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. |

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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.

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