Trolling for Greenbacks in Baghdad
In the spring 2003 issue of the MZM newsletter, the Sentinel, Mitchell Wade extended prayers to American troops around the world and thanked his employees for supporting the troops in Iraq at this "perilous juncture." But MZM may have played a role in getting troops to Iraq, according to a national commission that investigated the intelligence failures that led to the war. The commission blamed the Pentagon's National Ground Intelligence Center (where Wade had analysts on contract through earmarks) that handled much of the military's prewar analysis of whether Saddam Hussein had developed nuclear precursor capabilities. The report didn't single out the MZM analysts but said that NGIC had "in particular displayed a disturbing lack of diligence and technical expertise."
Separately, in March 2003, MZM received a $1.2 million contract to send a team of 21 Arabic linguists to Iraq to serve as interpreters and assist the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, which later became the Coalition Provisional Authority, or CPA. Haig Melkessetian was one of the linguists and also served on the protective detail of the CPA head, Ambassador Paul Bremer. Melkessetian says that half the linguists Wade assigned to the project did not speak fluent Arabic, and one contractor was a Russian linguist who spoke no Arabic.
When Melkessetian-who has worked for U.S. military and intelligence agencies extensively in the Middle East-returned from Iraq, he talked to Wade about the growing counterinsurgency problems. "I sent you there to make money," Wade responded. "I didn't send you there to fix Iraq."
"Fantastic job." In 2004, Wade hired a prominent Iranian businessman and Canadian resident named Behrooz Behbudi, a big contributor to the Republican Party, as his director of Middle Eastern development, paying him $15,000 a month to consult on Iraq. Behbudi says Wade wanted him to help redesign the Central Bank of Iraq, destroyed in the war. The bill: $15 million. "We would have done a fantastic job finishing it," says Behbudi. "Our prices were very, very competitive." Wade, by then in a financial crunch, refused to pay.
Wade bragged about his military ties, Behbudi says: "He said he had a phone directly connected to DOD. He told me, 'My office is an extension of the Defense Department.'"
Iran was also on Wade's mind. "He came to me and said, 'I'm very interested,'" says Behbudi, "'in removing the mullahs.'" In April 2004, Wade and Behbudi formed the Iranian Democratization Foundation. Their timing was perfect. In November 2004, Congress approved $3 million for Iranian democratization efforts. But Wade and his partners eventually dissolved the foundation because of personal differences. Even right up till the end, though, Wade still had his finger on the pulse of Congress and the Bush administration. This year, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asked Congress for $75 million to promote democracy in Iran.
This story appears in the September 25, 2006 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.