Yes, I've seen an advance screening of Casino Jack
, even though it hasn't opened yet -- and no, I did not download an illegal copy. The film stars Kevin Spacey as Abramoff, and he's terrific. So are Jon Lovitz, who plays Adam Kidan, and the late Maury Chaykin, who plays a character obviously modeled on Anthony "Big Tony" Moscatiello. It's a fascinating movie, and I'm confident that at least one of the aforementioned actors will get a major award.
I've also seen the other Casino Jack -- the documentary whose full title is Casino Jack and the United States of Money. Get that Jack if you want facts. It's more informative and almost as entertaining.
The missing stuff. Superlobbyist Jack Abramoff made many strange deals with many strange people (including, amusingly enough, a fellow named Joseph Cannon). The story is really too big for a single film. At certain points, Casino Jack -- the non-documentary version -- comes very close to having the actors turn to the audience and confide: "We can't tell you everything we know." This movie is a palimpsest; the most unsettling truths hide beneath the visible story.
When you see it, count the number of times the script winks at you.
The movie rather too rapidly glides past Abramoff's dark doings in the Marianas. Abramoff and his clients used luxurious vacations and "Potemkin village" factory tours to secure congressional approval for a vile system of indentured servitude, sex slavery and enforced abortions, all on American soil. The movie offers brief and vague references to these obscenities but never dramatizes them. In this regard, the documentary makes a far greater impact -- especially when the filmmakers visit Tom DeLay, who still defends what went on.
The Spacey version treats the Indian casino scams in an entertaining but somewhat veiled fashion. In essence, Abramoff and his partner -- Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition -- ran a protection racket. If a tribe forked over millions to Abramoff and the GOP, Reed promised not to have his Christian soldiers shut down the operation. If a tribe didn't pay off, Reed would send the moralists into an anti-gambling frenzy. In other words: "Hey, nice little casino you got here. Wouldn't want to see anything happen to it..."
Casino Jack informs us about this scam but -- once again -- refuses to dramatize or to visualize. Imagine a Ben-Hur remake that doesn't show the chariot race, but has a character give us the gist of what happened.
The film grants Abramoff a moment of genuine concern for the oppression that indigenous Americans have suffered. Maybe he had such moments in real life; I don't know. I do know that the email trail demonstrates that Abramoff routinely used racist and insulting terms to describe Indians.
Most followers of the Abramoff scandals believe that his crew's dirtiest dealings involve the SunCruz casino ships and the murder of owner Gus Boulis. (SunCruz goes by another name in the film.) One senses that a secret scandal rests beneath the one which newspapers -- and Hollywood -- feel comfortable discussing.
I have an idea as to what that secret might be. Believe it or not, it indirectly involves Barack Obama.
Unfortunately, we'll need a lot more background before we get to Obama's long-ignored links to the Abramoff milieu. If some of this material is already familiar to you, allow yourself a smirk at the expense of your dullard fellow-citizens: Many Casino Jack reviewers on IMDB don't know who Jack Abramoff is or Gus Boulis was.
The casino ships. Gus Boulis was a Greek who had made millions from a chain of sandwich shops. Some writers strongly hint that his restaurants functioned as money laundries; I've never seen any proof for that allegation.
In 1994, he started SunCruz in Key Largo, offering gamblers luxurious trips outside the reach of Florida's laws. The venture proved very successful. It also attracted the attention of certain Florida authorities who became fixated on the goal of shutting Boulis down. Eventually, they discovered a little-known law which indicated that Boulis could not legally operate these ships because his American citizenship was in question.
Boulis needed to transfer ownership pronto. But he still wanted to run the operation and to keep at least part of the profits. Enter Jack Abramoff.
Toward the end of the year 2000, Abramoff bought the SunCruz line for some $147 million dollars, even though he didn't really have that kind of money. His partner and front man was Adam Kidan, an old chum from his college Republican days who had made some decent coin running a chain of mattress stores. Kidan was, as they say, somewhat "mobbed up" -- that is, he had acquaintances in organized crime.
Here's where things get murky. The movie gets murky, the documentary gets murky, and about three zillion Abramoff stories available via Google get murky.
We know this: Boulis at first wanted nothing to do with Abramoff and Kidan. In order to turn the Greek around, Abramoff sicced his paid-off congressional pal Bob Ney on the SunCruz operation. In essence, Abramoff and his political cronies acted like classic mafiosi, pressuring a businessman to sell out to the made guys.
Result: Boulis agreed to a deal which allowed him to keep a silent ten percent of the take. Kidan offered a down payment of $23 million, which came in the form of a wire transfer. The transfer turned out to be a phony cooked up at Kinkos.
Enraged by this fraud, Boulis confronted Kidan and physically attacked him, using (of all things) a pen. Kidan acquired a bodyguard, then paid a visit to "Big Tony," an underworld associate.
In the film -- whose makers obviously consulted both Abramoff and Kidan -- Kidan asks Big Tony to deal with Boulis, but not to employ violence. "I abhor violence," says Kidan. Accept that story if you will. As a general rule, fragile souls and lovers of peace rarely ask guys named Big Tony to do their negotiating.
On February 6, 2001, hit men ambushed Gus Boulis in his car.
In the film, we see Big Tony and a junior associate pull off the job personally. (In real life, Kidan blames the killing on a mobster who conveniently died in 2003.) Just before the hit, Big Tony mentions something about a plan to take over the casino boat operation himself, indicating that the decision to commit murder was his and his alone. Although I can't be certain, that line appears to have been looped in after filming was completed. It's the most suspicious and unconvincing moment in the movie, because it absolves Abramoff and his partner.
A "cruise to nowhere" can still make pick-ups. What were these men fighting over? Why were so many inside players -- mobsters and lobbyists and congressfolk -- scrambling to gain control of those casino ships?
One reason is obvious: The gambling operation was, in and of itself, extraordinarily lucrative. But that fact doesn't really explain the hit.
As the film makes (more or less) clear, Boulis and Team Abramoff reached a deal which gave Boulis ten percent. Distribution of the casino profits had been settled. The true bone of contention was the issue of who would run the day to day operations.
Why was that so important?
In the film, Boulis insists on maintaining daily "on site" control because he wishes to secure employment for family members. I don't buy it. The Greek tycoon was worth millions and could easily have secured all kinds of jobs for cronies and relatives.
So what was going on aboard those boats? What made actual command of the ships a life-or-death matter? Why did Kidan ask a guy called Big Tony to take charge of "catering" on those cruises?
If you're a grown-up, one possible answer should have already popped into your mind.
The ships routinely went out beyond U.S. territorial waters and returned without any interference or inspection from the Coast Guard or any other governmental authority. These floating casinos were unregulated, and they carried large amounts of money on a daily basis.
Hypothetically speaking, such an operation could have provided a perfect cover for drug smuggling. Hypothetically.
Now let's take the issue a step further. Why did the Florida authorities go after Gus Boulis with such gusto? The Broward County state attorney was a guy named Michael Satz, derisively nicknamed "Michael Sitz" because he was notorious for sitting on cases involving political corruption. Yet in the late 1990s, the lethargic Mr. Satz went gunning for Boulis with a vengeance -- "Sitzkrieg," as it were.
Were those Floridian officials truly bothered by the possibility that Boulis' citizenship problem might have placed him afoul of an obscure law? Or is it possible that someone in a powerful position coveted his operation?
Now let's take our ship into even stranger seas. Newspapers occasionally publish certain stories which average citizens are later required to flush down the memory hole. In our political culture, facts are considered permissible topics of discussion not when they enter the published record but when they are mentioned day after day by the talking heads on cable news.
Here is a fact reported by Associated Press writer Vickie Chachere on September 26, 2001 -- not long after the attack on the World Trade Center. Although the talking heads will probably never mention Cachere's report, her words deserve remembrance:
SunCruz Casinos has turned over photographs and other documents to FBI investigators after employees said they recognized some of the men suspected in the terrorist attacks as customers.These visits occurred shortly before the terror attacks, at a time when Abramoff owned the SunCruz ships. That AP story was not the only one of its kind. A flurry of reports appeared in the Florida press linking the 9/11 hijackers to Abramoff's boats.
Michael Hlavsa, chairman of the gambling cruise company, said Wednesday two or three men linked to the Sept. 11 hijackings may have been customers on a ship that sailed from Madeira Beach on Florida's gulf coast.
At that time, those ships were under investigation for money laundering.
If you visit the above-linked website, you'll see a compendium of stories indicating that the 9/11 hijackers spent a lot of time visiting casinos, both on the high seas and in Nevada. These Islamic fanatics don't seem to have had any interest in gambling. Something else was on their minds.
What might that "something" have been? Again, if you are a grown up, one possibility has probably already popped into your cranium -- but just in case that has not happened yet, I'll make matters plain.
Before they hijacked the jets, Mohammed Atta and his crew functioned as stateside representatives for Osama Bin Laden. Bin Laden was a man with heroin for sale. Let's rephrase that: Osama Bin Laden held a controlling influence over the leader of Afghanistan, where much of the world's heroin is grown. Bin Laden also needed large amounts of cash to fund a private army.
As noted in an earlier post:
Al Qaeda was funded by drug money. Drug money must needs be laundered. Casinos have been known to be used for that purpose. Casino ships are unregulated.To repeat: At the time, those casino ships were under investigation for money laundering.
Casino Jack and Bin Laden. It may be possible to find other links between the Abramoff operation and Al Qaeda.
Although Jack Abramoff was and is a devout Jew and a funder of Israeli sniper schools, he also did PR work for a Saudi billionaire named Saleh Abdullah Kamel, chairman of the General Council for Islamic Banks. Kamel sure as hell needed some good PR after newspapers started to discuss his suspected association with Osama Bin Laden.
Kamel has denied any link to Al Qaeda. Even so, he co-founded Bin Laden's bank of choice and was fingered as a sponsor of terrorism in a 2002 United Nations report. A document discovered in Bosnia listed Kamel as a Bin Laden associate. And here's the most interesting link of all: One of Kamel's companies paid (via a third party) the rent for the 9/11 hijackers who lodged in San Diego.
Am I implying that Jack Abramoff knew about the impending disaster or that he sympathized in any way with Islamic terrorists? No. Although I have a somewhat elastic concept of the possible, that notion strikes me as preposterous.
All I'm saying is this: As a general rule, both politics and the drug trade are notorious for creating strange bedfellows.
The germinal phase. Linkages between the worlds of Jack Abramoff and Osama Bin Laden may predate the founding of Al Qaeda.
Early in his career, during his stint with the college Republicans, Jack Abramoff glommed onto Arnaud de Borchgrave and his crowd. If you were alive and politically aware in that period, you will recall the Moon-funded wheeler-dealers who spent the Carter and Reagan years screaming nonsensical conspiracy theories about covert KGB control of the "liberal" media and American foreign policy. (Remember The Spike? Remember the bogus "Bulgarian" plot to kill the Pope?) Casino Jack the documentary goes into some of this; Casino Jack the Hollywood movie does not.
In 1985, Grover Norquist and Jack Abramoff put together a summit of anti-Communist "freedom fighters," many of whom were outright thugs. The "Democratic International" confab was held in, of all places, Angola -- where the Soviet Union and the United States had turned a bloody civil war into a proxy fight between superpowers. The guest of honor at this confab was the CIA's puppet in the Angolan conflict, a charismatic brute named Jonas Savimbi. For more on Savimbi and the CIA, see here and here and here.
(Just to complicate matters, we should note that Savimbi's other sponsor was China, and that he considered himself a Marxist.)
Abramoff later wrote and produced an action film called Red Scorpion, in which a fictionalized version of Jonas Savimbi wins the civil war -- with a little help from Dolph Lundgren. The movie was shot in apartheid South Africa, which funded both Savimbi and, it seems, the film. For a while, Abramoff tried to deny his links to the apartheid regime, even after the more responsible members of the Hollywood community launched protests of Red Scorpion.
Savimbi, at a later date, appears to have established links with Al Qaeda. Those ties emerged from the trade in "conflict diamonds," which are used to fund both Islamic terror and African revolutionary movements. See here and here.
Also attending that 1985 conference in Angola were Nicaraguan contra commanders and leaders of the anti-Soviet mujahadeen. Afghan fighter Abdul Rahim Wardak attended the meeting at Abramoff's invitation.
Although neither Al Qaeda nor the Taliban existed in 1985, this was the period when Osama Bin Laden emerged as the leading organizer of Saudi aide to the Afghan resistance movement. Thus, we can fairly state that Bin Laden and Warduk fought on the same side -- then. The two men now stand in opposition.
This assessment of Warduk is of some interest:
If you enter the circles within the Washington DC Afghani diaspora, and if you get close enough to hear the hushed comments, you’d be able to make out words like ‘corrupt,’ ‘ties to drug-running warlords,’ or ‘Afghan mafia.’ But for some ‘mysterious’ reasons our Central Intelligence Agency and hard-core Neocons within our foreign policy arena had deemed this general ultra special and important...The CIA's most important operative in Pakistan at this time was Milt Bearden, who worked with Warduk and the Pakistani ISI. He insists that he did not work with Bin Laden:
"I think it is factually false that the U.S. in any way backed Osama and his group of Arabs. I was there. I know who we backed. No reliable official source has ever confirmed that the U.S. program included Osama and his Arabs.....Many tell a different tale. See, for example, "How the CIA created Osama bin Laden," written shortly after the 9/11 disaster. Der Spiegel has said that Bin Laden was one of the CIA's best customers. Le Monde has asserted that the CIA recruited Bin Laden. Former UK foreign secretary Robin Cook considers Bin Laden a creation of western intelligence agencies. Both Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia and former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds have said that American intelligence aided Bin Laden.
In this context, perhaps we should mention this rather bizarre post from the Cannonfire archives -- a post which references none other than Milt Bearden. Also keep in mind that the CIA instituted "Operation Cyclone" in the 1980s. One of the goals of this program was to give training in the United States to various mujahadeen warriors -- indigenous Afghans, Arab imports, and even U.S.-born "Nation of Islam" types.
Not long after the Soviets pulled out of Aghanistan, the Pakistanis installed the Taliban. That's when General Warduk moved to America and came under the general protection of the neocons. Today, his son runs a defense firm which does work for (of all things) the Drug Enforcement Agency in Afghanistan -- while the elder Warduk is back in his home country functioning as Defense Minister. The Warduks are still in business with Milt Bearden, although no-one seems to know just what they are up to.
For more info on Bearden's Afghan network -- which includes Joe Lieberman's campaign finance director! -- see here.
Has this side-trip through spookland diverted us from the world of superlobbyist Jack Abramoff? Perhaps. And perhaps not.
The name's Abramoff -- Jack Abramoff. Persistent reports -- unmentioned by either of the Casino Jack films -- hold that, in the 1980s, Abramoff formed subterranean ties to American intelligence. Even though mainstream news stories ignore those ties, you shouldn't consign the notion to the conspiratorial loony bin, because the idea isn't all that controversial.
Ask yourself: Could Jack Abramoff have put together that 1985 conference in Angola (the one which brought together Savimbi, the contras, the mujahadeen and other CIA-backed fighters) without the connivance of the American intelligence community? I don't think so. You just can't do a thing like that unless you have some help from the Company.
After the conference, Jack Abramoff helped put together the International Freedom Foundation, which was funded by South African military intelligence. As this documentary makes clear, South Africa became involved with the Angolan war at the behest of the CIA; in essence, South Africa acted as a cut-out. In its publications, the IFF portrayed Nelson Mandela as a Soviet-backed terrorists, and briefly allied itself with the notoriously racist Western Goals Institute. (Earlier, Abramoff's College Republicans had defended apartheid and denounced all critics of South Africa as KGB propagandists.)
Since that period, Abramoff has often skulked on the outskirts of the covert world.
For example: When he needed a congressperson to put pressure on Gus Boulis, he called upon Bob Ney of Ohio. Although Casino Jack presents Ney as a cluelessly corrupt ninny, he's a rather more interesting fellow than Hollywood would have you believe. According to certain unverified but intriguing reports, American intelligence recruited Ney as a young man. He learned Farsi, worked in Iran, and then ran a security firm in Saudi Arabia -- an odd career path for an Ohio lad in his 20s. Some believe that Ney functioned under "non-official cover" while in these countries, and that his friends in the covert world helped grease his entry into Congress. Although such allegations remain unproven, it is beyond dispute that the Iranians later used Ney as a conduit during a brief period of thawing relations between Tehran and Washington. This fact suggests that Ney had previously established relationships with high-ranking Iranians.
Abramoff's former firm, Greenberg Traurig, is of no little interest, and not only because they have represented Diebold, Jeb Bush and Dubya's campaign in 2000. One of the firm's alumni became head of the Office of Naval Intelligence. We have conflicting reports regarding a possible familial connection between Mel Greenberg, the co-founder of the law firm, and Maurice "Hank" Greenberg, the AIG founder with undeniable ties to both American intelligence and the Bush family. (Anyone hoping to discover more about Mel Greenberg will find the internet strangely uncommunicative.)
Bob Ney was the one who saw to it that an Israeli company called FoxCom (a.k.a. MobileAccess Networks) got the contract to install a wireless LAN in the House and Senate buildings. As I wrote on an earlier occasion:
By applying a liberal dose of grease, Foxcom managed to edge out another firm whose security arrangements had been cleared by the FBI and the NSA. For some reason, the Israeli company really, really wanted to set up the wireless network used by your congressfolk.That reason (according to cynics such as yours truly) probably has something to do with spying. Here's former CIA officer Phil Giraldi:
Telecommunications security experts note that equipment that can be used to enhance or improve a signal can also be used to redirect the phone conversation to another location for recording and analysis. The possibility that someone in the Israeli Embassy might be listening to congressmen's private phone conversations is intriguing to say the least.A number of published sources claim that Ney made this deal because Abramoff pushed for it. FoxCom got the contract after making a hefty donation to one of Abramoff's favorite charities.
The Hollywood version of the Abramoff story demurely neglects to mention one word about spying on Congress.
Abramoff also lobbied on behalf of Verizon and other private firms seeking to benefit from a partial privatization of the NSA's eavesdropping systems. One of the chief execs at Verizon is an old CIA hand.
In short: Jack Abramoff appears to be a fellow who has made a few friends in the clandestine world. Much the same can be said about Barack Obama.
In part two -- coming very soon -- we'll detail the Obama/Abramoff connection.