What the Pentagon Pundits Were Selling on the Side
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The Pentagon launched its covert media analyst program in 2002, to sell the Iraq war. Later, it was used to sell an image of progress in Afghanistan, whitewash the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, and defend the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping, as David Barstow reported in his New York Times expose.
But the pundits weren't just selling government talking points. As Robert Bevelacqua, William Cowan and Carlton Sherwood enjoyed high-level Pentagon access through the analyst program, their WVC3 Group sought "contracts worth tens of millions to supply body armor and counterintelligence services in Iraq," reported Barstow. Cowan admitted to "push[ing] hard" on a WVC3 contract, during a Pentagon-funded trip to Iraq.
Then there's Pentagon pundit Robert H. Scales Jr. The military firm he co-founded in 2003, Colgen, has an interesting range of clients, from the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. Special Operations Command, to Pfizer and Syracuse University, to Fox News and National Public Radio.
Of the 27 Pentagon pundits named publicly to date, six are registered as federal lobbyists. That's in addition to the less formal -- and less transparent -- boardroom to war-room influence peddling described above. (There are "more than 75 retired officers" who took part in the Pentagon program overall, according to Barstow.)
The Pentagon pundits' lobbying disclosure forms help chart what can only be called a military-industrial-media complex. They also make clear that war is very good for at least some kinds of business.
Some disclosures we would have liked to see
Fox News analyst Timur J. Eads works for the military contractor Blackbird Technologies. His job title there, "vice-president of government relations," is often used to describe someone who crafts lobbying strategies but may not take part in lobbying meetings. So, it's not surprising that Eads isn't listed on Blackbird's lobbying disclosure forms. (In 2007 and 2008, Blackbird lobbied Congress on "communications technologies" and the National Guard on "information systems.")
From 2001 to 2003, Eads was in the lobbying trenches for EMC Corporation, a multinational "information infrastructure" company. Eads helped lobby Congress and a long list of federal agencies -- including the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Coast Guard -- for "funding for data storage infrastructure." EMC's annual report (PDF) for 2003 lists the Air Force Materiel Command and Pentagon Renovation and Construction Program Office among its U.S. government clients.
Prior to EMC, Eads lobbied for the major defense contractor Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC). In 1999 and 2000, he was on SAIC's million-dollar-plus lobbying team, influencing federal spending on the armed services, foreign operations, national security and Veterans Administration, among many other appropriations bills.
Another Fox analyst and Pentagon pundit, John C. Garrett, has an even longer list of lobbying clients. He's worked for the Patton Boggs firm since at least 1999. Thanks to the Pentagon analyst program, Garrett offers clients the benefits of his "weekly access and briefings with the secretary of defense, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other high level policy makers," as Barstow noted.
Garrett has helped Bushmaster Firearms lobby Congress, the Defense and Homeland Security Departments on the "procurement of small arms" and "foreign military sales of small arms." He's lobbied Congress and Homeland Security on "government smart card initiatives," for the Datacard Group; the Defense and Homeland Security Departments on "foreign military sales," for Empresa Brasileira de Aeronautica; on Homeland Security "open source intelligence and fusion center programs," for Factiva; the Defense Department on "federal battery purchases," for Interstate Batteries; and Congress and the Defense, Commerce, Homeland Security and Treasury Departments for "rules to prohibit or regulate foreign government subsidization of M&A [mergers and acquisitions] activity," for Terex Corporation, a multinational heavy equipment manufacturer.
And those are just some of Garrett's lobbying contracts in 2007 .
The lobbying activity of Pentagon pundit and CBS analyst Jeffrey D. McCausland has been more focused on Iraq. He's the "director of national security affairs" at the Washington, D.C. law and lobby firm Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney.
McCausland lobbied on "private security contracting issues in Iraq," for Securewest International in 2004. The UK-based security firm announced that it had landed a $2.5 million contract with the Coalition Provisional Authority in March 2004, to supply "guards for the military complex at Umm Qasr as well as bodyguards for Iraqi and other personnel," according to the Herald Express in South Devon. At the time, Securewest vice-president Paul Singer said, "Kuwait and Iraq have long been our target markets. â€¦ We had a chance to visit the region only to realise how massive the market is." But when the contract ended in late 2004, Securewest decided against seeking more Iraq work. Singer explained, "It was always a difficult place to work and â€¦ the kidnapping and execution of 12 Nepalese workers caused great concern." Many of Securewest's staff are from Nepal or India.
But McCausland was hardly at a loss for clients. In 2003, he lobbied Congress and the Defense and Commerce Departments for "contract procurement in Iraq," on behalf of Al-Najat. In 2004, he lobbied on "government procurement / Coalition Provisional Authority" issues for Cross VetPharm, and on "business development in the Middle East," for Educational Testing Service. In 2004 and 2005, McCausland lobbied the State and Commerce Departments on "healthcare development in the Middle East," on behalf of Gemini Consulting.
Fellow CBS commentator Joseph W. Ralston is the last publicly named Pentagon pundit with a significant stack of of lobbying disclosure forms. "Soon after signing with CBS, General Ralston was named vice chairman of the Cohen Group, a consulting firm headed by a former defense secretary, William Cohen, himself now a 'world affairs' analyst for CNN," reported Barstow.
Not surprisingly, Ralston's lobbying clients include major military contractors. In 2006, he lobbied the Defense Department on "issues related to export of tactical fighter aircraft and defense technology," for Lockheed Martin; and the State Department on "federal funding of demilitarization efforts abroad," for General Dynamics. In 2006 and 2007, Ralston helped Fischer Properties identify "military family housing opportunities," and Pratt & Whitney find "market opportunities for military aircraft engines."
Multiple media mistakes, on lobbying and propaganda
As The Nation pointed out shortly after the U.S. invaded Iraq, many of the retired officers hired to provide war commentary had significant conflicts of interest. At the time, Fox and NBC brushed off questions about their military analysts' financial and other interests as irrelevant to or separate from their on-air commentary.
Today, the broadcast and cable networks are steadfastly refusing to cover or otherwise address the Pentagon military analyst program, with very few exceptions. In this case, though, the pundits' undeclared financial interests are only part of a larger and much more serious problem. These officers participated in a covert government program designed to shape U.S. public opinion -- an illegal program, and one that relied on the willingness of major media to play along, without asking too many questions. And that's exactly what happened.
The media outlets that featured the Pentagon's pundits need to address both aspects of this debacle -- that they failed to identify or disclose conflicts of interest, and that they helped propagandize U.S. news audiences. NPR Ombudsman Alicia C. Shepard's recent column only mentioned the former. She pointed to NPR's new "detailed guidelines for vetting on-air guests and looking for potential conflicts of interests" as the solution. But those guidelines don't include questions about contacts with or materials provided by government officials, or trips funded by government agencies. Instead, Shepard concerned herself with the question of whether NPR analyst Robert Scales does or "does not spout the Pentagon's line."
Memo to Shepard: It's illegal for the U.S. government to propagandize its own citizens, regardless. And instead of debating shades of gray, shouldn't NPR be denouncing any propaganda attempt as antithetical to the ideal of a free press?
Increasingly, news audiences are realizing the many ways in which interested parties skew media coverage. Media outlets need to wake up to that reality and work to strengthen their safeguards in defense of the public interest. Their only alternative is to start composing their next weak and belated mea culpa, in a desperate attempt to protect their ever-dwindling credibility.