Most Americans’ image of Congressman Charles Nesbitt Wilson is based upon the book and/or movie, CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR. According to both of these sources, when Congressman Wilson first became involved in crafting U.S. policy towards Afghanistan, he was living on $700 a week.
The documentary evidence paints a very different picture.
We all know that it was blonde bombshell Joanne Herring (played by Julia Roberts in the film) who recruited Wilson to the “cause of the Afghans.” However, it would really be more accurate to state that Mrs. Herring, as Honorary Consul for Pakistan, actually recruited Charlie Wilson to the “cause of the Pakistanis.”
What is the “Cause of the Pakistanis?”
Since the mid-1970s it has been Pakistan’s policy (not the Soviets’) to destabilize Afghanistan and destroy its infrastructure by training, paying, supplying and deploying Islamic fundamentalist guerillas to keep Afghanistan too weak to assert re-negotiation of the 1600 mile border between the two nations, known as the Durand Line. The Durand Line, is named for Sir Mortimer Durand, who arbitrarily drew it on a map in 1893, dividing the Pashtun and Baloch ethnic regions and cutting Afghanistan off from the sea.
The people who live along this line do not recognize it, and have been fighting separatist rebellions against the Punjabi dominated Pakistani government since the formation of Pakistan in 1947. If the Pashtuns and Balochi peoples ever achieve their goal of independence or repatriation into Afghanistan, Pakistan stands to lose everything west of the Indus River, in other words, over half of its territory. Though logical, their endless pursuit of the destruction of Afghanistan is nonetheless diabolical.
Follow the Bouncing Drill Bit
In 1978, Joanne Herring, then married to Robert R. Herring, the founder of Houston Natural Gas (later known as ENRON), was offered the position of Honorary Consul for Pakistan to the United States. Mrs. Herring told me that the government of Pakistan first asked her husband to accept the position, but when he declined and recommended her instead, they accepted her, because, as she put it, “They hemmed and hawed, and I’m sure they thought, what can we do?
We don’t want to offend this man, because they hoped that he might drill for oil in our country.” Coincidentally, also in 1978, two American oil companies, Occidental Petroleum and Union Texas Petroleum, received permission to explore for oil in Pakistan. They had each been granted a 30% share in their Pakistan concession, with Pakistan’s national company, OGDC, holding the remaining 40%. In 1981 Union Texas made its first big strike and Oxy’s first Pakistan well came in shortly thereafter. The Pakistan Army courteously agreed to truck the crude from the field to the refinery in Karachi.
Sen. Humphrey and the Burning Question of Pakistani Control of Distribution
It’s commonly known that the United States agreed to let Pakistan control distribution of U.S. assistance to the Afghan Resistance during the 1980s to hide our hand and avoid sparking World War III with the Soviet Union. This policy was known as “plausible deniability.” One member of Congress who was very involved with our support for the Afghans was Sen. Gordon Humphrey (R-NH). Sen. Humphrey called the “plausible deniability” strategy “silly”, because anyone who cared knew that the Americans were backing the Afghan Resistance.
In fact, he stated that, throughout the 1980s, he and other members of Congress were “constantly lobbying, importuning, the White House and the CIA to take more direct control” of the distribution of U.S. assistance to the Afghans, rather than continuing to allow Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (“ISI”) to control it. According to Sen. Humphrey, members of Congress were well informed that the factions receiving the lion’s share of American largesse were consistently guilty of killing more Afghans than Soviets.
Sen. Humphrey’s statement begs the question: If members of both houses of Congress, and from both parties (Wilson was a Democrat), were lobbying the White House to change the policy of allowing Pakistan to control distribution of U.S. assistance, why did the Reagan Administration persist in allowing Pakistan to control distribution of our military, financial and humanitarian aid to the Afghans?
Back to that Bouncing Drill Bit
According to Mrs. Herring, she went to Afghanistan shortly after the Soviet invasion, where she was so horrified by the atrocities she witnessed, and so impressed by the brave determination of the Afghan freedom fighters, that, upon her return to the “free world,” she worked feverishly to recruit her powerful friends in Washington to the noble cause of the Afghans. We have all been saturated with the story of how, inspired solely by their desire to evict the evil communist empire in Afghanistan, Joanne Herring, Charlie Wilson and their friends at the CIA defeated the Soviet Union and brought an end to the Cold War.
Provocatively, one of Mrs. Herring’s first statements to me when we sat down for her interview was, “We turned to Charlie [Wilson], cuz he was an old friend of the oil business.”
Later in her interview for this documentary, Mrs. Herring told about how, shortly before George H.W. Bush’s inauguration as Vice President, her late husband arranged for a meeting between her and Mr. Bush. She stated that their meeting, which was supposed to be for only 15 minutes, actually lasted for two hours, during which time Mr. Bush was very polite, and didn’t say anything. Then, a few days later, at a party in her honor, her lifelong friend, James A. Baker, III (Ronald Reagan’s new Chief of Staff), took her by the arm and confided, “We’re gonna give ‘em a lot of good stuff!”
Wilson + Supron = Wilson + Union Texas
As mentioned above, in both the book and movie, CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR, we are told that Mr. Wilson was living on $700 a week. However, his 1981 Financial Disclosures show that, as of May 1982, he was holding between $100,000 to $250,000 worth of shares in an oil company called Supron, which he had purchased in March and September of 1981. On $700 a week? That’s a man who knows how to stretch a penny!
Coincidentally, in April of 1982, Union Texas Petroleum purchased a controlling interest in Supron, and in October of that year, Congressman Wilson made his first official visit to Pakistan. Owning a plump share in Pakistan’s oil business could not fail but to heighten the good Congressman’s sympathy towards the Pakistani point of view. Such sympathy is further evidenced by the fact that, upon retiring from Congress in 1996, Wilson promptly became a high paid lobbyist for Pakistan, to the tune of over $300,000 per year.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a former oil & gas lobbyist explained to us, “That was how it was done.” This same gentleman told how James A. Baker, III completely controlled all information received by President Reagan. He described how, anytime the President was speaking with someone who might impart information contrary to Baker’s preference, either by phone or in person, Mr. Baker interrupted the President’s conversation.
And what about the venerable Mr. Baker? James A. Baker, III’s 1981 Financial Disclosures reveal that, on the day of Ronald Reagan’s inauguration in January of 1981, his new Chief of Staff took the time to sell his daughter’s shares in Occidental Petroleum. Occidental was, and is, a publicly traded company, while its Pakistan partner, Union Texas, was still privately held at that time. Though far from incriminating, the timing of this particular stock sale at least merits a raised eyebrow.
However, the 1981 Standard & Poor’s Directory shows that Baker Botts (founded by James A. Baker, III’s great-grandfather) was the primary law firm for Union Texas Petroleum Corp. Baker Botts is among a handful of powerful Houston law firms which establish corporations to serve the purposes of the members of the firm – a format which is precisely opposite to the traditional legal-business relationship.
Joanne Herring and Charlie Wilson have been celebrated as the heroes of Afghanistan, but the Afghan people see them in a different light. After a studio screening of CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR, when asked by the producers what he thought of the movie, one Afghan gentleman replied, “That asshole destroyed my country.” But then, that’s what the Pakistanis were paying him for.
Melissa Roddy is the director of CONFLICT OF INTEREST, a documentary film focused on underlying and previously unreported issues regarding Afghanistan and Pakistan. Like several of the principals in the saga of that region, she is also a native Texan. In December of 2007 she achieved worldwide attention with the publication of a print article and documentary short exposing propagandistic misinformation in the movie “CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR.”