A Pentagon email concerning a multibillion dollar Iraqi reconstruction contract has once again highlighted conflicts of interest in the US administration.
Time magazine reported on Sunday how Vice President Dick Cheney's office "coordinated" an extremely lucrative contract with his former employer Halliburton.
Dated 5 March 2003 - two weeks before the invasion of Iraq - the email began by confirming that Undersecretary of Defence Douglas Feith had provided arrangements for the Restore Iraqi Oil (RIO) contract between Halliburton and the US government.
Sent by an Army Corps of Engineers official, the text also went on to mention that the RIO contract faced no major obstacles "since action has been coordinated with VP's [vice president's] office".
Time said the Pentagon e-mail was located among documents provided by Judicial Watch, a conservation watchdog group.
48 million-dollar question
If the email is verified, the question is what was Cheney doing "coordinating" the RIO contract for Halliburton?
CBSNews.com quoted Cheney's 2001 financial disclosure report, which indicated that his Halliburton benefits include three batches of stock options comprising 433,333 shares - valued at $35 million in 2001.
His compensation package for five years of work at Halliburton was valued at $13 million dollars.
Additionally, "his deferred compensation account was valued at between $500,000 and $1 million, and generated income of $50,000 to $100,000," CBSNews said.
Cheney's spokesperson, Kevin Kellems, was quick to downplay any wrong doing.
"We simply cannot afford to further increase the risk to our country with more blunders by this team"
former US vice president
"Vice President Cheney and his office have had no involvement whatsoever in government contracting matters since he left private business to run for vice president."
However, at press time, the vice president's office had still not explained the email.
Protecting the truth
But then it is not the first time Cheney has failed to explain questionable practices.
He still refuses to reveal to the general accounting office (GAO), Congress's investigative arm, what was discussed in six meetings he and his staff held with failed energy company Enron's executives.
He also refused to hand over requested documentation.
In late September 2003, a report issued by the Congressional Research Service indirectly criticised Cheney's denial of a continuing relationship with Halliburton.
The report stated that deferred options of the type Cheney received "are among those benefits described by the Office of Government Ethics as 'retained ties' or 'linkages' to one's former employer."
In late October 2003, Reuters reported that Halliburton had been paid about $1.4 billion of a possible $7 billion total expected from work on Iraq's devastated oil infrastructure.
Questions also arise when considering that Feith was coordinating with Cheney when he should have been "coordinating" Iraqi oil contracts with his boss, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz only.
But like Cheney, the undersecretary is no stranger to extreme conflicts of interest himself.
Before his political appointment, Feith's own website stated that he “represented a leading Israeli armaments manufacturer in establishing joint ventures with leading US aerospace manufacturers for manufacture and sale of missile systems, to the US Department of Defense and worldwide.”
Douglas Feith (L) coordinated
Iraq oil deal before war started
His own biography says that he specialises in "technology transfer, joint ventures and foreign investment in the defense and aerospace industries."
Feith has also been quoted as saying: "it is in the interest of the US and Israel to remove needless impediments to technological cooperation between them" - an incredible admission for an official in his position.
The Israeli commentator Akiva Eldar even observed in a Haaretz column (26 April 2002) that Feith was "walking a fine line" between his loyalty to American governments and Israeli interests.
"I also noted his close association with the pro-Likud groups, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) and his law firm's international work promoting the Israeli arms industry," James Zogby said of Feith in May 2001.
Critics of Feith have pointed to the website representing his former law firm, Feith & Zell, PC now known as Zell, Goldberg & Co. and based in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Washington, DC.
"Zell, Goldberg & Co. has recently established a task force dealing with issues and opportunities relating to the recently ended war in Iraq," the website says.
"Through its Washington, D.C. office, ZGC is also assisting American companies in their relations with the United States government in connection with Iraqi reconstruction projects as prime contractors and consultants."
Call for resignations
Delivering a major foreign policy address in New York City last week, former vice president Al Gore condemned the "twisted values" at "the highest levels of our government."
He insisted that Cheney and Feith should both resign.
Gore is incensed by the Bush
administration's handling of the war
"They are … increasing the danger faced by American citizens everywhere in the world, including here at home. They are enraging hundreds of millions of people and embittering an entire generation of anti-Americans whose rage is already near the boiling point.
"We simply cannot afford to further increase the risk to our country with more blunders by this team."