O, great. Just when this blogger was worrying about jihadist terrorists in our midst, along comes Jane Mayer with an account of the Koch-Suckers in our midst. The sons of Fred Koch, a founding member of the John Birch Society, have created a nearly billion-dollar entity that takes political dirty tricks into the realm of black ops. Let us give thanks for a muckraker like Jane Mayer who confronts the Koch-Suckers without a concern for her own safety. If this is (fair & balanced) investigative journalism, so be it.
[x New Yorker]
Do The Kochs Have Their Own Spy Network?
BY Jane Mayer
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Five years ago, when The New Yorker published my piece “Covert Operations,” about the ambitious and secretive political network underwritten by the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, the Koch brothers complained mightily about the story’s title, protesting that there was nothing at all covert about their political activities. Since then, the two have embarked on an impressive public-relations campaign meant to demonstrate their transparency and openness. But today, the Politico reporter Kenneth Vogel came out with a blockbuster scoop suggesting that the brothers, whose organization has vowed to spend an unprecedented eight hundred and eighty-nine million dollars in the 2016 election cycle, are more involved in covert operations than even their own partners have known.
After culling through the latest legally required disclosures [PDF], Vogel unearthed a new front group within the Kochs’ expanding network of affiliated nonprofit organizations—a high-tech surveillance and intelligence-gathering outfit devoted to stealthily tracking liberal and Democratic groups which Politico calls the “Koch Intelligence Agency.” The sleuthing operation reportedly includes twenty-five employees, one of whom formerly worked as an analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency, and follows opponents by harvesting high-tech geodata from their social-media posts.
According to Vogel, the effort is so secretive that very few people know of it even within the Kochs’ own sprawling political operation. Housed with other Koch nonprofit organizations in a bland office building in Arlington, Virginia, the outfit is managed by a limited-liability partnership called American Strategies Group, LLC. The company is part of the Kochs’ main political group: a circle of ultra-conservative donors called Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, which describes itself as a “business league” and so claims that it can legally hide the identities of its members.
Reached for comment, James Davis, the spokesman for Freedom Partners, described news accounts comparing the organization’s operation to espionage as “inaccurate.” Davis said, “Like most other organizations, Freedom Partners has a research department that benchmarks our efforts against other organizations.”
While it’s big news that the Kochs are now running their own private intelligence-gathering operation in order to track political opponents, including labor unions, environmental groups, and liberal big-donor groups, it actually isn’t surprising, given their history.
For decades, there have been reports suggesting that Charles and David Koch and Koch Industries have employed private investigators to gather inside information on their perceived enemies, including their own brother, Bill Koch, with whom they fought over control of the family business and fortune. My forthcoming book, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right (2016), which will come out in January, builds on earlier reporting about this, including my 2010 New Yorker piece. In fact, again and again, those who have challenged the Kochs and Koch Industries—whether they are federal officers, private citizens, or members of the press—have suspected that they have been under surveillance.
In Daniel Schulman’s deeply researched biography of the Kochs, Sons of Wichita (2014), for instance, he describes how Angela O’Connell, the lead federal prosecutor in a huge environmental-pollution case brought against Koch Industries in 1995, “began to suspect that Koch had placed her under surveillance. ‘I thought that my trash can was taken outside my house several days,’ she recalled. ‘I was upset enough about it at the time to report what I thought was a bugging and what I thought was the trash being taken—a number of incidents,’ ” Schulman writes that “the Justice Department was never able to prove that Koch had targeted one of its prosecutors, but for the first time in her career, O’Connell operated as if everything she said and did was being monitored.”
Schulman also quotes a lawyer for the plaintiff in a massive fatal personal-injury case, brought against Koch Industries in 1999, as saying that he hired a security firm to sweep his office after suspecting that his phones were bugged. The firm, he said, discovered electronic transmitters had been planted there. “I’m not saying that the Kochs did it,” the lawyer, Ted Lyon, told Schulman. “I just thought it was very interesting that it happened during the time we were litigating the case.”
Similarly, as I reported in my New Yorker piece, when a Senate committee investigated Koch Industries, in 1989, for what its final report called a “widespread and sophisticated scheme to steal crude oil from Indians and others through fraudulent mismeasuring,” the report noted that in the course of the probe Koch operatives had delved into the personal lives of the committee’s staffers, even questioning one’s ex-wife.
Vogel, the Politico reporter who broke today’s story, has had his own run-ins with the Kochs’ hyper-vigilance. In his 2014 book, Big Money: 2.5 Billion Dollars, One Suspicious Vehicle, and a Pimp—on the Trail of the Ultra-Rich Hijacking American Politics, he recounts a strange episode. After Vogel told a Koch official where he was staying while covering one of the billionaires’ secretive semi-annual fund-raising events, he received an odd hang-up phone call, although no one else but his wife knew the name of the hotel. Spooked, he decided to leave early, but as he was driving to the airport the rental-car agency notified him that someone had reported the car he was driving as “suspicious or abandoned.” When he asked Koch Industries officials if they were behind any of this, they assured him they were not. “That’s the thing about the Kochs’ style,” he wrote. They always “keep you wondering.” Ω
[Jane Mayer has been a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine since 1995. Mayer is a graduate of Yale University (BA, history), where she was a stringer for Time magazine. Mayer has also contributed to the New York Review of Books and American Prospect and co-authored two books—Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas (1994) (written with Jill Abramson), a study of the controversy-laden nomination and appointment of Clarence Thomas to the US Supreme Court, and Landslide: The Unmaking of the President, 1984–1988 (1989) (written with Doyle McManus), an account of Ronald Reagan's second term in the White House. Mayer's The Dark Side (2008) addressing the origins, legal justifications, and possible war crimes liability of the use of interrogation techniques to break down detainees' resistance and the subsequent deaths of detainees under such interrogation as applied by the CIA was a finalist for the National Book Awards. Mayer is the granddaughter of the late historian and biographer Allan Nevins.]
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