One of the interesting side benefits, if one might call it that, of the everlasting investigation into Russiagate is the window provided on the extreme corruption of U.S. politicians and government officials. It has become evident that anyone can seemingly buy political and media support for nearly anything as long as enough money is put on the table. And worse, the sell-out has clearly been going on for some time, with the disease disproportionately afflicting former senior officials that have been engaged in national security.
If this corruption from the top down does not constitute a crisis that directly challenges the credibility of the entire U.S. political system, it is not clear what more would be needed to make the case. And it was not carried out by the Russians or anyone else seeking to bring down our so-called democracy. We Americans appear to have done it all to ourselves through inexplicable tolerance for a combination of greed and fundamental dishonesty on the part of our elected and appointed government officials.
A recent story that received remarkably little play in the media provides some insight into how it all works, driven by a money-fueled corruption that sells out American interests by those who once had sworn to protect them.
The several articles that covered the story described how some prominent figures in the U.S. national security community actively sought a Turkish government sourced contract to use their resources to bring about the character assassination and eventual extradition of American green card holder Fetullah Gülen from Pennsylvania. Gülen is, to be sure, a controversial figure who is the founder in his native Turkey of a movement called Hizmet, which is in turn linked to hundreds of schools worldwide that claim to teach a curriculum that fuses a moderate and tolerant form of Islam with high academic achievement in traditional courses of study, including the sciences.
Critics of Gülen claim that his movement is a cult and that the schools are used to brainwash students, who continue to do Hizmet’s bidding after they obtain positions in government, the military or within the educational system. The current president of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames Gülen for the attempted coup that took place last July and has sought his extradition. Erdogan has a strong motive for finding a scapegoat as he has sought to aggrandize his power in the wake of the coup, which has resulted in the imprisonment of tens of thousands of Turks while hundreds of thousands more have lost their jobs.
That Gülen is actually guilty of initiating the coup attempt has not been demonstrated by any reasonable standard. An extradition request submitted to the U.S. government by Ankara was reported to be not very convincing. There have also been suggestions, by me among others, that Erdogan knew about the coup in advance and let it happen so he could crackdown on opponents, which is certainly what has happened. Erdogan has, since the coup, frequently expressed his frustration with the U.S. Department of Justice extradition process, claiming that he has been betrayed by Washington. He has more generally speaking behaved like a madman, antagonizing all his former friends in Europe while also unnecessarily complicating relations with the United States over the two countries’ roles in Syria.
Enter former General Michael Flynn and former Bill Clinton CIA Director James Woolsey, both of whom were national security advisers to candidate Donald Trump during his campaign when they competed for contracts with Turkish businessmen linked to the Erdogan government to discredit Gülen and possibly even enable his abduction and illegal transfer to Turkey. If, as a consequence of their labors, Gülen were to be somehow returned home he would potentially be tried on treason charges, which might in the near future carry the death penalty in Turkey.
Both Flynn and Woolsey are highly controversial figures. Woolsey, in spite of having no intelligence experience, was notoriously appointed CIA Director by Bill Clinton to reward the neoconservatives for their support of his candidacy. But Woolsey never met privately with the president during his two years in office. He is regarded as an ardent neocon and Islamophobe affiliated with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA) and the AIPAC-founded Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP). I once debated him on NPR where he asserted that Israel does not spy on the United States, a delusional viewpoint to be sure. Former CIA Senior analyst Mel Goodman, recalling Woolsey’s tenure at the Agency, commented in 2003 that “[he] was a disaster as CIA director in the 90s and is now running around this country calling for a World War IV to deal with the Islamic problem. This is a dangerous individual…”
Flynn, is, of course, better known, and not for any good qualities that he might possess. He is, like Woolsey, an ardent hawk on Iran and other related issues but is also ready to make a buck through his company The Flynn Intel Group, where Woolsey served as an unpaid adviser. In the summer of 2016 Flynn had obtained a three-month contract for $530,000 to “research” Gülen and produce a short documentary film discrediting him, an arrangement that should have been reported under the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938, but the big prize was a possible contract in the millions of dollars to create a negative narrative on the Hizmet founder and put pressure on the U.S. government to bring about his extradition.
Woolsey and Flynn, both Trump advisers at the time, found themselves in competition for the money. Flynn had a New York meeting at the Essex House with the businessmen accompanied by the Turkish Foreign and Energy Ministers as well as Erdogan’s son-in-law on September 19th 2016 where, inter alia, the possibility of kidnapping Gülen and flying him to Turkey was discussed. Flynn has denied that the possibility of kidnapping was ever raised, but Woolsey, who was at the meeting for a brief time, insists that “whisking away” Gülen in the dead of night was on the agenda, though he concedes that the discussion was “hypothetical.”
On the next day, Woolsey and his wife met separately with the same two Turkish businessmen at the Peninsula Hotel in New York City and discussed with them a more general but broadly based $10 million plan of their own that would combine lobbying with public relations to discredit Gülen both in the press and in congress. Woolsey stressed that he had the kind of contacts in government and the media to make the plan work.
Woolsey did not get the $10 million contract that he sought and Flynn’s well-remunerated work for Turkey reportedly consisted of some research, a short documentary that may or may not have been produced, and a November op-ed in The Hill by Flynn that denounced Gülen as a “radical Islamist…who portrays himself as a moderate.”
But the real story about Flynn and Woolsey is the fashion in which senior ex-government employees shamelessly exploit their status to turn money from any and all comers without any regard for either the long- or short- term consequences of what they are doing. The guilt or innocence of Fetullah Gülen was never an issue for them, nor the reputation of the United States judiciary in a case which has all the hallmarks of a political witch hunt. And if a kidnapping actually was contemplated, it begs one to pause and consider what kind of people are in power in this country.
Neither Flynn nor Woolsey ever considered that their working as presidential campaign advisers while simultaneously getting embroiled in an acrimonious political dispute involving a major ally just might be seen as a serious conflict of interest, even if it was technically not-illegal. All that motivated them was the desire to exploit a situation that they cared not at all about for profit to themselves.
No one expects top rank ex-officials to retire from the world, but out of respect for their former positions, they should retain at least a modicum of decency. This is lacking across the board from the Clintons on down to the Flynns and Woolseys as Americans apparently now expect less and less from their elected officials and have even ceased to demand minimal ethical standards.