THE GREASE MACHINE is lively, well written, basically superficial and in some respects just plain wrong on the facts. It is not, asthe subtitle calls it "the inside story" of the Lockheed investigation, if by that the auther means "previously undisclosed." Rather, it is primarily a popularized synthesis of the hearings and documents published by the Senate subcommittee on multinational corporations, chaired by Sen. Frank Church, the Democratic senator from Idaho. As Boulton notes, the subcommittee punctuated each hearing with the prior release of masses of documents: "the press tables drowned in them. Often the duplicated copies were left behind, unread and certainly not unravelled, to be shovelled into the janitors' waste bins after the session adjourned."
Boulton, editor of Britain's Granada Television's drama-documentary unit, has retrieved thousands of pages from the Lockheed hearings published by the subcommittee and unravelled them in a lucid, entertaining tale of intrigue and corruption. There emerges a cast of characters worthy of an Eric Ambler novel: the intricate string of "ghost" companies set up by Lockheed's Italian agents to recieve the payoffs and evade the Italian taxcollector, companies whose directors were senior citizens qualified by"ignorance, hunger or senility," the most notable being a middle-aged spinster, Maria Fava, who gave way first, to a dying 80-year-old, who signed the papers for the price of the last good meal of his life; then after his death, to 86-year-old Eduardo Lugresso, permanently bedridden, poverty stricken and yet the director of 26 companies receiving Lockheed commissions.
And there were others: for example, the widows' and orphan's fund established in Singapore by Indonesian generals in order to receive their share of the loot; the German agent with the castle who pocketed Lockheed cash; the Saudi, Adnan Khashoggi, prototype for Harold Robbins' The Pirate. Yoshio Kodama, a shadowy figure who emerged out of the mists of the Japanese underworld and ultra right-wing politics, plotted the restoration of the pre-war empire, subsidized in part by Lockheedcommissions, and acted as indispensable go-between in the sale of Lockheed's Tristar aircraft to all Nippon Airways. That transaction may have saved the corporation from bankruptcy.
All this and more is depicted in the fast-moving narrative. What is missing is any profound attempt toexplore the policy dilemmas posed by the Lockheed "scandal," as it cameto be known. Is Japanese democracy stronger or weaker as a consequenceof the subcommittee's disclosures? Robert Shaplen, writing in The New Yorker a year after the hearings, concluded that Japanese democracy had emerged stronger as a consequence of the vigorous prosecution of high-level Japanese politicians, including a former prime minister, who were alleged to have taken Lockheed bribes. Does Boulton agree or disagree with this assessment? He never addresses the question.
Nor does he deal with the dilemmas posed by the oil price explosion and the desperate attempt of the oil-importing western powers to recoup their financial losses through inflated arms sales to the newly rich Persian Gulf oil-producing states and the effect this may have had on the troubles which ultimately brought down the Shah of Iran. Perhaps it is unreasonable to expect him, as an Englishman, to have explored how the work of Church's subcommittee and the SEC complemented each other, opening up to public view and debate the hitherto nether world of corporate payoffs and international political intrigue. But, with the demise of the subcommittee, it surely must have occurred to him to wonder about the future of such investigations.
Moreover, the book is just plain wrong regarding certain subcommittee decisions. Boulton writes that by November 1975, after the first set of hearings dealing with Saudi Arabia, Iran and Indonesia, "Church had decided to steer the Lockheed hearings towards an early end." He did so, Boulton alleges, because of a post-Watergate backlash against such disclosures, which Church considered politically damaging to his as yet undeclared presidential ambitions, a "decision" which "infuriated the zealous staffmen whose backroom detective work had given the Committee its punch."
In fact, Church never tried to close off the hearings. On the contrary, during the fall of 1975, precisely the time he is supposed to have decided to end the hearings, Church authorized numerous trips abroad by the staff to vigorously pursue the investigation, which proceeded over the objections of the then-chief of staff of the Foreign Relations Committee, who thought the subcommittee was delving too deeply into the Lockheed affair.
Lockheed's use of Kodama was such a clear case of corporate payoffs subsidizing political movements antithetical to stated U.S. foreign policy objectives that it dramatically illustrated the central point of the hearings: what, if anything, can or should the government do when a multinational corporation pursuing its own commercial interests undermines basic U.S. foreign policy objectives by overseas bribes and payoffs. The massive dimension of the payoffs and the high political level which they reached, in Japan, Italy, the Netherlands and elsewhere, conclusively demonstrated that Lockheed's operations abroad were not merely a question of corporate morality but of U.S. foreign policy concern.
The disclosures also provided the impetus for passage of legislation introduced by the late Sen. Hubert Humphrey controlling the sale of conventional arms abroad. Church wrote strong disclosure provisions into what legislation. The legislation had appeared to be in deep trouble in the Senate, but the disclosures of Lockheed's activities in Japan, the Netherlands and Italy led to its passage virtually intact - a classic illustration of how powerful investigative hearings can provide the impetus for legislation which otherwise would be stifled by powerful interest groups opposed to it.
The removal of the specific names of officials who allegedly received payoffs, which Boulton contends was a capitulation by the subcommittee to Lockheed, actually helped in the disclosure of the Kodama connection in Japan: The State Department was so relieved that the subcommittee did not intend to reveal the names of Japanese government officials allegedly on the take that it raised no objection at all to disclosure of the identity of Lockheed's secret agent, Kodama. The State Department officials who were asked for their view at the request of Sen. Charles Prcy (R-III.), a member of the subcommittee, did not seem to be aware of the explosive potential of disclosure of Kodama's role as an agent.
The subcommittee never did have the names of the Japanese politicians to whom payoffs were allegedly made until well after the Feb. 6, 1976 public hearing. Lockheed's new board chairman, Robert Haack, had denied that there was any more information to be given to the subcommittee. In a bizarre meeting with Percy, which was prematurely terminated by the arrival of Elizabeth Taylor, whom Percy was to escort on a Senate tour, Haack urged that the subcommittee leave Lockheed alone. At the very moment that Haack was making his impassioned plea to Percy, however, Lockheed's attorneys in Burbank; Calif., were discovering an allegedly misplaced carton of documents which contained, among other things, the names of the implicated Japanese government officials. Haack, who had been enraged by the aborted meeting with Percy, now had to turn over the documents containing the incriminating information to the subcommittee. Of course, no one ever believed that the subcommittee had not had the names in its possession all along.
In fact, the Church subcommittee staff would probably never have appreciated the significance of the Japanese case, if the lawyers for Arthur Young and Co., Lockheeds's longtime firm of auditors, had not delivered pursuant to a subpoena their work papers prior to the return date, thus avoiding Lockheed's pressures to contest the subpoena in a court action. Or perhaps the premature delivery was, as we'd originally thought, an oversight, a happy windfall for the subcommittee? In other words, the fact that the February 6 hearing took place at all owes more to dogged persistence, dumb luck and a courageous chairman than to any dark and dirty to turn off the hearings foiled at the last moment (by the pressure of international public opinion, as Boulton would have it). This may simply be another way of saying that what actually transpires in a congressional investigation often bears very little relationship to public appearances, a fact which a journalist of Boulton's caliber ignores at his peril.