It started with the bribery indictment of California Rep. Randall "Duke" Cunningham, but before it's over, a sprawling investigation into a Pentagon contractor called MZM could snare some of Washington's most powerful inside players
Wade paid top dollar to bring the best and brightest to MZM, and he had a sales pitch few could resist. Tie askew, hair tousled, he'd sit behind his big desk, lean back, palms folded behind his head, and ask a prospective hire, often a government official, "How much do you make?" When the person told him, Wade would shake his head and mutter, "No, I can't do that-I just can't pay you so little money." He'd then toss out a huge salary offer and bask in the reaction. Wade then often sweetened the pot with fat signing bonuses and inflated titles, personal loans, or student loan payoffs. Wade usually demanded an immediate answer-it was usually a "yes"-and would then throw a binder containing MZM's highly restrictive employment contract, full of noncompete clauses, in front of his new employee. "You start tomorrow," he would declare.
Over time, Wade hired the crÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ©me de la crÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ©me of former government agents, intelligence officers, and soldiers. "The level of people that he had," says Melkessetian, "it was a government within the government."
Wade's most important conduit to the military and intelligence establishment was a retired 33-year Army veteran and three-star general named James King, who joined MZM soon after the 9/11 attacks. King had led the National Imagery and Mapping Agency and served as the principal intelligence adviser to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. King was a workaholic and taskmaster with a reputation for being tough on subordinates. His credibility gave Wade ready access to high levels of the Pentagon. At MZM, King was respected, feared, and disliked. "He smiled a lot," says a former MZM official. "But he didn't smile with his eyes." King had a carefully cultivated "aw shucks" demeanor and told employees to "Please, call me Jim." But his aides made it crystal clear that King should only be called "General." One of King's favorite aphorisms: "There are no lies; the truth keeps changing." King, who half-sardonically referred to Wade as "President Wade," spent long periods of time behind closed doors with his new boss, MZM employees say. "He was very close to Mitch," says a former executive. "Given the concerns I had personally, it's hard to believe he didn't have similar misgivings about what Mitch was doing." According to knowledgeable sources, the Federal Election Commission is investigating a number of MZM-related campaign contributions, including $12,000 that King and his wife made to Representative Goode. Lawyers for King declined to comment for this story. But one knowledgeable source denied that Wade and King were close. "The heavy-drinking crowd-that was Wade's circle, and the heavy-duty Mormon that Jim King was," the source said, "they never had anything in common."
"Necessary evil." One of King's key functions was to leverage MZM's ties to CIFA, the Pentagon agency created in 2002 to develop and coordinate counterintelligence policy within the Pentagon. From CIFA's inception, King was an adviser to Burtt, who became the agency's first director and was instrumental in its creation. According to MZM sources, at Wade's urging, King advocated for CIFA's expansion at meetings of the Defense Science Board-which advises the assistant secretary of defense on military affairs, including counterintelligence policy. Over the past four years, CIFA spent about $1 billion on counterterrorism and counterintelligence initiatives, the majority of which were outsourced to contractors, including Wade. "Everything he had," says a former MZM executive, referring to Pentagon contracts, "came from CIFA."