The Billionaire Brothers Behind America's Predator Drones -- And Their Very Strange Past
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But the Blue brothers really came into their own after buying General Atomics from Chevron in 1986 for a reported $60 million.
At the time, General Atomics was a struggling company primarily involved in building civilian nuclear reactors, and losing out to bigger, badder nuclear behemoths like Westinghouse.
After packing their company's "advisory panel” with big names like Reagan's loopy Secretary of State, Gen. Alexander Haig, the Blue brothers began expanding into nuclear-related technologies: nuclear waste disposal, maglev trains and, most lucratively, mining and enriching uranium.
They acquired the largest known uranium deposit in the United States, located in New Mexico. They also bought a decrepit uranium processing facility in Oklahoma that had had a radioactive leak the size of Three Mile Island just a few years earlier. But General Atomics kept operating the leaky facility, cranking out specialized uranium metal used in fuel rods and armor-piercing munitions for five more years before finally shutting it down after the plant experienced yet another major release of radioactive material. An investigation found that ground water near the plant was 35,000 times above the legal limit, and that the company had known the plant was leaking radioactive waste but did nothing.
General Atomics also developed a massive uranium operation in Australia, where it owned one of the country's largest uranium mines. In 2001, it was discovered that the company had hired private spooks to infiltrate an Australian environment group that had been protesting one of its mines.
Here's the Australian branch of Friends of the Earth describing what happened:
The infiltrator, known as Mehmet, had previously infiltrated green groups as part of an undercover police operation before he moved into the private sector to set up his own security company, Universal Axiom. He also provided personal protection to visiting GA executives. When asked about the company's tactics, a Heathgate spokesperson said the company was privately owned and had a policy of not responding to media questions.
Neal Blue bragged to Fortune Magazine in 2008 that he had snapped up uranium deposits in Australia for nothing in the 80s, when uranium mining was still illegal in that country, "gambling” that a new government would eventually rewrite the laws and make the Blue brothers a lot of money--which of course they did.
”For our size, we possess more significant political capital than you might think,” Blue once told a defense trade mag.
That "political capital” is a big reason GA's Predator drones are now a household name.
A few years after buying General Atomics, Neal Blue set up a special "advanced technology projects” division in order to identify and develop undervalued military technology.
Such a venture required some serious connections and lobbying muscle, so Neal found the perfect man for the job: former Navy admiral Thomas J. Cassidy Jr.
Cassidy had a cameo role in Tom Cruise's "Top Gun,” a movie which was made with massive support from the U.S. Navy. Cassidy was a celebrity, but was also very experienced in navigating the halls of the DoD. A few years before he was hired by General Atomics, Cassidy had been disciplined in a major corruption scandal triggered by reports that the Navy had been buying ashtrays from Grumman Aerospace Corp for $659 a pop under his command.
So in 1992, Cassidy and the Blue brothers realized that locally-manufactured UAVs were gonna be the next big thing, and decided to get in early on the UAV racket. A decade later, their little company dominated the drone market, producing the cheapest and most dependable product.