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Greg Palast's Column

Murkier Than Oil

The Koch brothers are very rich spiders at the centre of a terrifying web of influence.

Greg Palast is a New York Times bestselling author and fearless investigative journalist whose reports appear on BBC Television Newsnight and in The Guardian. Palast eats the rich and spits them out. Catch his reports and films at, where you can also securely send him your documents marked, "confidential".

Last week, I wrote about the giant XL Keystone Pipeline that the Koch brothers want to build to transport Canada's cheap crude oil down to their Texas refinery. They could buy and "crack" heavy crude from Venezuela, but to do that, they'd have to pay an extra $33 per barrel. If the Kochs are successful in laying their new, giant pipe, it could save them nearly $3 billion (£1.9 billion) a year.


The problem: the Keystone XL tar-oil tube would endanger the largest US water sources, vastly increase pollution in the USA and measurably heat the planet.

The solution: Congressman Tim Griffin.

Congressman Griffin is sponsoring the bill to force the Obama administration to approve the XL Pipeline without undertaking the environmental review now required by law.

What’s odd is that Griffin represents Arkansas, a state with no stake in the pipeline.

But the Kochs have a stake in Griffin. In his maiden run for Congress, Griffin was elected with an eye-popping $167,000 (£107,461) donation from the Kochs. For $167,000, any congressman will wash your car – with their tongue.

For the Kochs, $167,000 is peanuts. Their political action operation, Americans for Prosperity, built a quarter billion dollar fund this past year – a sum never seen before, even in the cash swamp of US politics.

Global Warming Denial as a Profit Centre

To answer the concerns about global warming raised by the XL and the Kochs’ oil business, the billionaire brothers have bankrolled a gold-plated campaign of global warming denial.

For example, Americans for Prosperity funded “Hot Air Tour” rallies across the US with the slogan, “Global Warming Alarmism: Lost Jobs, Higher Taxes and Less Freedom”. More rallies were held by the Koch-funded FreedomWorks, a foundation that has seized control of the Tea Party movement and redirected populist rage against plutocrats into the Kochs' cuppa.


Break the Law then Re-Make the Law

States on the pipeline’s route could block the Keystone XL, but the crucial extension will originate in Oklahoma, where the Kochs have cowed all resistance to their needs.

The Kochs’ power to terrorise politicians in Oklahoma and the West originates in the case of the Osage tribe’s missing oil.

FBI agents filmed Koch Oil men pilfering the crude, had witnesses to Koch’s directives to siphon the oil and more. The US Justice Department drafted a criminal indictment of Koch Industries and Defendant “67C” (reportedly Charles Koch himself) for “Crime on an Indian Reservation” and racketeering; big-time jail-time offences.

That’s when Koch Oil drilled down and struck Bob Dole, the nation’s most powerful Senator and the Republican Majority Leader.

Dole (representing Kansas), joined by a Koch-funded senator from Oklahoma, Don Nickles, had the federal prosecutor who brought the case removed. Case closed – except for a few million paid to the Osage for some of their stolen oil.

Dole ran for president using Koch money given to Dole’s not-for-profit foundation. It was a cheap buy for the Kochs because it was illegal – so Dole, when caught, had to give it back.

But one senator wouldn’t let the oil theft go: Dennis DeConcini, chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Investigations, whose report concluded, “Koch Oil is the most dramatic example of an oil company stealing by deliberate mismeasurement and fraudulent reporting.”


The Kochs didn’t like that. And when the Kochs don’t like something, or someone, it’s notably more serious than a sad smiley on your Facebook page. In 1996 (yes, I’ve been investigating the Kochs for that long), DeConcini told me the Kochs warned him that if he published and stood by the findings of the FBI and the Senate, the Kochs would destroy the senator’s political career. They did.

Then there was the matter of the 97-count criminal indictment of Koch Oil for dumping poisonous crude sludge into rivers in six states. The Kochs didn’t merely want to beat the rap, they wanted to continue dumping.

That would require buying a whole new Congress. No problemo, pardner. In 1996, Koch Industries, through a fake front called, “Coalition for our Children’s Future”, secretly funded millions of dollars in vicious attack ads against vulnerable Democrats just days before the election.

The Koch brothers.

As a result, Republican Newt Gingrich kept his post as Speaker of the House of Representatives. Gingrich pushed an agenda he called, “The Contract with America”, which would eliminate criminal sanctions for pollution and slash rules against polluting. The Centre for Public Integrity said it, “seems to have been drafted and designed for Koch interests”.

Wrong. The contract was drafted by the Kochs and crafted at the Heritage Foundation, a think tank the Kochs founded.

Bill Clinton’s administration, though nominally Democratic, went easy on Koch interests. Vice-President Al Gore especially – as head of the Reinventing Government Commission, he attacked regulations with more verve than Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher. Gore’s anti-regulation guidebook was the “Mandate for Change” drafted by the Democratic Leadership Council. It was the DLC that had launched the career of the previously unknown Bill Clinton, its first chair, and Al Gore’s career as well. The DLC was created with $100,000 (£64,300) of Koch money.


The Kochs' use of fronts for corporate donations to politicians was plain illegal, until – in 2010 – the US Supreme Court decriminalised this game in the Citizens United case. The lawyer for Citizens United is Ted Olson, whose day job is representing Koch Industries.

(Note: The Kochs are bi-partisan employers. They also retain lawyer Bob Strauss, former Chairman of the Democratic Party.)

The Themis Machine

As if their billions, their think tanks, lawyers, fronts and political action fund were not enough to scare the bejeezus out of politicians, there is Themis. Themis, created by the Kochs, is the nation’s most sophisticated, detailed database on every American living, surpassing the most demonic dreams of the FBI.

Themis, for example, knows the last time you, Jack, downloaded porn.

Given their power and their Themis, is it really possible for a few greenies and some fact-afflicted scientists to stop the Kochs from jamming their pipeline right up our aquifers?

Absolutely. Indeed, that’s the only way it will be stopped, because the Kochs have already put the politicians in their pipe and smoked them.


Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and his son Connor Kennedy were arrested in Washington on Wednesday while protesting against the approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Bobby Kennedy, my partner in these investigations, is a contributor to Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: Greg Palast investigates Karl Rove, the Koch Gang & their Buck Buddies, the book on which this report is based. 


This Sunday, February 17th in Washington DC, the Sierra Club,, Greenpeace and many other groups will hold the Forward on Climate Rally against the XL.

Follow Greg on Twitter: @Greg_Palast


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Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestseller, Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: Greg Palast investigates Karl Rove, the Koch Gang and their Buck-Buddies, illustrated by Ted Rall.