Brown & Root began as a road construction firm in Texas. At left is one of the many Central Texas roads it built. A contract to construct the Mansfield Dam near Austin, Texas, between 1937 and 1941 transformed the firm into a mega-project builder. The Brown brothers won the contract thanks to the help of Lyndon B. Johnson, then a young Texas congressman who helped secure congressional approval for the project.
The first in a seven part series examining the activities of former Halliburton subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown & Root
“Burn and Loot” was the name given to Brown and Root by anti-Vietnam war protestors. KBR might be known as Kill, Burn and Loot, although the words, Bribe, and, Rape, also come to mind in connection with this company.
From Martial Law, Inc. KBR: A Halliburton Subsidiary
By Andrew G. Marshall
KBR, or Kellogg Brown & Root, was a subsidiary of the Halliburton Corporation until 2007, when bad publicity and indictments against KBR forced Halliburton to sell its shares in KBR.
KBR and Vietnam:
KBR, having financed Lyndon Johnson from the 1940s and into the Vice Presidential position, was rewarded after Kennedy’s assassination with lucrative contracts in the escalated Vietnam War. “Johnson, who became president in 1963 after Kennedy’s assassination and who was elected with broad support in 1964, used the Gulf of Tonkin incident,” in order to “justify the sending of ground troops into Vietnam. The result of that move was the need for billions of dollars worth of bases, airstrips, ports, and bridges. Enter Brown & Root.” (Briody, pp. 163-64)
With that, “In 1965, a year after Johnson stepped up America’s participation in Vietnam, Brown & Root joined three other construction and project management behemoths, Raymond International, Morris-Knudsen, and J.A. Jones to form one of the largest civilian-based military construction conglomerates in history.” That team of corporations was known as RMK-BRJ, which, “literally changed the face of Vietnam, clearing out wide swaths of jungle for airplane landing strips, dredging channels for ships, and building American bases from Da Nang to Saigon.” (Briody, p. 164) KBR, as a member of this joint conglomerate, was also contracted to build new prison cells in Vietnam, replacing the “horribly inhumane prison cells built by the French government 75 years earlier to hold prisoners.” (Briody, p. 167)
From The Candidate From Brown and Root
By Robert Bryce
Herman Brown’s huge bet on the Mansfield Dam just keeps paying off. It made Brown a rich man. It secured the future of his company. And it led to other big projects that provided the funds to elect Lyndon Johnson to the U.S. Senate in 1948 and the White House years later.
A young LBJ sent this signed photograph to Brown & Root co-founder George Brown. From ‘Builders’/ © Texas A&M University Press
Johnson['s] …symbiotic relationship with Brown & Root occurred before campaign finance laws required candidates to reveal the sources of their funding. Indeed, by Johnson’s own admission, according to his biographer Ronnie Dugger, much of the money he got from Brown & Root came in cash. In return, Johnson steered lucrative federal contracts to the company. Those contracts helped Brown & Root become a global construction powerhouse that today employs 20,000 people and operates in more than 100 countries.
“It was a totally corrupt relationship and it benefited both of them enormously,” says Dugger, the author of The Politician: The Life and Times of Lyndon Johnson. “Brown & Root got rich, and Johnson got power and riches.” Without Brown & Root’s money, Johnson wouldn’t have won (or rather, been able to steal) the 1948 race for U.S. Senate. “That was the turning point. He wouldn’t have been in the running without Brown & Root’s money and airplanes. And the 1948 election allowed Lyndon to become president,” said Dugger, who is currently running for the Green Party’s nomination for the U.S. Senate in New York.
It was 1937, and the Mansfield Dam project (then called the Marshall Ford dam) was in limbo. Brown & Root, which had been a small Belton-based road-building company, was working on the dam even though Congress had not approved the $10 million project. Even worse, the project was illegal because the Bureau of Reclamation, which was overseeing the project, didn’t own the land on which the dam was being built — a minor fact that under federal law should have prevented the project from getting under way. But Herman Brown pressed on. He had received $5 million and was betting that he could get the federal approval and funding needed to finish the project. But he needed Johnson — then a newly elected Congressman — to get it. Johnson delivered. In July of 1937, with the backing of President Franklin Roosevelt, who made it clear he was doing it for “Congressman Johnson,” the authorization and funding was approved.
That funding was the key to Brown & Root’s future. In his book on LBJ, Path to Power, Johnson biographer Robert Caro reports that Herman Brown and his brother George made “an overall profit on the dam of $1.5 million, an amount double all the profit they had made in twenty previous years in the construction business.”
George Brown, LBJ, Alice Brown and Lady Bird Johnson in an undated photo. From ‘Builders’/ © Texas A&M University Press
But Herman Brown wasn’t finished. He wanted another $17 million to make the dam higher by another 78 feet to make it function better for flood control. The Lower Colorado River Authority, which was to operate the dam, didn’t have the money. So once again, Johnson went to work. Of course, he got the money, a move that resulted in even more profit for the Browns. “Out of the subsequent contracts for the dam,” writes Caro, “they piled, upon that first million, million upon million more. The base for a huge financial empire was being created in that deserted Texas gorge.”
(In retrospect, building the dam higher was a wise choice. During the floods of 1991, Lake Travis crested at 710 feet, just four feet below the level of the spillway. Without the extra height demanded by the Browns, or another dam, parts of Austin would likely have been inundated.)
The Mansfield project led to dozens of others. It also made the Browns believe in Johnson. “Herman Brown let Johnson know that he would not have to worry about finances in this campaign — that the money would be there, as much as was needed, when it was needed,” writes Caro.
Johnson then steered all kinds of federal projects to Brown & Root — including airports, pipelines, and military bases. During the Vietnam War, the company built roads, landing strips, harbors, and military bases from the Demilitarized Zone to the Mekong Delta. But the company’s relationship with the government would continue long after LBJ was laid to rest along the banks of the Pedernales.