Hail to the Thieves: The Secret Origin of ChoicePoint & the Stealing of the 2000 Presidential Election
BEING AN ACCOUNT OF THE ‘ENTERPRISE’ BEHIND ‘TEAM BUSH’
By Alex Constantine
It’s the devil’s way now There is no way out You can scream and you can shout It is too late now Because you have not been payin’ attention. — Radiohead
“I as an individual continue to believe [that] in a free society … we do not always have the right to anonymity.” — ChoicePoint CEO Derek V. Smith Richard Armitage left ChoicePoint in March 2000 when government beckoned. But before moving on to the Bush White House, there is a dangling question to address: What sort of company would take aboard this corrupt, mass-murdering-drug-smuggling-money-laundering pimp? Any company that would pay Dick Armitage good money to direct it begs examination. So you click in business pages on the Internet, you search, downloading any intelligence lead, every key buy-out announcement, director profile, loss statement, press release and SEC reprimand. You wade through trite press releases and confusing math. It takes awhile. When you are finished, you know the meaning of shame.
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Richard Armitage ChoicePoint is much more than a corporate safe house or pack-station for Dick Armitage. And it isn’t historically significant because he worked there prior to taking the State Department appointment as Colin Powell’s deputy. Just the opposite – Armitage’s place in history is assured because he was a director of ChoicePoint. ChoicePoint is the explanation of everything and nothing, the means justifying the means, founded on the sort of motives that turn some men, when they dwell on it, into hermits or existentialists. ChoicePoint and 9/11 were inseparable, “joined at the hip.” It is no exaggeration to say that ChoicePoint has determined the country’s leadership, sacrificed thousands of innocent lives, moved the country into a police state and paved the road to war.
AN AGGRESSIVE TAKEOVER
The founder of the company fell off a roof in 1998. His name was Rozar. The obituary noted that Rick Rozar, a “former private investigator,” was a “benefactor to needy children.” He “fell from the roof at his Newport Beach home.” He was 44 years old. The tiny computer company Rozar started up in 1978 would evolve into one of the nation’s leading public information brokers. “Rozar, 44, was found by his fiancé about 3:45 p.m. Wednesday outside the front door of his $3-million home on Bayside Drive, overlooking Newport Bay, police said.” The cause of death: “’It appeared that Rozar was working on a satellite dish system when he fell,’ said Newport Beach police Sgt. Mike McDermott.” Rozar started-up CDB Infotek “as an insurance investigations business. He foresaw a growing marketplace for computerized databases that would automate the process for investigators. Equifax’s Insurance Services Group bought a majority stake in the business in 1996, with Rozar staying on as president and chief executive. The company was later spun off as part of ChoicePoint Inc., a publicly traded company. He resigned when he sold his remaining interest this year.”1 It has been reported that Rozar “engineered the sale of 70% of the business two years ago for more than $32 million, and sold his remaining interest this year for an undisclosed amount.” (Unfortunately, he only lived long enough to spend a little of it — a $100,000 contribution to the Republican Party.) Two years later, ChoicePoint purchased Database Technologies (DBT). This company, based in Boca Raton, was founded by Hank Asher. The FBI accused Asher of hob-nobbing with drug peddlers from the Bahamas. The Bureau went so far as to cancel its CBT data management contract for this very reason.2 That was a hint that something might not be quite right at ChoicePoint. It wasn’t CDBInfotek anymore – ChoicePoint was an Orwellian octopoid in the works. The Guardian’s Tim Wheeler let drop his reporter’s instinctive caution in May 2003: “ChoicePoint Inc, a data-processing firm … is notorious for purging Black and Latino voters in Florida to help George W Bush steal the 2000 election…”3 “To help George W. Bush steal the 2000 election…” But there is no other way to interpret the documented interactions between Katherine Harris and the executives of Database/Choicepoint … in the last analysis, it wasn’t Ralph Nader or even the Supreme court. ChoicePoint decided the election.
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Reporter Greg Palast, with Katherine Harris’s e-mails and financial documents in his mitts, reported on the causes of the 2000 election after the event. Recall the chaos in Florida when ChoicePoint (inadvertently or not) “glitched” the votes: “Recent studies say nearly one-quarter to 31 percent of black men in Florida cannot vote … The state’s voter-purge project has critics doubting both the accuracy and the motives of the state’s contractor, Database Technologies.” “Election supervisors in some counties — including Palm Beach County — declared the company’s information too dubious to use.” In a single glitch, ”the company mistakenly listed 7,972 people as possible felons, only to acknowledge later that they had been convicted of misdemeanors…”4 This is not a portrait of a thriving democracy. This is fascism. Most Americans are accumstomed, even habituated, to living with it, but this is what fascism looks like. “Glitches” do not discriminate along racial lines. Palast’s contemporaneous reports from Florida stated clearly that the purged black and Latino votes were NOT the result of a mishap. Laura Flanders at FAIR reported in late 2000: “Many Floridians who found themselves ‘scrubbed’ off the voting rolls WEREN’T PURGED ACCIDENTALLY…. Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris paid a private firm, ChoicePoint, $4 million to ‘cleanse’ the voting rolls, and the firm used the state’s felon ban to exclude eight thousand voters who had never committed a felony. ChoicePoint is a Republican outfit.”5
“I am disappointed that, to my knowledge, the culprits haven’t been legally pursued to the fullest extent of the law. Instead, ChoicePoint continues to get government contracts…” – Former U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Lithonia
Most native observers, swayed by media opiniom -formation, were unaware that the fix was in, and concluded that the purged votes could be explained away as computer error or KeystoneCop programming, or something else … if it weren’t a step in an accelerated process of right-wing imposition on the United States, not isolated or incongruous by any means. ChoicePoint is a child of privatization — like scores of other “independent” contractors that serve the classified sector — and performs many of the “dirty tricks” that were once the province of the FBI, NSA, CIA and other opaque federal agencies…
“I think clearly the government is now turning more and more to private industry to do its dirty work, to gather information on people, manipulate that information on people and, in so doing, circumvent the Privacy Act.” – Former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, R-Smyrna
“Dirty work” turns a handsome profit. Within a decade since its founding, ChoicePoint’s fortunes are swelling. The company’s “market capitalization grew by $500 million in the year from Oct. 1, 2001, to $3.1 billion,” according to the Atlanta Business Journal‘s web site. The year after 9/11, ChoicePoint was the award winner in the large public company category (public companies with annual revenues exceeding $150 million).”6 The company pulled in nearly $800 million in fiscal 2002 revenue.7 In 2008, the data broker was taken over by Reed Elsevier in a cash transaction of $3.6 billion USD.
1. Scott Martelle, Barbara Marsh, “Rick Rozar, Founder of Internet Firm, Dies,” Los Angeles Times, October 2, 1998. 2. Greg Palast, Best Democracy Money Can Buy excerpt, November 26, 2000. http://www.GregoryPalast.com 3. Tim Wheeler, “Collecting data on everyone,” Guardian, May 21, 2003. 4. http://www.bushwatch.com/bushdec1.htm 5. Laura Flanders, “A racist elephant in our living room,” Working for Change web site, 2000 http://www.workingforchange.com/printitem.cfm?itemid=10383 6. http://atlanta.creativeloafing.com/2003-12-04/cover_news.html 7. Charles Davidson, “ChoicePoint churning data into revenue,” http://atlanta.bizjournals.com/atlanta/stories/2002/12/16/focus4.html
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Richard Armitage Career Bio
Prior to returning to government service in 2001, Mr. Armitage was President of Armitage Associates L.C. from May 1993 until March 2001. He had been engaged in a range of worldwide business and public policy endeavors as well as frequent public speaking and writing. From March 1992 until his departure from public service in May 1993, Mr. Armitage (with the personal rank of Ambassador) directed U.S. assistance to the new independent states (NIS) of the former Soviet Union. From 1989 through 1992, Mr. Armitage filled key diplomatic positions as Presidential Special Negotiator for the Philippines Military Bases Agreement and Special Mediator for Water in the Middle East. President Bush sent him as a Special Emissary to Jordan’s King Hussein during the 1991 Gulf War. In the Pentagon from June 1983 to May 1989, he served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs. In May 1975 Mr. Armitage came to Washington as a Pentagon consultant and was posted in Tehran, Iran, until November 1976. Following two years in the private sector, he took the position as Administrative Assistant to Senator Robert Dole of Kansas in 1978. In the 1980 Reagan campaign, Mr. Armitage was senior advisor to the Interim Foreign Policy Advisory board, which prepared the President-Elect for major international policy issues confronting the new administration. From 1981 until June 1983 Mr. Armitage was Deputy assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia and Pacific Affairs in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Born in 1945, Mr. Armitage graduated in 1967 from the U.S. Naval Academy, where he was commissioned an Ensign in the U.S. Navy. He served on a destroyer stationed on the Vietnam gunline and subsequently completed three combat tours with the riverine/advisory forces in Vietnam. Fluent in Vietnamese, Mr. Armitage left active duty in 1973 and joined the U.S. Defense Attache Office, Saigon. Immediately prior to the fall of Saigon, he organized and led the removal of Vietnamese naval assets and personnel from the country. He has received numerous U.S. military decorations as well as decorations from the governments of Thailand, Republic of Korea, Bahrain, and Pakistan. On December 15, 2005, Mr. Armitage was awarded a KBE and became a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George. Mr. Armitage currently serves on the Board of Directors of ConocoPhillips, ManTech International Corporation and Transcu Ltd., is a member of The American Academy of Diplomacy as well as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS.) He was most recently awarded the Department of State Distinguished Service Award. He has been awarded the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service four times, the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Award for Outstanding Public Service, the Presidential Citizens Medal, presented by the President to citizens who have performed exemplary deeds of service, and the Department of State Distinguished Honor Award.