World

Super Pentagon Conflict of Interest: Advisors Rake in Billions

The same people who sell the Pentagon billions of dollars in technology are advising the Pentagon on what scientific and technical matters to focus on in the years to come.

On January 5, 2010 the U.S. Department of Defense announced the appointment of 39 new members, and 12 senior fellows, to the Defense Science Board (DSB) -- a federal panel that provides "independent, informed advice and opinion on scientific, technical, manufacturing, acquisition process, and other matters of special interest to the Department of Defense."

In a handout accompanying the Pentagon's press release, new members -- who serve one- to four-year terms -- were identified mostly by their former government jobs and past employers, with only a few current affiliations given.

At a quick glance, the new roster of Defense Science Board consultants looks to be a select group of eminent former federal officials, top academics and a handful of industry executives. On further investigation, a more troubling picture emerges. While it often isn't apparent in their short biographies, the people overseeing top defense contractors that sell the Pentagon billions of dollars in scientific and technical innovations each year, are, in fact, the very people advising the Pentagon on what scientific and technical matters to focus on in the years ahead.

Founded in 1956, the Defense Science Board was designed to provide the Pentagon with general guidance based on cutting-edge scientific and technical expertise, not specific suggestions on which weapons systems, vehicles or other materiel to purchase. However, the board produces numerous influential reports each year and wields more power than most DoD study groups since it reports directly to the Defense Secretary and the Under Secretary for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics -- the person who controls the Pentagon's purse strings.

That man, Ashton Carter, who, upon taking office last year, was expected to shake up the culture of the military-corporate complex, stated on the announcement of the new appointees, "Secretary of Defense [Robert] Gates believes the DSB needs to be a professional board representing the best scientific and expert advice available to the Department of Defense." A glimpse at the current resumes of new DSB members and fellows raises questions about just who these powerful men and women are really “representing” and whether anything much has changed at the Pentagon. 

Even in the military-corporate complex world of Pentagon-paid propagandists and lavish lobbying, the DSB members whose current affiliations are listed in the handout should raise eyebrows. One, Wanda Austin is the president and chief executive officer of the Aerospace Corporation, a top-tier defense contractor that received more than $800 million in contracts from the Pentagon in 2009.

Another, Maureen Baginski, is a former executive assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation who, only days before being named to the DSB, was appointed vice president of intelligence business, and also national security adviser, at Serco, a defense contractor that received more than $290 million in DoD contracts in 2009.

Also among those disclosing their present affiliations are former DoD general counsel, Judith Miller, now the general counsel, senior vice president and member of the board of directors of Bechtel (which received DoD contracts worth more than $2 billion in 2009) and Lewis Von Thaer, the president of General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems, a division of the fourth largest U.S. defense contractor (and the beneficiary of $16 billion in contracts from the Pentagon in 2009).

Less apparently tied to the military-corporate complex are a number of the seemingly innocuous academics on the panel. Many of these individuals, however, actually hail from major defense contractors, perhaps none more so than those affiliated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and its Lincoln Laboratory. For  decades, Lincoln Labs has been aiding the Pentagon with high-tech solutions to problems encountered in its war-making efforts abroad. Not surprisingly, Lincoln Laboratory's advisory board is a who's-who of DSB members. There's Eric Evans, director of Lincoln Labs and chairman of its steering committee. He is joined on the board by Donald Kerr, who the DSB bills only as a "former principal deputy director [of] national intelligence, and [professor at] George Mason University." Kerr also served as an executive vice president and director at mega-defense contractor Science Applications International Corporation (now SAIC) and currently sits on the board of trustees of the MIT-created, quasi-governmental defense contractor MITRE (which received $797 million from the Pentagon in 2009).

Also on the Lincoln Labs advisory board is John Stenbit, a former assistant secretary of defense for Networks and Information Integration, who is billed by the DSB as an "independent consultant." What's left unacknowledged in the DoD press release is that he too sits on the board of trustees of MITRE and serves on the board of directors of defense contractors ViaSat Inc. and Loral Space & Communications. Still another member of Lincoln Laboratory's advisory board is Miriam John. Billed by the DSB simply as a "vice president emeritus, Sandia National Laboratories, and independent consultant," she has also, since 2007, sat on the board of directors of SAIC, which took home more than $3 billion in contracts from the DoD in 2009.

MIT isn’t alone among colleges. In late January, new Defense Science Board-member Stephen Cross, the vice president of the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) and director of the Georgia Tech Research Institute, told a student newspaper, "There are people from everywhere from very high-level people in the Department of Defense to one person who used to be the CIA director" on the DSB. For his part, Cross said he would likely act as "a technical expert on software and architecture of systems and systems engineering and application of systems engineering principles…." He continued, "Any large organization is slow to change. So sometimes these studies are to try to help show that there is a better way to do things." Change, of course, means research and development and, in 2009, Georgia Tech received more than $130 million in contracts from the Pentagon -- much of it for R&D.

In its press announcement, the Defense Science Board notes John Deutch is a "former deputy secretary of defense" and that he currently works for MIT. What isn't mentioned is that Deutch is a former CIA director (and was also, as Susan Ferrechio of the Washington Examiner writes, "stripped of his security clearance after it was discovered he downloaded classified information on his home computer"). Also notable by its absence in his bio is the fact that Deutch, in addition to serving on the board of directors of Citigroup, the mammoth bank that got a sweetheart bailout deal from the federal government in 2008, also sits on the board of directors at defense giant Raytheon, the fifth largest DoD contractor of 2009 (with more than $15 billion in contracts). And he isn't alone. Fellow DSB member Taylor W. Lawrence (PDF) is not only a former staff director of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, but today serves as a vice president at Raytheon and heads its Missile Systems division.

The list and the omissions go on and on. Michael W. Hagee (PDF) is, indeed, as his DSB bio says, a former commandant of the Marine Corps and the president and CEO of the Admiral Nimitz Foundation, which runs the Texas-based National Museum of the Pacific War. Hagee is also, however, on the Board of Directors of Cobham plc, a defense contractor that received hundreds of millions of dollars in deals from the Pentagon in 2009.

The DSB bills Paul J. Kern as a "former Commanding General, Army Materiel Command," but he's really so much more. Kern is a revolving-door general extraordinaire who parlayed his 40 years in the Army into a retirement filled with fingers in an exceptional number of contractors' pies. For example, Kern sits on the board of directors of multi-billion dollar defense contractor ITT, military robot-maker iRobot and military contractor CoVant; serves as the president and chief operating officer of defense contractor Am General; is adviser at the Battelle Memorial Institute, another defense contractor; and serves as a senior counselor at the Cohen Group, a consulting firm headed by former defense secretary William Cohen that boasts it "knows that getting to 'yes' in the aerospace and defense market -- whether in the United States or abroad -- requires that companies have a thorough, up-to-date understanding of the thinking of government decision makers."

Kern isn't alone at iRobot. Jacques Gansler is not only a former Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics and on faculty at defense contractor, the University of Maryland, as his DSB biography states, but also sits on iRobot's board of directors.

In its press hand-out, the Defense Science Board hailed George Schneiter as both the former director of strategic and tactical systems in Office of the Secretary of Defense and an "independent consultant," without listing the firms he had worked for. In fact, Schneiter has served as a consultant to defense contractors like Boeing, the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) and Aero Thermo Technology, in addition to working for the Aerospace Corporation. IDA, a non-profit corporation that administers three federally funded research and development centers, is also home to new Defense Science Board-member David S. C. Chu who took over as its president and CEO after serving as the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness at the Pentagon.

In its press materials, the DSB also noted that James Shields works for Draper Laboratory. Once the Instrumentation Laboratory at MIT, the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory Inc. formally separated from the university during the Vietnam War, while still maintaining close associations with MIT researchers. Today, Shields serves as president and CEO of Draper, whose stated mission is to "pioneer in the application of science and technology in the national interest." What this really meant, in 2009, was over $400 million in contracts from the U.S. Navy, with lesser sums from the Army and Air Force.

New Defense Science Board senior fellow Ruth David is indeed a former deputy director for science and technology at the Central Intelligence Agency. She also, however, serves as president and CEO of Analytic Services Inc, a defense contractor that did tens of millions worth of business with the Department of Defense (as well as the Department of Homeland Security) in 2009. Alongside her is new DSB member Robert Lucky, who is billed only as a "former corporate vice president, research -- Telcordia Technologies, and independent consultant," but now serves as Analytic Services' chairman of the board of trustees. Similarly, Ronald Kerber, whom the DSB refers to as a "former deputy under secretary of defense for research and advanced technology and former executive vice president, Whirlpool Corp," was also formerly a vice president at defense giant McDonnell Douglas and currently also sits on Analytic Services' board of trustees.

It remains to be seen if the many defense contractors represented on the Defense Science Board end up doing more business with the Pentagon in the future. Until greater scrutiny is given by the mainstream media and government watchdogs, we're unlikely to know whether top industry insiders from companies with many millions, or even billions, to gain annually, can truly provide "independent, informed advice and opinion" on how the Pentagon will spend American tax dollars in the years to come.

Nick Turse is the associate editor and research director of Tomdispatch.com. His first book, The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, was recently published by Metropolitan Books. His Web site is Nick Turse.com.
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