December 19, 2004
By Raffique Shah
A FEW weeks ago, shortly after re-elected US President George Bush named Bernard Kerik to head the Department of Homeland Security, our local "security expert", ex-Regiment Captain Gary Griffith, told the nation that the Patrick Manning Government had missed a golden opportunity. Writing that Kerik's appointment meant "egg on Manning's face", he informed the country that this was the man who ex-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani had in mind to post here to help the Government reform the Police Service and restore law and order. Griffith had earlier promoted Giuliani Partners as the answer to this country's crime problem. Interestingly, around the same time, Griffith also spoke derisively about the UNC's leadership, no doubt trying to ingratiate himself with the PNM in order to win support for Giuliani to land a contract here.
Luckily for Trinidad and Tobago, Manning's Cabinet did not fall for the wiles of the man (or men, since Kerik is part of Giuliani's team) who is credited with "cleaning up New York". Less than a week after he stood by the President's side when the announcement was made, Kerik withdrew from one of the most powerful positions that were up for the grabs in Bush's second-term team. His reason? He did not know that a "nanny" he had hired was an illegal immigrant. Because she was an illegal, presumably she will have been paid sub-standard wages, and she paid no taxes. Bush was furious, and Giuliani, who had recommended Kerik (the ex-Mayor has-or had?-considerable influence with Bush), apologised for the "mistake". They both knew that Kerik will not have passed the rigid Senate confirmation process, during which candidates for such appointments are grilled down to their drawers.
Now, even a simple, uneducated Trini would know if the person he or she hired as a household help was an illegal Guyanese (to use an example and there are many Guyanese women who suffer similar experiences here). Yet, this man, who, if Griffith had had his way, would have been the "great reformer" of our policing, did not know that. One could speculate that he, the ex-Commissioner of Police in NY, could have hired an Al Qaeda operative or "sleeper" in his home and not know it. Of course, he was lying. From the day he hired the "nanny", he will have known of her status. But she, like all illegal immigrants, came cheap and that's what mattered. Still, it leaves one to wonder why he led Bush down the garden path, only to embarrass the president (if Bush is capable of being embarrassed!).
What's the truth behind Kerik's reputation as the great crime suppressor, his meteoric rise to the position of Commissioner of Police in New York? A high school dropout-and there's nothing wrong with that-he cut a physical niche for himself, gaining a black belt in karate, which would propel him to the high-paying job of bodyguard to the Sultan of Brunei and the Saudi royal family before he returned to NY as a narcotics policeman, and in 1993 Giuliani's chauffeur/bodyguard. As the mayor moved to rid NY of its crime-den reputation, he quickly elevated Kerik to the positions of deputy police commissioner and chief of the corrections department (prisons). While he was in that position, according to one-time Bill Clinton senior advisor and now syndicated columnist Sidney Blumenthal, US$1 million of taxpayers' money allocated to buy tobacco for prison inmates disappeared into a private foundation run by Kerik.
By the year 2000, Giuliani chose him over many more qualified candidates as police commissioner. Following the events of 9/11, he wrote an autobiography (The Lost Son): the city's conflict of interest board fined him US$2,500 for using policemen to conduct his research. He was later sent by Bush (no doubt on Giuliani's recommendation) to Iraq to put that country's security forces in shape. British police advisors who were also in Iraq dubbed him the "Baghdad Terminator", saying his reckless bullying was alienating Iraqis. He was meant to stay for six months. In three months he was out, and we now know what kind of shape he whipped the local force into. They cannot even police Baghdad, far less look to control the entire country-even with 50,000-plus US troops behind them. So much for Kerik's much vaunted competencies.
But such bungling was the small picture in Giuliani's and Kerik's bigger lives. And how big their lives had indeed become under a most generous president and the many lucrative "security" contracts that were up for the grabs by Bush loyalists. Since leaving his job as head of NY police, teaming up with his mentor and former boss Giuliani, the twosome made millions of dollars in the private sector, much of it working for companies that do business with the Department of Homeland Security. For example, the Arizona-based firm of Taser International, manufacturer of stun guns, on whose board Kerik sat, sold most of its products to local and state police, as well as Customs and Border Protection, the latter a division of Homeland Security. In stock options-which he sold-Kerik made $6.2 million in pre-tax profits (according to a Washington Post story). And Newsweek magazine claimed there was an arrest warrant for him in 1998 for a debt he owed on a condominium he owned.
This is just the tip of the Giuliani-Kerik muck-ridden iceberg. Homeland Security consists of 22 agencies with a budget of US$22 billion a year. Clearly, having joined in the "looting spree" that Bush's associates engaged in (the Halliburton contracts in Iraq being one such scam), the two men eyed the big job that Kerik would hold and the profits they could derive from it. In other words, for all their fame and glory as "crime busters" in New York, Giuliani and Kerik are nothing but men seeking to profit from people's fears in America. In fact, Bush has made "fear" an industry, a very lucrative one at that. And these men, like so many others, wanted their slice of the fear-pie.
Are these the characters we want to help reform our police, deal with our crime situation? Given that corruption in the ranks is a major problem here, was Griffith's suggestion a case of "set a thief to catch a thief"? Luckily for us, the Manning Cabinet did not fall for the baloney that so often baffles the brain. The egg, it seems, and a rotten one at that, has exploded on Griffith's face. He almost dumped on us an "Inspector Clousseau", a rat who will have gobbled up much of our money. Lesson: always examine gift horses, especially when they come from Bush's doping-stables.