Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Bush in the Early 1970s

Since some blogs are still pushing the "BUSH WAS AWOL!" line of thinking, I thought I'd dig around on LEXIS to see if there were any additional stories on what Bush was doing in the early 1970s.

I'm still intrigued -- but not nearly convinced -- by my own theory that he might have been doing something for the CIA in some capacity. As you can see from the various quotes below, Bush took a job in 1971 at a company called Stratford in Houston. His job has been reported as involving: (1) flying planes to Florida to investigate plant nurseries, (2) flying to Guatemala, (3) doing something (I don't know what) with chicken manure fertilizer, (4) analyzing expansion possibilities for the chicken and egg business; (5) investigating the purchase of a mushroom farm in Pennsylvania, and (6) management training. Quite a diverse experience, I'd say.

Moreover, his boss at Stratford -- Robert Gow -- had previously headed up George H. W. Bush's company Zapata Oil, which according to Kevin Phillips had been involved with the CIA's Bay of Pigs operation, which (by coincidence?) was titled "Operation Zapata."

Now Bush's Stratford job could have been entirely what it seems (i.e., Bush's father asked an old friend to hire him for a summer). Still, the varying stories of his job duties, as well as the fact that Bush flew to Guatemala, indicates at least the possibility that something else might have been going on there.

Plus, there are the following facts, to review from my earlier posts on this:
  • Bush's longtime friend James Bath inexplicably missed the same physical exam while in the same National Guard unit, according to Salon. Salon also reported that Bath was probably involved with the CIA himself.

  • Bath had worked since 1968 for Atlantic Aviation, which was owned by a family that did "classified military work for the Government and for the C.I.A.," and that "employ[ed] officials formerly affiliated with the C.I.A." This was reported by the New York Times in 1983.

  • According to the UPI in 1984: "At the height of the Vietnam War, according to a Senate report, the CIA operated airlines worth more than $50 million with 8,000 employees."

  • Bush himself later worked at an Alaskan airline that admitted to the New York Times that it flew for the CIA.

  • George H.W. Bush soon became head of the CIA.
What does this all prove? Nothing. But it's fun to speculate that Bush might have been involved with the CIA in some capacity. It would explain why he would have given less than full attention to his National Guard unit, but could not talk about what he was really doing.

Anyway, here are the quotes that turn up on LEXIS:

Jo Thomas, "George Bush's Journey: A Man Adrift," New York Times, July 22, 2000, p. A1.

* * * Robert H. Gow, a colleague of Mr. Bush's father, who hired young George W. in early 1971 to work at his agricultural and horticultural conglomerate, Stratford of Houston, remembered him as "a presentable, attractive young college student."

"I've heard all this about a wild youth, but I never saw it," he said. "He was wearing a Brooks Brothers suit. He showed up on time and worked well past five, as we all did." Mr. Bush was assigned to research small nurseries that Mr. Gow hoped to acquire, a job that occasionally took him to Central America. His new boss had been an executive at the elder Bush's Zapata Oil Company and a guest at the Bush home. He gave his young employee a friendly ear.

"George liked to talk," Mr. Gow said. "He was searching for what to do. He was constantly wanting to talk about what to do with his life."

* * *
In the fall of 1971, after a year of work at Stratford, Mr. Bush quit and was unemployed for the next five or six months. In an interview he said he spent the time flying with the Air National Guard. He was 25.
Note that Robert Gow was a former member of Skull and Bones. As Atlantic Monthly reported in 2000:
Alexandra Robbins, George W., Knight of Eulogia, Atlantic Monthly, May 1, 2000:

Yet Skull and Bones was not relegated entirely to George W.'s past after he graduated. In 1971, having been rejected by the University of Texas Law School and needing a job, Bush called a Bonesman, Robert H. Gow. Gow, who later told The Washington Post that his Houston-based agricultural company had not been looking for anyone at the time, hired Bush as a management trainee.
Here's what U.S. News recently reported about that time period:
Kenneth T. Walsh, Dan Gilgoff, Nancy L. Bentrup, "From Boys to Men," U.S. News & World Report, May 3, 2004, p. 32.

* * * Being at loose ends, at the time, seemed to suit Bush just fine. His application to the University of Texas School of Law had been rejected, and he wasn't particularly thrilled with his new job, as a trainee at an agriculture conglomerate called Stratford of Texas. The company's founder, Robert Gow, had been an executive at the elder Bush's oil company. "Bush was wrestling in his mind with how he could get ahead in life," says Gow. "He had absolutely no idea what he wanted to do. He was confused."

He wasn't lazy, though. He showed up for work each morning at 8 o'clock sharp in a Brooks Brothers suit and cheerfully completed his assignments on time. Not that the work was taxing. Bush had to fly around the country and go down to Central America to inspect plant nurseries Stratford was looking to buy. The young man occasionally would knock on Gow's office door wanting to talk about his future, unsure whether it was business, politics, or what Gow calls the "do-gooder-type stuff," like working with disadvantaged youth. Gow, who had been president of the elder Bush's Zapata oil company, noticed that the younger Bush shared some of his father's qualities, like a knack for remembering names. But there were differences, too. The younger Bush, Gow recalls, "wasn't one of those people who you said, 'Boy, whatever he does, he's going to be a big success.' "
And here's what the Washington Post said in 1999:
George Lardner Jr. and Lois Romano, "At Height of Vietnam, Bush Picks Guard," Washington Post, July 28, 1999, p. A1.
* * *
Bush called Robert H. Gow, a Yale man who had roomed with the senior Bush's cousin Ray in college and who had been an executive at the senior Bush's Zapata Off-Shore Co. In 1969, Gow left Zapata and started Stratford of Texas, a Houston-based agricultural company with diverse interests: from cattle to chickens to indoor, non-blooming tropical plants.

"We weren't looking for someone, but I thought this would be a talented guy we should hire, and he was available," Gow said. In early 1971, Gow gave Bush a job as a management trainee. He was required to wear a coat and tie and dispatched around the country and even to Central America, looking for plant nurseries that Stratford might acquire. The newly buttoned-down businessman also moved into a garage apartment that he shared with Ensenat off Houston's North Boulevard, an old 1920s neighborhood close to downtown.

"We traveled to all kinds of peculiar places, like Apopka, Florida, which was named the foliage capital of the world," said Peter C. Knudtzon, another Zapata alumnus who was Stratford's executive vice president and Bush's immediate boss.

Once or twice a month, Bush would announce that he had flight duty and off he would go, sometimes taking his F-102 from Houston to Orlando and back. "It was really quite amazing," Knudtzon said. "Here was this young guy making acquisitions of tropical plants and then up and leaving to fly fighter planes."
By the way, Peter Knudtzon apparently still operates or owns a greenhouse in Apopka, Florida, according to this Florida state certification (PDF) or this directory of nurseries.

Interestingly, Jeb Bush worked for the same company at the same time. Apparently his job had nothing to do with flying to Florida or Central America, looking at plant nurseries, chicken manure, management training, or mushroom farms:
Adrienne Lu & Logan D. Mabe, "Humble first job? Don't despair," St. Petersburg Times, May 27, 2003, p. B1.

* * * "The summer after graduating from high school, I worked in Houston for a company called Stratford of Texas," Bush said in an e-mail interview. "I worked from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., on top of huge cookers which produced ammoniated rice hulls. The final product was used as cattle feed. I lived with my brother (that would be future president George) who made me wash down before going into the apartment. I liked to go to the Astrodome after work to watch the Astros play."
This was apparently at the same time George was there, i.e., 1971. Official biographies state that Jeb Bush was born in 1953, and this site notes that he met his wife while in high school in February 1971. Unless he was a year behind, he probably graduated from high school in 1971, which means he would have worked for Zapata that summer, right when George worked there.

Here's an alternate version of what that job entailed:
Jill Lawrence, "The evolution of George W. Bush," USA Today, July 28, 2000, p. A8.

He ended up at an agricultural conglomerate called Stratford of Texas, run by Robert Gow, a friend of his father. His job involved chicken-manure fertilizer, which gave him material for countless crude jokes.
I haven't seen the reference to chicken manure anywhere else. And here's another varying description of that job:
Kenneth T. Walsh, "The lost years of Al and Dubya," U.S. News & World Report, Nov. 1, 1999, p. 28.
* * *
In early 1971, he began a nine-month stint with Stratford of Texas, an agricultural company owned by his father's friend Robert Gow. George W. was basically a trainee, working on a variety of projects such as looking into the purchase of a mushroom farm in Pennsylvania and analyzing expansion possibilities for Gow's chicken and egg business. Bored, he privately derided his work as "a stupid coat-and-tie job."
Interestingly, Stratford apparently had a "finca" in Guatemala (i.e., a ranch):
Carol Flake Chapman, "Green Acres," Texas Monthly, February 2000, p. 96.

* * * Gow grew up in Massachusetts and studied engineering at Yale, and he still retains the trace of a patrician Yankee accent although he has lived in Texas since 1962. That year he came south to join Zapata Offshore, the oil business then headed by George Bush. He had met Bush through Ray Walker, a cousin of Bush's who was Gow's roommate at Yale. In 1970, after leaving Zapata, Gow started a Houston-based diversified agribusiness company called Stratford of Texas. Before the company folded, its holdings included a large finca in Guatemala where it raised nonflowering tropical plants for export. One of Gow's Houston employees in the early seventies was George W. Bush, whose responsibilities included sizing up plant nurseries for possible acquisition; he stayed for about a year before leaving to join a family friend's political campaign.
Is this when Bush made a trip to Guatemala on "business," as a spokeman non-descriptly stated in 2000? That would tie it all together, as this site claims:
A brief reference appeared in Bill Minutaglio's First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty about a job that had been arranged for Bush in the early 1970s that involved horticultural operations in the United States and Central America. One executive, Peter Knudtzon, said he traveled with Bush to Orlando to check on a nursery and had gone with him on an excursion to Guatemala.
Finally, it is quite interesting to note that Zapata Oil, which was Bush's father's company and which is where the owner of Stratford previously worked, may have been involved with the CIA:
Mary Ann Gwinn, "Author paints troubling portrait of four-generation Bush dynasty," Duluth News Tribune, March 14, 2004.

* * * Phillips presents information that suggests one of Zapata Oil's Mexican subsidiaries was a part-time purchasing front for the CIA during the Bay of Pigs era. George H.W. Bush also initiated the family's business involvements in the Middle East -- Zapata's offshore arm organized a subsidiary to carry out Kuwait's first deep-sea oil drilling in 1961.

11 Comments:

Blogger Fredrik Nyman said...

Stuart,

This is a pretty interesting theory.

If we suppose it's substantively true, when and how would you expect it to be disclosed? The presidential debates, in response to the inevitable Kerry disparagment of Bush's National Guard service?

4:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your posts about Bush and Bath. I linked both in my post.

Thanks,
Sherri

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

If it's in the public record, history can decide...

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