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Pentagon Profiteers Push Lobbying Assault to Grab More Taxpayer Dollars

Through the "Second to None" campaign, top Pentagon contractors are waging a sophisticated public relations war for the hearts and minds of Americans.

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In 2001, according to data compiled by the analytics firm Capital IQ and reported by the Associated Press, revenues for U.S.-based defense contractors totaled $217 billion. By 2010, the figure stood at $386 billion.  Over the same period, annual defense industry profits almost quadrupled.  This exceptional growth has been mirrored in executive pay at these firms.

According to a 2005 report by the Institute for Policy Studies and United for a Fair Economy, chiefs of  Pentagon suppliers profited handsomely as a result of wars. Their analysis found that defense contractor “CEOs received raises on average of 200 percent between 2001 and 2004, compared to only 7 percent for average large company CEOs.”  

When Ronald Sugar took over as CEO of defense giant Northrop Grumman in 2003 , the year the Iraq war began, his pay was about $5.3 million per year.  By 2009, his final year as CEO of the defense giant, his compensation had jumped about 240 percent to almost $18 million.  (His successor, Wesley Bush , took home almost $23 million in salary, stock and other compensation from Northrop Grumman last year.)  Lockheed’s Robert Stevens has done even better than average, according to data provided by Forbes. Since he took the helm at the company in 2005, his total compensation has increased 320 percent, to $21 million per year.    

Using scare tactics, Second to None portrays defense cuts  as dire and dangerous. Yet, these "cuts" may ultimately amount to nothing more than smaller increases in future spending than were once projected or, if “doomsday” measures are enacted to curb the federal deficit, a return to 2007 spending levels which were at the time, Wheeler told Froomkin, at a 16-year high.  The industry effort suggests to Americans that even a measured decrease of the Pentagon budget might impact U.S. “air superiority,” making ground troops susceptible to “enemy air action” (no such American troops have been killed in an air attack since the Korean War) and impacting America’s “ability to defend the homeland.”

In 2001, however, the largest air force in the world wasn’t able to protect the United States from a terrorist air attack.  The military also played no part in foiling later efforts of would-be airborne terrorists Richard Reid (“the shoe bomber”) or Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (“the underwear bomber”), nor is conventional “air superiority” likely to play a role in thwarting future al Qaeda air attacks.  And when it comes to rival states, even the next biggest military spender on the block, China – whose defense budget is, at most, one-sixteenth that of the United States' – doesn’t have anything approaching comparable technology, nor are such weapons systems even on the horizon.

The Second to None website, of course, mentions nothing of the financial gains of the companies behind the effort nor their CEOs' personal windfalls since 2001.   Instead, dubious scare tactics and a disingenuous nod to the failure of the Iraq war are employed to mislead Americans into acting in the interests of the bosses of big defense firms.  All of it leaves one to wonder if the men and women behind the Second to None campaign really believe their own public relations campaign or are truly more concerned that the title of a recent article from the Associated Press, “ A Golden Decade for Defense Companies is Ending,” could really be true.