The First Contract

From 1991 to 1993, a young lieutenant commander in the Navy Reserve was working as a program manager in a Pentagon intelligence office. His name was Mitchell John Wade. His boss, the assistant secretary of defense for command, control, communications and intelligence, was Duane P. Andrews. Andrews's job at the Pentagon was essentially to serve as intelligence advisor to the secretary of defense. The secretary of defense at the time was someone that Andrews knew well and respected immensely: Dick Cheney.

Back during the Reagan administration, Andrews had served as a professional staff member to the House Intelligence Committee, of which Cheney, then a Wyoming Republican congressman, was a prominent member. In a recent interview with a federal technology magazine, Andrews lists Cheney as his personal, lifelong hero.

In 1993, at the end of George H.W. Bush's presidency, Cheney went on to become CEO of the oil services giant Halliburton; Andrews joined the massive government contractor SAIC, where he would rise to become CIO; and Wade, then 40 years old, moved to form his own defense contracting firm, MZM, Inc. But it wasn't until 2002 that MZM would get its first federal government contract: a peculiar one-month, $140,000 contract from the White House, later revealed to be for providing computers, office furniture, and specialized computer programming services to the Office of the Vice President.

Wade's company would later get three more contracts from the White House and tens of millions of dollars in contracts from the Defense Department and other federal agencies, many of them for classified intelligence work. In the summer of 2005, of course, it all began to unravel for MZM, after journalist Marcus Stern of the San Diego Union Tribune/Copley News service noticed that San Diego congressman Duke Cunningham had sold his house to a company that listed as its name a Washington, D.C. street address, 1523 New Hampshire Ave. This was the address of MZM. After an extensive investigation that led to a sprawling federal probe run out of the San Diego U.S. attorney's office (the now-fired Carol Lam), Wade pled guilty last year and is awaiting sentencing on charges related to bribing Cunningham, who himself pled guilty on bribery-related charges and is serving out an eight year prison sentence. In February, three more indictments were issued in the case, this time against a San Diego-based defense contractor and Bush/Cheney Pioneer with whom Wade had closely worked, Brent Wilkes; Wilkes's longtime friend-turned-CIA executive director Kyle Dustin Foggo, who is accused of steering Wilkes CIA contracts and has since resigned; and the nephew of a Greek American businessman who is accused of laundering some of Wilkes's and Wade's bribes to Cunningham through his mortgage company.

Cheney's office declined to comment on why Wade's MZM received the $140,000 contract, or describe any possible contacts with Wade. Andrews did not respond to messages left at his current company or home in northern Virginia. There is no indication that he played any role in Wade's efforts to get federal contracts.

But this past week, Congressman Henry Waxman, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a letter to White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten requesting information on the $140,000 White House contract with Mitchell Wade's MZM in 2002. Included among the items of information Waxman requested to be delivered by April 6 to his committee are records of all "communications between employees of the Executive Office of the President and members or staff of Congress relating to MZM, its employees, or its work." As a press release accompanying the March 26 Waxman letter noted, "The contract with the White House appears to have been MZM's first prime contract with the federal government … To date, there has been no examination of the circumstances surrounding the company's initial contract and the role that White House officials played in the award and execution."

According to Talking Points Memo, a forthcoming book on the Cunningham investigation by Marcus Stern and three other colleagues from the San Diego Union Tribune will reveal that the MZM contract was to provide equipment to screen White House mail for possible anthrax contamination. And according to the contract available at the federal procurement database, Wade's MZM -- which had never before received a federal contract -- beat out 50 other firms that had bid to get the contract.

A source who knows Wade and who asked not to be identified told the Prospect Friday that Wade was fond of telling people that he worked for Cheney at the Pentagon. (This source also revealed something interesting for Cunningham case aficionados -- how Wilkes and Wade first started working together. According to this source, in 1992, at the time Wade worked for the Office of Command, Control Communications and Intelligence in Cheney's Pentagon, he controlled a small pot of money, around $11 million, connected to the military's role in the Panama Canal. Wilkes was seeking Pentagon contracts at the time, and was looking for a Pentagon benefactor. Ultimately, according to this source, Wade helped facilitate Wilkes getting his first Pentagon contract to convert U.S. military-held documents from the Panama Canal into digital form -- a service Wilkes would later earn tens of millions of dollars providing to the Pentagon, along with other services. Upon leaving the Pentagon in 1993, Wade would work closely as a consultant to Wilkes for several years, before Wade's MZM became a competitor to Wilkes's ADCS in its own right, using similar methods of buttering up congressmen to win federal earmarks.)

Meanwhile, the statement of offenses to which Wade pled last February 2006 noted another interesting detail. On or about August 30, 2002, just a month after receiving the $140,000 contract from the White House/OVP, "Wade paid $140,000 … to a third party" for a yacht he gave Duke Cunningham. Among the lingering mysteries of the wider Cunningham probe is the identity of the third party. It would appear to be someone not identified in the statement of offenses as a co-conspirator in the wider Cunningham corruption probe.

It is of course absurd to believe that Cheney or his staff would have had any interest in Wade having the funds, provided through a White House contract, to buy Duke Cunningham antiques and a yacht. It's not so hard to believe, however, that Wade's connection to Cheney, going back to their days in the Cheney Pentagon, may be a useful place to start looking for why Wade's MZM beat out more than fifty more established firms to get its first federal contract from one of the most secretive and powerful offices in town. Among the many lingering unanswered questions on this aspect of the case is who, in May 2002 -- just two months in advance of Wade getting the White House contract -- facilitated MZM getting authorized to be a federal supplier in the first place. This was done through a small branch of the Department of the Interior called the Minerals Management Service. That service and the Department itself have reportedly become the subject of their own sprawling corruption probe.

Laura Rozen is a senior correspondent for The American Prospect.

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