Ghosts in the Wind (Part Two): The Death of Phillip Merrill
Any judgments re the death of Phillip Merrill, the ultra-conservative publisher and former Ex-Im Bank president, are premature – there are circumstances in the fatal shot to his head left begging an explanation. The murder weapon was not found, though the body was recovered. And a man who has shot himself in the head is probably unable to tie an anchor around his feet and cast himself into the sea … – AC
“A source close to the investigation said Merrill was found with a small anchor tied around one or both ankles and with what investigators think was a shotgun wound to the head.”
Media reports on Merrill’s death:
U.S. Export-Import Bank: President (2002-2005)
Center for Security Policy: Former Adviser
Capital Gazette Communications: Former Chairman
last updated: July 13, 2006
Philip Merrill, a minor media mogul and former president of the U.S. Export-Import Bank, was found dead in the Chesapeake Bay in late June 2006, apparently the victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 72.
As chairman of Capital-Gazette, Merrill’s media empire at one time included the Capital of Annapolis, Maryland Gazette, Bowie Blade-News, Crofton News-Crier, West County News, the Washingtonian magazine, and Baltimore magazine.
According to the June 21, 2006 Washington Post, Merrill’s government service included posts in six administrations, including as a member of President Ronald Reagan’s Defense Policy Board, and as a State Department official from 1961 to 1968. The Post reported that over the years Merrill “frequently took time away from his business to pursue diplomatic and intelligence assignments for the government.” Merrill also served as the assistant secretary-general of NATO from 1990 to 1992. In 1988, he was awarded the Medal for Distinguished Service, the highest civilian honor given by the Defense Department.
Merrill was associated with a number of key figures both in and outside the administration who helped shape George W. Bush’s war on terror. In 2002, during Merrill’s swearing-in ceremony as president of the Export-Import Bank, Vice President Dick Cheney said: “Phil Merrill has been a friend of mine for a long time. He has had a distinguished and successful business career as well as holding a number of vital assignments for the White House and Department of Defense. I know he will be a superb chairman of the Bank.”
In 2003, Merrill provided the funding to establish the Philip Merrill Center for Strategic Studies at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), which is directed by Eliot Cohen, an influential neoconservative scholar and member of Bush’s Defense Policy Board. ( Paul Wolfowitz served as dean of SAIS before joining the Bush administration.) He served as a member of the advisory board of the Center for Security Policy, a hawkish advocacy outfit established by former Reagan administration official Frank Gaffney. And he was council to Fred C. Iklé, a founding signatory of the Project for the New American Century and member of the Committee on the Present Danger in the late 1970s, while Iklé served as undersecretary of defense for policy in the Reagan administration.
Merrill’s philanthropic work included donating $7.5 million to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and $10 million to the University of Maryland College of Journalism.
Center for Security Policy: Former Member, Advisory Council
Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments: Former Vice Chairman
International Institute of Strategic Studies: Former U.S. Director
Capital Gazette Foundation: Founder
Merrill Family Foundation: Founder
Council on Foreign Relations: Former Member
Chief Executives’ Organization: Former Member
World Presidents’ Organization: Former Member
University of Maryland Board of Visitors: Former Member
Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies: Former Board Member
Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory: Former Board Member
Aspen Institute: Former Trustee
Chesapeake Bay Foundation: Former Trustee
Johns Hopkins University: Former Trustee
Cornell University: Former Trustee
Corcoran Gallery of Art: Former Trustee
North Atlantic Treaty Organization: Assistant Secretary General (1990-1992)
Export-Import Bank of the United States: President and Chairman (2002-2005)
U.S. Department of Defense Policy Board: Member (1983-1990)
U.S. Department of Defense: Counselor to Undersecretary of Defense for Policy (1981-1983)
Law of the Sea Conference: Former U.S. Representative
International Telecommunications Union: Former U.S. Representative
U.S. Department of State: Former Special Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of State
U.S. Department of Defense Business Board: Former Member
White House Fellow Commission: Former Chairman of Regional Panels
Gulf War Air Power Survey: Former Member (George H.W. Bush Administration)
Commission on Cost Control in the Federal Government: Former Member (Reagan Administration)
Capital-Gazette Communications, Inc.: Former Chairman, Board of Directors
Harvard Business School
“Philip Merrill Sworn in as President and Chairman of Ex-Im Bank,” Export-Import Bank Press Release, December 4, 2002, www.exim.gov/pressrelease.cfm/B040D9A1-1032-5B0F-BAB1587C930C5E1F/.
“Philip Merrill Steps Down as Ex-Im Bank Chairman, President,” Export-Import Bank Press Release, July 13, 2005, www.exim.gov/pressrelease.cfm/11B710E5-C3D2-6BEB-06EB009907C43C84/.
“Philip Merrill Commits $4 Million for Center at JHU SAIS,” Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Media Advisory, January 21, 2003, www.sais-jhu.edu/pubaffairs/media_events/Media_Advisories/MA2003/philipmerrill_jan03.html.
“A Tribute to Philip Merrill, a Friend of CSIS,” Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Center for Security Policy, National Security Advisory Council, Web Archive, June 8, 2004, www.centerforsecuritypolicy.org/index.jsp?section=static&page=nsac.
Merrill Suicide Confirmed; New Details of Case Released
By Elizabeth Williamson
Washington Post Staff Writer , June 24, 2006; Page B05
The Maryland medical examiner’s office and police confirmed yesterday that publisher Philip Merrill, whose body was found this week in the Chesapeake Bay, died of a self-inflicted shotgun wound to the head.
Merrill, 72, suffered a “contact shotgun wound,” the medical examiner’s office said, meaning that the shotgun was fired at close range. The autopsy confirmed that he committed suicide, said Shirl Walker, a spokeswoman for the office.
Merrill, whose Annapolis-based publishing holdings included Washingtonian magazine and the Capital, a daily newspaper, disappeared June 10 after leaving his Severn River home, alone at the helm of his 41-foot sailboat, Merrilly. His body was found by a boater on the ninth day of an intensive police search.
In the statement closing their investigation, Maryland Natural Resources police provided new details about Merrill’s death. The statement said their involvement in the case began when they responded June 10 to a report of an unattended sailboat near Breezy Point in Calvert County, 20 miles south of Merrill’s home. Onboard were Merrill’s cellphone; his wallet, which contained a large amount of money; and, in the rear of the boat, what appeared to be blood.
When they phoned his home, investigators said, Merrill’s family told them he had gone sailing that afternoon and failed to return at the expected time.
During their investigation, police said, the family also told them that “Merrill had been suffering from medical problems and had been recently despondent.” At the same time, police said, “information from an outside source” indicated that Merrill had bought a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun within a week of his disappearance.
The shotgun has not been found.
On the ninth day of a search that included a half-dozen boats, helicopters and members of several law enforcement agencies, a recreational boater saw Merrill’s body floating about 11 miles from where the boat was found adrift and called police. Investigators initially identified Merrill by his shirt, which bore the name of his boat. The publisher “had suffered significant trauma to the head. . . . In addition, an eight-pound mushroom anchor was found tied to Merrill’s lower left leg,” the statement said.
A full autopsy report will be released in two to three months, said Walker, the medical examiner spokeswoman.
THURSDAY, JUN 22
Merrill Investigation Continues
In the wake of publisher Philip Merrill’s apparent suicide, friends and family are grappling with the unanswered question of why. Former CIA director R. James Woolsey told the Washington Post that “It still doesn’t seem real to me.” When he last saw Merrill on Memorial Day, Woolsey said “he seemed his normal, happy, exuberant, engaging self.”
Tom Marquardt, executive editor of the Capital, commented that his conversations with Merrill “did not indicate that there was anything amiss,” although Merrill had recently said “he didn’t really know what to do with the rest of his life, as he would say.”
The Baltimore Sun reports that an Annapolis gun shop owner informed police that Merrill had purchased a shotgun. He found it unusual since Merrill’s paper had editorialized in favor of stricter gun control. Police examined the model Merrill purchased to see if it could be fired while turned toward the shooter.
Maryland Natural Resources declined to provide findings until the state medical examiner’s office releases its autopsy report next week. However, Ken Turner, a spokesman for the Natural Resources police, said, the case has “always been a criminal investigation.” Although police do not suspect anyone else killed Merrill, a final determination has not been made. Suicide is against the law.
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Sunday, June 25, 2006
The Not So Strange Case of Philip Merrill
“The mainstream media has spoken….
there’s nothing to see here.” Posted by Picasa
Signs of the Times
by Joe Quinn
Philip Merrill was the 71 year old president and CEO of Capital-Gazette Communications, Inc., which publishes Washingtonian magazine, the Annapolis Capital, and five other Maryland newspapers.
On June 10th, Mr Merrill’s wife reported him missing when he failed to return from a days sailing in his boat, ‘the Merrilly’, on Chesapeake bay. The following day, the Merrilly was found floating 25 miles off the coast with its engine running. The first man on the scene reported that the boat was empty and that there was evidence of blood on the deck. Mr Merrill’s body was subsequently found floating in Chesapeake bay on June 19th. Police said that he had apparently died of a shotgun blast to the head, and deemed his death a suicide even before an autopsy has returned its findings and despite the fact that Mr Merrill’s body was found with an anchor tied to his feet.
While it might seem surprising that the mainstream media would completely ignore the fact that it is highly unlikely that someone would, or could, commit suicide by shooting themselves in the head with a shotgun and tieing an anchor to their feet, we need only remember the long list of politicians, journalists and scientists who ‘officially’ departed this life in equally impossible ways and whose suspicious deaths were met by the mainstream media with the same lack of journalistic integrity.
I am, however, open to having it explained to me how Mr Merrill could have shot himself in the head while on the boat, as the blood seems to suggest he did, and then flung himself over the side with an anchor attached to his feet. Perhaps he shot himself in the head and then attached the anchor to his feet? Or perhaps he attached the anchor to his feet, jumped into the water and then shot himself in the head? Of course, it is always possible that this was a case of ‘assisted suicide’, where a dear friend accompanied him on his last voyage and did the dirty work for him and then took off in another boat or swam the 25 miles to shore. Hey, anything is possible if you work for the great American mainstream media – it is, after all, “where wings take dream”.
As to the “official” motive: we are told that Mr Merrill’s bypass operation last year is the likely cause of his assumed depression and ‘suicide’. Mainstream media reports inform us that “experts” have tied depression to such illnesses and operations, but they are careful to add that “the link is complex”. (which might be read as ‘unlikely’). Family members, while stating that “it is impossible for them to imagine” that Philip Merrill would have committed suicide, appear to have publicly accepted the official verdict. Pictures on the Washingtonian website of a smiling Mr. Merrill holding his newborn grand-daughter on June 8th, just two days before his ‘suicide’, certainly do not belie a man in the depths of depression.
As is usually the case with such suspicious ‘suicides’ in the US, many of those who knew the victim express their shock, and in the case of Mr Merrill, many of his friends and colleagues found it difficult to reconcile his premature death with a man they knew to possess an “irrepressible spirit”, a man who was brash and loud, a larger than life figure with impressive enthusiam and energy for life. Indeed, Mr Merrill, with a long career that took him to elevated positions within national and international politics, was no ordinary Maryland newspaper publisher.
Born Philip Merrill Levine on April 28, 1934 in Baltimore he grew up in New York City and Norwalk, Conn. His father, who worked in public relations, later encouraged his son to drop “Levine,” saying a Jewish surname could limit his career prospects. Having graduated from Cornell University and Harvard Business School, he served as counselor to the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy from 1981 to 1983; as a member of the Defense Policy Board from 1983 to 1990; and as assistant Secretary General of NATO in Brussels from 1990 to 1992 under President George H. W. Bush. In 1988, Merrill received the Medal for Distinguished Service from the Secretary of Defense and was also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Merrill was a rich man, but it seems he gave his money away as easily as he made it, albeit that it was his two apparent passions, journalism and politics, that were the main benefactors. In 2001, he donated $10 million to the College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park, which now bears his name. He also donated $4 million in 2003 to create the Center for Strategic Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, aka a high-profile Neocon “thinktank”, headed by arch Neocon Eliot Cohen. Cohen remembers Merrill as “a guy you could argue with” and a man with “a voracious intellect … tremendous curiosity, a penetrating voice, a wonderful laugh. [He was] someone you would go to for advice – a font of hardheaded wisdom.” Which makes us wonder how many arguments Merrill night have had with Neocons like Cohen … and about what. Indeed, it seems that Merrill, why mixing with the political elite, had no love for the predations of modern day Capitalist America. In remembering their ostentatious boss, staff writers at his own newspaper ‘The Capital’ recently wrote:
“He made a lot of people mad – his ear-splitting battles with politicians, businesspeople and even his own editors were legendary. He used the opinion pages of The Capital to take stands against slot machines and what he saw as pension giveaways and other government waste.”
“Right up to the end, Mr. Merrill remained engaged, still pecking out occasional editorials on the manual Royal typewriter in his office at the newspaper or the Washingtonian. In one in April on the BGE rate hikes, he blasted the governor’s vetoes and fondly remembered Republicans who stood up for “Main St.” and small business, not “Wall St. manipulators.”
Vice President Dick Cheney’s wife Lynne worked at Merrill’s Washingtonian magazine for several years and it was the Vice President, who Merrill counted among his personal friends, who swore him in as chairman of the Export-Import Bank of the United States in 2002. A post that he held until 2005.
As you might have guessed, this is where it gets interesting.
Officially, the Export-Import Bank is a US institution that has been providing ‘insurance’ to the tune of (at least initially) $500 million to U.S. companies that are ‘investing’ in Iraq. But that’s just officially.
Over the period of the first two months of the Iraq invasion in 2003, then Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) administrator Paul Bremner, on behalf of the Bush administration and with the blessing of the UN, established a ‘Development Fund for Iraq’ that was to be held by the Central Bank of Iraq. The fund was to comprise the proceeds from the sale of 95% of “all export sales of petroleum, petroleum products, and natural gas from Iraq and the money used “in a transparent manner to meet the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people, for the economic reconstruction and repair of Iraq’s infrastructure, for the continued disarmament of Iraq, and for the costs of Iraqi civilian administration”, although the funds were actually held in a new account in the Federal Reserve bank in New york. To start the fund off, there was $6bn in Iraqi money left over from the UN Oil for Food Programme, as well as sequestered and frozen assets, and at least $10bn from Iraqi oil exports that had already resumed. At the same time, the US Congress voted to spend $18.4bn of US taxpayers’ money on the redevelopment of Iraq.
During the summer of 2003, Bremner, taking his orders from members of the Bush administration, came up with plan of how best to spend Iraq’s billions.
To start, he signed various orders that established the CPA as exercising sole power over how to spend Iraq’s oil money, and indemnified its corporate cronies from liability in their theft of that oil. In essence, they took complete control of the Development Fund for Iraq and how it would be spent. Added to this were orders that allowed US corporations to own 100% of any Iraqi land and resources and the mass privatisation, into the hands of these same corporations, of state enterprises previously owned by the Iraqi government.
Vast sums were awarded in no-bid contracts to companies like Haliburton and vast sums of money simply went missing. In essence, it was the complete and utter corporate pillaging of ALL of Iraq’s wealth. To add insult to injury, the war that is being waged against the Iraqi resistance and the Iraqi people that they represent, including the US-trained and directed death squads working out of the Iraqi interior ministry which is swarming with CIA personnel, is being financed from the same stolen Iraqi oil and resource money. Basically, the US government put its hand into the pocket of the ordinary Iraqi citizen, used the money to buy a gun, and then shot him in the head with it.
Z Magazine of Jan 2004 continues:
“On June 8th 2003, Bremer issued CPA Order 12 , which lifts “All tariffs, custom duties, import taxes, licensing fees and similar surcharges for goods entering or leaving Iraq. The order unleashed a flood of imported goods that left Iraq’s worn-out manufacturers unable to compete, pushing them to the brink of insolvency.
On June 19 2003 the Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im) of the United States announced it is “prepared to immediately start processing applications for exports to Iraq,” including “subcontractors providing goods and services to Iraq under USAID contracts.” The Ex-Im Bank (as it’s called) went on to explain “support may be available for transactions where…the primary source of repayment is the Development Fund for Iraq, or another entity established under the auspices of the Coalition Provisional Authority.”
The sole purpose of the Ex-Im Bank is to help “finance the sales of U.S. exports, primarily to developing markets, by providing guarantees, export credit insurance, and loans.” Thus, in the case of Iraq, the Bank will provide credit for purchases for goods and services authorized by Bremer-including all of Bechtel and Halliburton’s contracts.
This is amplified by CPA Order 20 from July 17 2003 establishing the Trade Bank of Iraq. Its purpose is to provide “financial and related services to facilitate the importation and exportation of goods and services to and from Iraq.”
Take note of the entity called the “Trade Bank of Iraq”.
While the facilitating of “importation and exportation of goods and services to and from Iraq” might sound reasonable, in reality, the “goods and services” being ‘imported’ to Iraq consist of:
the American military and its hardware
the infamous ‘security contractors’ like Blackwater
hardware to equip US-run death squads in the Iraqi interior ministry
the ‘services’ of US corporations like Haliburton etc.
The good and services that are being ‘exported’ back to the U.S. (to US companies) is, chiefly, Iraq’s wealth in the form of massively overpriced no-bid contracts to US corporations and payments to death squads and security contractors to kill civilians.
The official government website for the Ex-Im Bank of America informs us that “the Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank), the Iraqi Ministry of Finance, and the Trade Bank of Iraq have signed a framework agreement that enables Ex-Im Bank to continue to support U.S. exports for Iraqi reconstruction.”
The Trade Bank of Iraq was established in July 2003 and is led by a consortium of about a dozen private [mainly America] banks led by J.P. Morgan. Initially, this consortium was awarded a contract to provide letters of credit to companies looking to do business in Iraq via the newly formed Trade Bank of Iraq, but it seems that the Trade Bank of Iraq and the consortium of private banks are in fact one and the same.
Remember that the development Fund for Iraq was started with at least $16 billion of Iraqi money and that congress pledged $18 billion of US taxpayers money? Well, by the end of Paul Bremner’s tenure in July 2004, his CPA had spent up to $20bn of Iraqi money, compared with $300m of US funds.
What does it all mean?
Basically, it would appear that, between them, the Trade Bank of Iraq and the Ex-Im Bank of America are two ends of a massive international theft operation run by the American government in cahoots with its corporate cronies, and where the Trade Bank of Iraq processes the stolen billion as they leave Iraq and head westwards, while the Ex-Im Bank of America receives it and funnels it to American corporations and god know who else.
Of course, you could claim that the money is not being stolen per se, and while American corporations are certainly charging far more for their services than is reasonable, and even charging for service they do not provide, most of the money is being paid for services that were rendered, at least to some extent. Sadly, to hold such an opinion, you would have to overlook the approximately $21 billion of Iraqi money that somehow “went missing”, money that was very possibly funneled through the Ex-IM bank of America.
Philip Merrill presided over all of this as President of the Ex-Im Bank of America from 2003-2005, and while a political high-flyer he still held to a quaint notion that journalists should have integrity – a dangerous mix if there ever was one. How much he knew of what was, and is, happening to Iraq’s wealth and its people is hard to know. What we do know is that, now that he is dead, he certainly can’t write one of his fiery editorials. In any case, we shouldn’t waste time on crazy conspiracy theories about his death, the mainstream media has spoken – he shot himself in the head with a shotgun and then tied an anchor to his feet and jumped off his yacht into the cold Chesapeake bay.
There’s nothing to see here.