Halliburton Deals Recall Vietnam-Era Controversy

Cheney's Ties to Company Reminiscent of LBJ's Relationships

Listen: Part 2: Cheney's Role in Halliburton Contracts Debated

Listen: Part 1: Examining Halliburton's 'Sweetheart' Deal in Iraq

George Brown (left) with President Lyndon B. Johnson

Brown & Root co-founder George Brown (left) with President Lyndon B. Johnson. LBJ's ties to the Brown brothers dated back to his days as a Texas congressman. From 'Builders'/ © Texas A&M University Press hide caption

itoggle caption From 'Builders'/ © Texas A&M University Press
Brown & Root Help Wanted Poster

A help wanted poster for Brown & Root's shipbuilding division. The company's contracts with the U.S. Navy in Vietnam helped fuel rumors of cronyism with the Johnson administration. From 'Builders'/ © Texas A&M University Press hide caption

itoggle caption From 'Builders'/ © Texas A&M University Press

Current criticism over Halliburton's lucrative Iraq contracts has some historians drawing parallels to a similar controversy involving the company during Lyndon B. Johnson's administration.

Nearly 40 years ago, Halliburton faced almost identical charges over its work for the U.S. government in Vietnam — allegations of overcharging, sweetheart contracts from the White House and war profiteering. Back then, the company's close ties to President Johnson became a liability. Today — as NPR's John Burnett reports in the last of a three-part series — Halliburton seems to be distancing itself from its former chief executive officer, Vice President Dick Cheney.

The story of Halliburton's ties to the White House dates back to the 1940s, when a Texas firm called Brown & Root constructed a massive dam project near Austin. The company's founders, Herman and George Brown, won the contract to build Mansfield Dam thanks to the efforts of Johnson, who was then a Texas congressman.

After Johnson took over the Oval Office, Brown & Root won contracts for huge construction projects for the federal government. By the mid-1960s, newspaper columnists and the Republican minority in Congress began to suggest that the company's good luck was tied to its sizable contributions to Johnson's political campaign.

More questions were raised when a consortium of which Brown & Root was a part won a $380 million contract to build airports, bases, hospitals and other facilities for the U.S. Navy in South Vietnam. By 1967, the General Accounting Office had faulted the "Vietnam builders" — as they were known — for massive accounting lapses and allowing thefts of materials.

Brown & Root also became a target for anti-war protesters: they called the firm the embodiment of the "military-industrial complex" and denounced it for building detention cells to hold Viet Cong prisoners in South Vietnam.

Today, Brown & Root is called Kellogg, Brown & Root — a Halliburton subsidiary better known as KBR.

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