deal raised some of the questions about, you
know, whether he brings enough outside analysis into the kinds of decisions he

GROSS: My guest is Jane Mayer. Her article "Contract Sport: What Did the
Vice President do for Halliburton?" is in the current edition of The New
Yorker. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest, Jane Mayer, is a staff writer for The New Yorker. In the
current edition she writes about the relationship between Vice President Dick
Cheney and Halliburton, the oil and gas services company he formerly headed,
which is now the biggest private contractor for American forces in Iraq.

During Cheney's tenure at Halliburton, Halliburton did business with several
countries that were on the list of countries that supported terrorism.
Sanctions have been imposed on these countries, including Iraq, Libya and
Iran. Was this business considered illegal?

Ms. MAYER: Well, actually, in one case the US government is now--the Treasury
is going back to take a look at the business that Halliburton did with Iran t

figure out if it was illegal. There were legal ways to evade sanctions during
that period, and the legal ways were to use a foreign subsidiary. But the
foreign subsidiary had to truly be foreign, and the question in the case of
Halliburton's dealings with Iran was: Was it really a foreign subsidiary? It
appears that the office was actually shared by American members of the same
company. And people are wondering whether it wasn't just a kind of a
convenient dodge. And so the Treasury Department's now investigating that.
In the other countries, as far as we know, the company legally evaded
sanctions in Libya. And in the case of Iraq, it used foreign subsidiaries
that were part of Dresser Industries, which Halliburton merged with, to do
business with Iraq.

I mean, and so technically I guess you could--you know, it may be very much
legal. But as far as it being a political question, though, it still seems to
be, you know, raising all kinds of red flags about what kind of company was
this, and what kind of business was it doing.

GROSS: Was it considered unusual that Halliburton was doing business with
Iraq, particularly at a time when Halliburton was being run by Dick Cheney,
who waged the war against Iraq in 1991?

Ms. MAYER: Well, it was very unusual. And a diplomat with the UN
oil-for-food program said to me that he thought it was just really strange
that somehow this company, Halliburton, managed to be doing business with
Saddam Hussein's regime because the way business was done during that period
was a very personal kind of choice of--that was run from the top by Saddam
Hussein and his sons, really. They decided which American companies they
would do business with. And what this diplomat said to me was that there were
very few American companies that were chosen by Saddam Hussein to do business
with unless they did, sort of, favors back for the Saddam Hussein regime. And
so it raises all kinds of bizarre, you know, political questions about why the
company was so cozy with the regime that Cheney had tried to topple when he
was secretary of Defense and then, of course, has come back to topple since.

You know, I guess, at the end of the day, first of all, you have to say that
Cheney wanted--when Cheney took over Dresser Industries, he said that he
wanted to end doing business with Iraq. But it took quite a while before they
did. They had hundreds of millions of dollars of business with Saddam
Hussein's regime. And I think, you know, it shows at the end of the day that
business has a different imperative than government does. It's there to make
money. And it was not there to sort of do good in the world, necessarily, or
to follow anybody's foreign policy.

GROSS: When you say this relationship raises a lot of questions, what

Ms. MAYER: Well, you know, I don't know how Cheney, who had sworn that he
would not do business with Iraq, could have gone on for more than a year doing
business with Iraq and doing hundreds of millions of dollars of business with
Iraq. I mean, the question is: Did he know what the company was doing? And
if he did know, why did he want to keep doing business with Saddam Hussein?
Many other American companies would have nothing to do with that regime.

GROSS: During the Bush-Cheney administration, Halliburton has gotten, you
know, enormous contracts from the military for its work in Iraq. During
Cheney's tenure at Halliburton, it got a lot more money than it had in
previous years from the government. What were those contracts for?

Ms. MAYER: Well, Cheney joined Halliburton in 1995, and he stayed there until
2000. And during those five years the company got something like $1.1 billion
worth of loan subsidies, mostly from the US government. I thought this was
fascinating. It was compared with a hundred million dollars in loan subsidies
in the previous five years. So he just gigantically increased the amount of
government subsidies that Halliburton got while he was there. And what was
interesting to me was that Cheney for, you know, much of his political career
has been a great proponent of private enterprise and kind of, in some ways,
contemptuous of, you know, big government. And in this particular case when
he finally got into private enterprise, what did he do but make the business
far more reliant on government subsidies?

And the money, in particular, was for really unusual deals in some cases.
Cheney threw himself into a deal with a company called Tyumen Oil, which is a
Russian oil company, and it was exploring new oil fields in Russia. And
Halliburton wanted to provide the oil services for, you know, digging the
wells and all of that sort of thing. And so Cheney got the Export-Import Bank
in Washington to make the biggest loan that it had ever made to Russia--and it
was something like 400 to $500 million--to this company, Tyumen Oil. But
there were a lot of political problems with this because the State Department
was under the impression that Tyumen Oil was corrupt. And so the State
Department threw itself in front of the deal and tried to stop it from going
through. And the NSC got involved at the White House and also tried to block
the deal. And the CIA also got involved and tried to block the deal. But
eventually, after lobbying the issue heavily, Cheney managed to get the deal
through and get the loan and go ahead with it.

GROSS: Well, you actually quote a top-secret document in your New Yorker
piece, and I don't know if you'd see this as relating to a potential conflict
of interest, but it has to do with the vice president's energy task force.
Want to describe this memo?

Ms. MAYER: Yeah. I thought this was fascinating. It is a memo that was
written just about a month after the Bush administration took power. It was,
I think, about February 2002. And what it shows is that there was a
connection between the NSC's work that was being done in the White House about
what kind of approaches the administration should take to rogue states, like
Iraq, and, also, the energy task force's work about looking for new sources of
oil. And Cheney, of course, headed the energy task force. And so this single
document, in the eyes of some of the people who've seen it, raises questions
about whether very early on there was some kind of connection between the war
in Iraq and oil. Now the administration, of course, has said that this war
was not about oil, but this one document certainly is sort of eyebrow-raising
about the kind of the coalescence of these two subjects, which seem to have
been discussed in the energy task force that Cheney ran very early on in the

GROSS: Can you tell us more about what this secret document says?

Ms. MAYER: OK. What this document says--it was written on February 3rd,
2001. It's top secret. And it was a memo written by a member of the National
Security Council in the White House, and what it does is it urges the NSC and
the energy task force to consider melding two seemingly different areas of
policy. One is to review what they called `operational policy towards rogue
states,' such as Iraq. And the second area was to meld with that actions
regarding what they called the `capture of new and existing oil fields.' So
it looks like that they're doing is thinking about approaches to Iraq that
involve a consideration of how to capture some oil fields. And so, of course,
you know, this is a very controversial and potentially inflammatory document.
Some people who've looked at it have said they think that, you know, it seems
somewhat incriminating. Other people, I have to say, who've looked at it have
said, `Well, you know, all it was was a way of thinking about these issues,
and it doesn't necessarily mean that they decided to go to war for oil or
anything like that.'

GROSS: Is there a story behind how you got to see this document?

Ms. MAYER: (Laughs) There is a story. I don't know how much I can tell. The
reason that, in the article I wrote, you don't see a name attached to that
document is that the people who have it don't want it to be known that they
have it. I suppose there are all kinds of legal concerns about how they got
it and why they have it. And so I guess maybe we can't go into too much
detail, but certainly the document's authenticity has been confirmed. And
it's very much like some of the things that were written by Ron Suskind in his
book with Paul O'Neill about how early the discussions took place within the
Bush administration about Iraq and about opposing Saddam Hussein in some sort
of military way. And here you are--this is just one month into the
administration, really, but they are certainly talking about taking a new
approach to Iraq at that point, and they are also talking about capturing new
oil, `sources of oil,' it says.

GROSS: Jane Mayer is a staff writer for The New Yorker. Her article about
Vice President Cheney and Halliburton is published in the current edition of
The New Yorker. She'll be back in the second half of the show. I'm Terry
Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)


(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Coming up, more on Dick Cheney and Halliburton with Jane Mayer. And
Kevin Whitehead reviews "Feels Like Home," the new album by Norah Jones. It
sold more than a million copies in its debut week.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Jane Mayer, a staff
writer for The New Yorker magazine. In the current edition, she writes about
the relationship between Vice President Dick Cheney and Halliburton. Cheney
was the company's CEO from 1995 to 2000. Halliburton is now the biggest
private contractor for American forces in Iraq. When we left off we were
talking about a top-secret document from a meeting of the vice president's
energy task force. Cheney wants to keep secret the papers from his energy
task force. Over a year ago a US district court ordered the White House to
produce the documents. The Bush administration appealed the decision, and the
Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case.

The issue of whether Vice President Cheney should have over the papers from
his task force will be coming to the Supreme Court. One of the issues there
is that Vice President Cheney went on a hunting trip with Justice Scalia. And
the question is: Should the justice recuse himself? He has declined to do
that. How does that connect to this story?

Ms. MAYER: Well, again, I mean, if the question is, you know: Does Cheney
have a certain kind of tone deafness to the appearance of conflicts of
interest?--I think you've have to say yes, from my standpoint, on that
particular question. He went hunting with one of the justices who is going to
hear his case. Now Justice Scalia has said there was nothing improper with
this, and it's up to the Supreme Court justices to decide when to recuse
themselves. A number of legal scholars have suggested that he didn't show
very good judgment going on this hunting trip with Cheney. But, at any rate,
it just leads more to this kind of sense that--I think the reason it's become
such a political issue is there's a sense in the public that decisions are
being made in a very insular and clubby kind of way in privacy. And it is
something that makes it a fat target for the Democrats to go after.

GROSS: One of the questions surrounding Halliburton now has to do with
overcharging the government by as much as $61 million in the course of buying
and transporting fuel from Kuwait into Iraq. Halliburton's explanation is
that this was the fault of a Kuwaiti company. Would you explain what
Halliburton's saying?

Ms. MAYER: (Laughs) Well, I'll give it a try. It's, again, sort of
complicated. But, basically, everybody is pointing their finger of blame at
everybody else in this situation. You've got Halliburton saying, `It wasn't
our fault.' You've got the Kuwaitis saying, `It wasn't our fault.' You got
the US Army Corps of Engineers saying, `It certainly wasn't our fault.' And
one way or the other, what happened was Halliburton wound up charging over a
dollar per gallon extra for fuel, which, if you think about it, just at your
own gas pump is, you know, a ridiculously high premium. And everybody that I
spoke to who's an expert on this said there's just kind of no excuse in the
world for paying the price that Halliburton wound up paying for that gas. And
they weren't just filling up their tank. They were buying, you know, millions
of gallons. So it added up to an overcharge of $61 million.

And, you know, what everybody's saying now is, `Well, where did that money go?
Who got the extra $61 million of US government money there?' And the Defense
Department is investigating it now. There's all kind of tantalizing ties that
come into that particular deal because the Kuwaiti royal family appears to
have been somehow wrapped in this tiny company that was involved in
transporting the fuel. And people have been wondering whether they were
somehow doing something corrupt.

GROSS: Were you able to find out any new information about this part of the

Ms. MAYER: Yeah. I mean, what I found was a new document, a new letter,
which was a letter from Halliburton itself. Halliburton had been saying that
it had been forced to use this tiny company to trade with. And the letter
that I found showed that Halliburton actually was recommending that they use
this company, and the Army Corps of Engineer was accepting their
recommendation. So Halliburton certainly seems to have kind of pushed for
this at some point. It's unclear exactly why, but I think you can sort of--if
you step away, what you can see as the big picture is that Halliburton doesn't
appear to have been worrying too much about keeping the costs down in many
areas over in Iraq.

GROSS: Now Halliburton also overcharged the government by $16 million on a
bill for the cost of feeding troops at military bases in Kuwait. And last
month Halliburton confessed that two of its employees had taken kickbacks.
And is this affecting the Pentagon's confidence in Halliburton or the...

Ms. MAYER: Well, the amazing...

GROSS: Yeah.

Ms. MAYER: ...thing to me was that just, you know, the day after the company
admitted that its employees had taken these kickbacks, the Defense Department
awarded another contract to Halliburton for $1.8 billion. And, I mean, I
think there's a lot to be said about that, which is the Department of Defense
doesn't have a lot of choice at this point. They're stuck dealing with
Halliburton because nobody else but Halliburton can do the job that they're
doing over there right now. And, you know, there was a scholar named Dan
Guttman, who is an expert in procurement, and as--he said to me was, you know,
`What are they going to do? Tell Halliburton to just walk off the job when
Iraq is half rebuilt? They can't.' So there's really not that much leverage
that the government has in some ways, which means that a lot can go wrong and
will go wrong.

GROSS: Now if Halliburton is the only company that can really do this,
doesn't that make the charges that there was special favors here when
Halliburton got the contract--doesn't that make those charges kind of moot if
there's nobody else who could have done it?

Ms. MAYER: Well, I don't really see it that way. I think what it does is it
raises, to me, important policy questions about whether this is a smart thing
for the US government to do. Originally the reason to work with private
military contractors was to bring costs down. The idea was if you work with
the private marketplace, there's going to be competition, and that means that
prices will drop. But if only one or two companies can do this kind of work,
there's really not much competition. And so the advantages of going to
private military contracts, you know, kind of evaporate given that.

There are a few things going on here, and I would say that the single most
controversial part of Halliburton's role in Iraq is just one of the many
contracts it has, and it's the contract that it got without any bidding.
There was no competition allowed on it, and it was issued to Halliburton under
supposedly emergency situations having to do with the need to go to war so
fast. And this was a contract for up to $7 billion to put out oil well fires,
and there are other companies that can put out oil well fires, in that, you
know, there are small aspects of the work that could have been bid out and
were not. And I think that's where people start saying, `Wasn't that
favoritism? Why didn't somebody bid that part of the contract out? And why
didn't Halliburton, you know, have to compete to get that $7 billion

GROSS: Now you asked a lot of people when you were doing this article if
there were conflicts of interests that they saw. And one businessman with
close ties to the Bush administration was talking to you about what corruption
means nowadays. And would you repeat what he told you?

Ms. MAYER: Yeah, I thought it was really fascinating. I mean, everybody here
has--I mean, many people that I've talked to, at least in the world of
politics, they're looking for something obvious and heavy-handed. They're
looking for, you know, bribes or something like that. And what this fellow
said was, you know, `It's more subtle. It's not about somebody taking a bribe
and giving out a contract. What it's about is the sense that the American
public gets--is that these contracts are being awarded on the basis of who you
have dinner with. It's not what you can do but who you know.' And he said it
reminded him a little bit of Russia these days, where there's sort of a kind
of an inside track. And it is, you know, a political problem for the
administration if they're seen as operating unfairly and just giving business
to their friends.

GROSS: My guest is Jane Mayer. Her article, "Contract Sport: What Did the
Vice President do for Halliburton" is in the current edition of The New
Yorker. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Journalist Jane Mayer is my guest. In the current edition of The New
Yorker she has an article called "Contract Sport: What Did the Vice President
do for Halliburton?"

Do you have a sense of how directly connected the vice president is to
decisions about how the rebuilding of Iraq is being conducted?

Ms. MAYER: Yeah. I was surprised by this, which was that people that I
interviewed told me that Vice President Cheney is, in some ways, `the man to
see,' as they put it, about doing business in Iraq; that he keeps in touch
with the officials at the Coalition Provisional Authority and talks to them
about private businesses that want to come into Iraq. And he helps direct
businesses over there and tell them who to see. And so one person said to me
that he's running it much the way LBJ ran the space program, and I don't know
if that's really an exaggeration, but he does seem to have contacts throughout
the CPA in Iraq. Old friends are sort of sprinkled through it.

GROSS: Now the privatizing of functions that were formerly done by the
military--I mean, there was a time when the Army Corps of Engineers would have
been rebuilding the oil wells and not a private company--there's arguments for
and against the privatizing of that work. What were some of the most
compelling arguments you heard on each side while researching this piece?

Ms. MAYER: Well, I think the argument in favor of using a company like
Halliburton is--at least originally the idea was that you would save money.
Instead of having to pay soldiers' pensions for the rest of their lives and,
you know, take care of them, you've got--this work is contracted out. And,
also, Halliburton, it must be said, has done a terrific job in many ways.
It's mobilized very quickly. It's done work that very few other companies
could ever do. They can do everything from building the barracks to, you
know, rehabilitating the oil fields in Iraq. And they're fast and they're
efficient. They're not cheap, but they do get the job done.

In the downside, though, I think, to me, one of the most interesting things
someone was said--it was a retired Air Force colonel I interviewed named Sam
Gardiner who teaches at the National War College, and he said, you know, that
there's a problem with using private military contractors that people didn't
really think about in advance, which is he thinks it makes war too easy. When
there are companies that are standing by and waiting to profit from going to
war, there's really not the kind of political friction you would get if you
had to order up the reserves and get them over there digging the latrines and
doing the laundry themselves. I mean, and often the biggest grumbles come
from the reserves and from reserves doing sort of KP duty. And this is
eliminated in this new, sort of streamlined, privatized fashion.

GROSS: There's another issue you raise, and that is that private military
companies are insulated from Freedom of Information Act requests. They can
keep their work more secret, more insulated than the military could, than the
government could.

Ms. MAYER: Right. Well, they're private. They're private companies. And so
unlike government employees, they are not bound by all the kinds of rules that
keep the Civil Service in line. I mean, for instance, they can make campaign
contributions and, you know, participate in campaigns in a way that Civil
Service employees can't. They can dodge Freedom of Information Act requests.
They are not bound by ethics rules that the government is. They can even, you
know, keep things like directories of who the officers are--they can keep
those secret. And so it's a very different tradition. The private, you know,
profitable companies operate under different rules than the government does.

GROSS: Let me ask you a question that you raise in your piece in The New
Yorker. You say, `It's reasonable to ask if Cheney's faith in companies like
Halliburton contributed to his conviction that the occupation of Iraq would be
a tidy, easily managed affair.' What's the question there? What...

Ms. MAYER: Well, you know, one of the things that I find fascinating at this
point is: Why didn't this administration, which has so much experience now in
waging wars in Iraq having done it twice--why didn't they foresee all the
problems they were walking into in terms of rebuilding the country? Why are
we in this situation that seems to be flirting with chaos so much of the time?
And I think, you know, it seems a fair question to ask whether it wasn't
because Cheney ran a company that looked at war--as it says in its own
brochure in these days, `The war on terrorism is a growth area,' as
Halliburton sees it. It's a market. It looks like it's going to be a piece
of business, really, or, you know, something tidy that you could wrap up.
And, really, the world has become a much more complicated place than that in
Iraq, and maybe it blindsided him. I really wonder.

GROSS: Now Dick Cheney declined to talk to you about Halliburton, and he's
basically declining to talk about Halliburton period. But were there
executives, current or former, from Halliburton who were willing to talk to

Ms. MAYER: Oh, sure. I mean, everything in this piece has been run by the
executives at Halliburton, and they make a lot of points. You know, the
company has been demonized to some extent, and it does do a good job in many
ways, I think. And what one of the executives said to me was that, you know,
`The business of private military contractors working with the US government
is not a new business,' and he pointed out that it was private companies that
made the bullets for the American Revolution. So, you know, there's long been
a relationship between industry and military in this country, and there's also
been a long history of a lot of disturbing and troubling questions being asked
about it, too. I mean, one of the things that brought Harry Truman to
national prominence were the kinds of questions he raised about the
profiteering by the companies after World War II.

GROSS: Well, what are some of the difficulties writing a piece about Dick
Cheney and Halliburton when Dick Cheney won't speak with you about it?

Ms. MAYER: Oh, my God, it just took months to research this. I mean, so much
of the material is so hard to get ahold of, and, really, the administration is
so unhelpful to reporters about this kind of material. I mean, it was ironic
right as I was working on this, Cheney was engaged in kind of a public
relations offensive, where he was trying to be more open. But he was only
being open about the things he wanted to talk to. He certainly wasn't talking
about Halliburton, and he was not open to going into any of the details about
that. So it just took months and months of reading through fine print and
talking to people who are obsessed with the subject.

And, you know, one of the things is that there are a number of people on the
Democratic side on the Hill who have really been pushing this subject hard and
trying to collect information--for instance, Congressman Waxman from
California. And so, you know, I spoke with them a lot, and I spoke to people
in the company a lot and people who used to be at the company. But it just
took a lot of kind of mind-numbing work, really.

GROSS: Do you think the Democrats are going to try to make Halliburton a
campaign issue?

Ms. MAYER: Well, I think they already are. And I don't know how much, you
know, sticking power it will have as a campaign issue. The Democrats would
also like to hold hearings on it in Congress, but because they don't have a
majority in either the House or the Senate, they've been unable to push the
subject for open congressional hearings.

GROSS: And why don't you think it would have sticking power as an election

Ms. MAYER: Well, it may. It may very well because, really, Halliburton has
become this kind of code word for cronyism and for being too close to
corporate America. And so I think, you know, it's something that has symbolic
power, but the details of it are so complicated, it's hard for people to
really understand them all, I think. And, also, you know, really, to be fair,
privatizing the government has been a bipartisan issue in recent years, and Al
Gore talked about reinventing government by privatizing government. So it's
not only the Republicans who have pushed for this, but the Republicans
certainly have pushed harder for it.

GROSS: Jane Mayer, thank you so much for talking with us.

Ms. MAYER: Well, it's my pleasure. Thanks for having me on.

GROSS: Jane Mayer is a staff writer for The New Yorker. Her article about
Vice President Cheney and Halliburton is in the current edition.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: More than a million people bought Norah Jones' new CD in its debut
week. What does our jazz critic Kevin Whitehead think of it? Coming up, we
hear his review. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Norah Jones' new CD "Feels Like Home"

Singer and pianist Norah Jones' first album released two years ago has sold 18
million copies, a runaway hit, especially for a singer on a jazz label. The
new sequel sold more copies in its first week than any other CD did in its
debut week in two and a half years. Our jazz critic Kevin Whitehead weighs
in, but, first, a little Duke Ellington.

(Soundbite of "Melancholia")


Duke Ellington's "Melancholia" from 1953. That's minor Ellington, for sure,
but Norah Jones heard some hidden potential and turned it into a Tony
Bennett-style saloon ballad.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. NORAH JONES: (Singing) I hear children playing, laughing so loud. I
don't think of your smile. So if you never come to me, you'll stay a distant

WHITEHEAD: That's Jones' own lyric. And while it's no masterpiece, she
remakes Ellington in a convincing way, which is something, especially for a
relative novice. That tune closes her new CD, the case of burying the lead,
but then it'd be hard to follow up Ellington's rich harmonies with her usual
blues and country-singed fare. Jones' CD "Feels Like Home" resembles her
bazillion-selling debut in many particulars, but it would have been ungracious
for her to dump her loyal band after sweeping last year's Grammys. I'm not
really a fan, but it's easy to hear why folks took to her sultry
vulnerability, and her lush voice now sounds more seasoned and mature.

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: Two years of frequent gigs can make a difference.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. JONES: (Singing) What am I to you? Tell me, darling, truth. To me, you
are the sea, fast as you can be, deepest shade of blue.

WHITEHEAD: You can make your own list of Norah Jones' influences, including
jazz, Depression-era ballads, Memphis R&B and Bonnie Raitt's blues pop
hybrids. Her broad frame of reference makes for a built-in, cross-over
appeal. Garth Hudson and Levon Helm of the band The Band sit in a time or
two, connecting Jones to their not-quite-placable musical Americana, even if
the great Hudson is buried in the background.

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: Guitarist Kevin Bright's "Humble Me" is one of the better songs,
oddly enough, 'cause its lyric feels cribbed from several sources, like an old
folk ballad. A single mom's particular tale of woe turns into a generalized

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. JONES: (Singing) Went out on a limb, gone too far, broke down at the side
of the road. Stranded at the outskirts, and sun's creeping up. Baby's in the
seat still fast asleep dreaming of better days. I don't want to call you, but
you're all I have to turn to. What do you say when it's all gone away? Baby,
I didn't mean to hurt you. Truth spoken in whispers will tear you apart, no
matter how hard you resist it. It never rains when you want it to. You
humble me, Lord. You humble me, Lord. I'm on my knees empty. You humble me,

WHITEHEAD: Some songs are weaker. There's a country ditty with guest Dolly
Parton so desperate to be catchy that I was sick of it the first time I heard
it. Norah Jones' "Feels Like Home" must be the twangiest CD ever on Bluenote.
And as part of the jazz label's partial rebranding as home to quality pop
singers, like Al Green and Van Morrison, this trend confirms that,
commercially speaking, it's better for singers to be associated with jazz
sophistication than to actually sing jazz.

OK by me if Jones sticks with original tunes instead of standards, but maybe
she could lighten up on all the slow and melancholy stuff, `melancholia' being
defined as `brooding without sufficient cause.' Ms. Jones, cheer up. You're

GROSS: (Laughs) Kevin Whitehead writes for the Chicago Sun-Times, The
Absolute Sound and Downbeat.


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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