For decades the shadowy Armand Hammer slipped comfortably
between the halls of high finance and the Soviet Politburo. Using
his close connections with the Soviets, Hammer built a fortune
pretending to be an advocate of capitalism while helping sustain
and spread Soviet Communism. Masquerading as a capitalist was
The FBI was certainly aware that Hammer was used to launder money from Soviet sources. Edward Jay Epstein, in his exposé Dossier: The Secret History of Armand Hammer says that by tracing Soviet money through Hammer they “had been able to determine from the serial numbers on the bills that much of the money was disbursed to the Soviet underground in America.” Hammer took direct orders from the Lenin and Stalin regimes. He helped recruit and place Soviet spies within the US government Yet there was something which prevented the fervently anti-communist J. Edgar Hoover from moving on Hammer in spite of his role in financing the communist movement in America.
What prevented such a move was that Hammer was already entangled with top members of the Senate and US Congress. Clearly in the Hammer camp was then Congressman Albert Gore, Sr. of Tennessee — the father of the current vice president. Also closely connected to Hammer was pro-Soviet Congressman Emmanuel Celler and Congressman James Roosevelt, son of FDR. Hammer was in fact a secret business partner with Roosevelt—channeling business and funds into Roosevelt’s coffers via an insurance company they both owned. As we shall see, this was a ploy which Hammer also used successfully with Al Gore, Sr. As Bob Zelnick, biographer of Al Gore Jr., in his Gore: A Political Life said: “Through the 1950s and well into the following decade, Hammer counted on Gore as his principal link to the Democratic congressional leadership, and to defend his economic interests.”
Epstein says that Hoover “had survived in Washington for three decades because he understood the reality of power, had no interest in challenging this congressional phalanx. He decided to take no action. Hammer had effectively stalemated him.”
Hammer had built up a close relationship with Al Gore Sr., which he used to his ultimate advantage. But this is not to say that Gore didn’t benefit either. Much of the modern Gore fortune is built on the sweetheart deals that Hammer gave to his congressional mouth-piece. Like he did with Roosevelt, Hammer actually became business partners with Gore in a cattle-breeding project which, according to Epstein “made a substantial profit” for Gore. Insiders have been highly suspicious of the Gore/Hammer cattle alliance. Major Wall Street players would suddenly appear on the Gore property bidding to buy cattle at highly inflated prices. Ned McWherter, former Governor of Tennessee said: “I’ve sold some Angus [cattle] in my time too, but I never got the kind of prices for my cattle that the Gores got for theirs.” Zelnick wrote that neighbors of the Gores would “tell the inquiring visitors of how lobbyists and others with an interest in Gore’s work would parade to Carthage [Gore’s home town] during the fall auction period, bid outrageously high prices for Gore’s stock, and sometimes not even bother to pick up what they had purchased.”
When the voters of Tennessee put Al Gore, Sr. into involuntary retirement, the former Senator said that if he were being put out to pasture he intended to graze in “tall grass.” The tall grass he had in mind was working for Armand Hammer. Gore left the US Senate to become a vice president of Hammer’s Occidental Petroleum. But not even that was enough to reward the compliant ex-Senator from Tennessee. By now Hammer was literally rolling in money.
Hammer had secured oil rights in Libya by bribing the government of King Idris. But Idris was overthrown by Muammer Gadhafi. No worry for Hammer—who had long worked with some of the worst despots in the world. Gadhafi was demanding higher percentages for his government from the oil companies. Other oil companies balked but Hammer immediately agreed, giving Libya 55 percent of the profits, forcing the others to follow suit. As a result oil prices shot up. Epstein notes that Hammer’s Occidental Oil “continue[d] to profit from Libyan oil for the next fifteen years, [and] the company received $136 million in compensation from Gadhafi for the nationalization in 1973 of 51 percent of its concession. Occidental was the only foreign company in Libya to receive such compensation.”
Occidental stock values were riding high because of Hammer’s cozy relationship with Libya. He used these profits to buy companies right and left. His largest new purchase was the Island Creek Coal Company, then the third largest coal producer in the United States. The new president of Creek Coal was Al Gore, Sr., who was paid the handsome sum of $500,000 per year while still holding his position as vice president of Occidental.
Some of Hammer’s proceeds were also used to purchase Hooker Chemical Company in 1969. Gore, Sr., still then the Senator from Tennessee purchased a thousand shares in the company from Hammer for $150 each, well below the market price. Hammer, the ex-Senator and the future Vice President were also involved in a complicated three-way real estate deal that helped set Al, Jr. on the road to financial security.
The Cumberland Presbyterian Church had two parcels of land which had been left to it. Occidental Minerals purchased the land from the church on September 15, 1972, knowing there was substantial zinc deposits on the land. Almost to the day, one year later, the land was sold to Al Gore Sr., for $80,000. A second transfer was also made giving Gore the mineral rights on the land. Occidental then leased the mineral rights back from the Gores. But at the same time Gore, Sr. signed two separate deeds transferring the property to his son. Al, Jr. was then receiving compensation because his property was being mined.
In 1987, germanium was also discovered on the property. Gore took Union Zinc, then doing the mining, to court, in order to receive payments of 4 percent on all germanium mined. Gore’s share came to just under $20 per pound of germanium. Zelnick says that the monthly proceeds now exceeded Gore’s income from cattle holdings and from tobacco.
In 1988 Al Gore, Jr. made his first run for the presidency. The ghost-writer of Hammer’s autobiography, Neil Lyndon, wrote: “Hammer, his wife, his corporations and junior members of his family all made contributions to Gore’s campaigns up to the maximum amounts allowable by law.” Lyndon later said in the London Sunday Telegraph that Gore met with Hammer frequently. He said that: “Separately and together, the Gores sometimes used Hammer’s luxurious private Boeing 727 for their own journeys and jaunts.”
Gore wasn’t doing well in the race, and Hammer tried to intervene on his behalf. During the crucial Illinois primary, Hammer called Senator Paul Simon, the favorite in the race. Hammer asked Simon to withdraw from the race in Gore’s favor. In return, Hammer offered Simon any seat in Gore’s cabinet that he wanted. Senator Simon declined the offer. One might ask what authority Hammer had to offer seats in the President’s cabinet?
Al Gore later used his position as Senator from Tennessee to take Hammer as his personal guest to the inaugurations of President Reagan and President Bush. These invitations later proved crucial to Hammer in his efforts to weasel his way into the good graces of both of these administrations. Al, Jr., was only doing what his father had done before him: Gore, Sr., had helped bring Hammer into the Kennedy White House only a few years before.
Jim Peron is a South African journalist who was interviewed by Alberto Mingardi in a recent issue of The Laissez Faire City Times. He has recently finished a book entitled Two Masters: the Conflict Between Christianity and Capitalism.
from The Laissez Faire City Times, Vol 4, No 4, January 24, 2000
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