One Third of Biden's Pentagon Transition Team Hails From Organizations Financed by the Weapons Industry

The president-elect is drawing from hawkish think tanks funded by arms companies.

Sarah Lazare

Then-Vice President Joe Biden speaks at Walter E. Washington Convention Center on October 3, 2015 in Washington, DC. Leigh Vogel/Getty Images

In July 2019, while cam­paign­ing for the Demo­c­ra­t­ic nom­i­na­tion for pres­i­dent, Joe Biden declared in a for­eign pol­i­cy speech, It’s past time to end the For­ev­er Wars, which have cost us untold blood and trea­sure.” But the pres­i­dent-elect — who as vice pres­i­dent over­saw wars in Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan and more — is already embrac­ing per­son­nel with strong ties to the mil­i­tary appa­ra­tus dri­ving this end­less combat.

On Novem­ber 10, Biden announced his agency review teams, which he says are respon­si­ble for under­stand­ing the oper­a­tions of each agency, ensur­ing a smooth trans­fer of pow­er, and prepar­ing for Pres­i­dent-elect Biden and Vice Pres­i­dent-elect Har­ris and their cab­i­net to hit the ground run­ning on Day One.”

Of the 23 peo­ple who com­prise the Depart­ment of Defense agency review team, eight of them — or just over a third — list their most recent employ­ment” as orga­ni­za­tions, think tanks or com­pa­nies that either direct­ly receive mon­ey from the weapons indus­try, or are part of this indus­try. These fig­ures may be an under­count, as In These Times was not imme­di­ate­ly able to exhaus­tive­ly source the fund­ing of every employer.

The Cen­ter for Strate­gic and Inter­na­tion­al Stud­ies (CSIS) is list­ed as the most recent employ­ment” of three indi­vid­u­als on Biden’s Depart­ment of Defense agency review team: Kath­leen Hicks (a for­mer defense offi­cial under Pres­i­dent Oba­ma), Melis­sa Dal­ton and Andrew Hunter. CSIS is a hawk­ish and influ­en­tial for­eign pol­i­cy think tank that receives fund­ing from Gen­er­al Dynam­ics Cor­po­ra­tion, Raytheon, Northrop Grum­man Cor­po­ra­tion, Lock­heed Mar­tin Cor­po­ra­tion and oth­er weapons man­u­fac­tur­ers and defense con­trac­tors, as well as oil companies. 

Raytheon is a key sup­pli­er of bombs to the U.S.-Saudi war in Yemen, and has aggres­sive­ly lob­bied to pre­vent any curbs on arms sales to the Sau­di-led coali­tion. Among the weapons that Northrop Grum­man man­u­fac­tures is drones, which have been used by the U.S. mil­i­tary in Afghanistan, Iraq and Soma­lia, among oth­er loca­tions. Notably, a New York Times inves­ti­ga­tion in 2016 found that, based on a cache of email leaks, CSIS was effec­tive­ly dou­bling as a weapons indus­try lob­by­ing firm, push­ing for expand­ed drone sales. Lock­heed Mar­tin is a key con­trac­tor for the THAAD mis­sile sys­tem in South Korea — a sys­tem that CSIS has also advo­cat­ed for with­out dis­clos­ing their con­flict of inter­est. The com­pa­ny also man­u­fac­tured the bomb that struck a school bus in North­ern Yemen in August 2018, killing at least 26 children.

CSIS also receives mon­ey from a host of gov­ern­ments, includ­ing the Unit­ed States, as well as the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates, which has joined with the Unit­ed States and Sau­di Ara­bia to wage war on Yemen. CSIS, in addi­tion, receives mon­ey from the state-run oil com­pa­ny Sau­di Aram­co, which effec­tive­ly amounts to a dona­tion from the Sau­di government.

Two of the indi­vid­u­als named for Biden’s Depart­ment of Defense agency review team — Ely Rat­ner and Susan­na Blume — list the think tank Cen­ter for a New Amer­i­can Secu­ri­ty (CNAS) as their most recent employ­er. CNAS takes a sig­nif­i­cant chunk of its mon­ey from Northrop Grum­man Cor­po­ra­tion, as well as the U.S. State Depart­ment ($500,000 or more per year on both counts), and from Lock­heed Mar­tin, Raytheon, and a host of cor­po­ra­tions, includ­ing oil companies. 

Vice Pres­i­dent-elect Kamala Har­ris drew heav­i­ly from CNAS to advise her pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry cam­paign. The think tank is known for embrac­ing con­ven­tion­al, pro-war for­eign pol­i­cy, as well as esca­la­tion toward Rus­sia and China.

Three peo­ple from the team — Sta­cie Pet­tyjohn, Ter­ri Tanielian and Chris­tine Wor­muth (also a for­mer defense offi­cial under Oba­ma) — hail from the RAND Cor­po­ra­tion, a hawk­ish think tank that receives sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from the U.S. Army and the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty. (These indi­vid­u­als are not being includ­ed in the tal­ly of peo­ple who work for orga­ni­za­tions fund­ed by the arms indus­try, but nonethe­less their involve­ment shows the polit­i­cal bent of Biden’s Depart­ment of Defense tran­si­tion team.)

It’s telling the think tanks rep­re­sent­ed here — RAND, CSIS and CNAS — are among the top recip­i­ents of Depart­ment of Defense and Depart­ment of Defense con­trac­tor fund­ing,” says Ben Free­man of the For­eign Influ­ence Trans­paren­cy Ini­tia­tive, which recent­ly authored a report on think tank fund­ing. CNAS and CSIS are lit­er­al­ly num­ber one and num­ber two in terms of dona­tions received from U.S. defense con­trac­tors in the last six years. RAND is, by far, the top recip­i­ent of Depart­ment of Defense fund­ing of any think tank.”

Sharon Burke, on Biden’s team, works for New Amer­i­ca, which calls itself a nation­al net­work of inno­v­a­tive prob­lem-solvers.” The orga­ni­za­tion receives fund­ing from Raytheon, Northrop Grum­man, Gen­er­al Atom­ics Aero­nau­ti­cal Sys­tems and U.S. Army War College.

Shawn Skel­ly’s most recent employ­er is list­ed by the Biden team as CACI Inter­na­tion­al, which pro­vides infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy for U.S. mil­i­tary weapons sys­tems. (Because Skel­ly’s LinkedIn page says she worked at CACI until Novem­ber 2020,” In These Times is includ­ing her in the tal­ly of peo­ple who receive mon­ey from or are employed by the weapons indus­try, giv­en the rel­e­vance to her present finances.) Before Skel­ly start­ed work­ing there, CACI was sued by Iraqis for­mer­ly detained in the noto­ri­ous U.S. mil­i­tary prison Abu Ghraib, on the grounds that con­trac­tor played a direct role in their tor­ture. (The law­suit is still ongoing.)

Vic­tor Gar­cia lists Rebel­lion Defense” as his most recent employ­er. This soft­ware com­pa­ny says it helps our defense and nation­al secu­ri­ty agen­cies unlock the pow­er of data across all domains.” It was found­ed by for­mer defense offi­cials and ana­lyzes video gath­ered via drone,” accord­ing to the New York Times.

Of those remain­ing, one team mem­ber works for JPMor­gan Chase & Co., anoth­er is retired from the State Depart­ment, a few work for uni­ver­si­ties and oth­er orga­ni­za­tions, and one works for the Nuclear Threat Ini­tia­tive, which says it strives to pre­vent cat­a­stroph­ic attacks with weapons of mass destruc­tion and dis­rup­tion — nuclear, bio­log­i­cal, radi­o­log­i­cal, chem­i­cal and cyber.” Lisa Coe, also on the team, lists as her most recent employ­er Oth­er­Side Con­sult­ing, a defense indus­try con­sul­tant, accord­ing to Defense News. How­ev­er, because In These Times was unable to inde­pen­dent­ly ver­i­fy this, Coe is not being includ­ed in our count of team mem­bers fund­ed by the mil­i­tary or weapons industry.

Farooq Mitha, also a mem­ber of the Depart­ment of Defense team, is on the board of Emgage, which has gar­nered crit­i­cism for its affil­i­a­tion with anti-Pales­tin­ian organizations.

The news prompt­ed dis­ap­point­ment from anti-war groups. Biden build­ing a team of peo­ple with con­nec­tions to weapons man­u­fac­tur­ers and the mil­i­tary indus­tri­al com­plex is a prime exam­ple of how mil­i­tarism and impe­ri­al­ism are bipar­ti­san,” says Sid­ney Miralao, an orga­niz­er with Dis­senters, a group of young peo­ple who oppose U.S. mil­i­tarism and the war indus­try. Democ­rats and Repub­li­cans alike per­pet­u­ate and prof­it off of war and vio­lence in our com­mu­ni­ties at home and abroad. By con­tin­u­ing the lega­cy of the revolv­ing door with the defense indus­try, Biden and his team are set­ting them­selves up to be able to con­tin­ue grow­ing the mil­i­tary and strength­en­ing the nar­ra­tive that war is nec­es­sary to safety.”

While cam­paign­ing, Biden made some over­tures to the surg­ing left wing that near­ly cat­a­pult­ed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I‑Vt.) to the Demo­c­ra­t­ic nom­i­na­tion, form­ing a uni­ty task force with Sanders back­ers that issued a series of rec­om­men­da­tions, from cli­mate to labor. Yet these efforts to reach out to the left large­ly omit­ted issues of war and mil­i­tarism, leav­ing crit­ics of U.S. aggres­sion con­cerned that a Biden admin­is­tra­tion would bring a con­tin­u­a­tion of the wars he’s sup­port­ed through­out his career. Biden played an influ­en­tial role in back­ing the 2003 U.S. inva­sion of Iraq, has been a career-long sup­port­er of Israel’s aggres­sion toward Pales­tini­ans, and has defend­ed the open-end­ed occu­pa­tion of Afghanistan, among oth­er acts.

Out­go­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, for his part, hoist­ed peo­ple with close ties to the arms indus­try into promi­nent Depart­ment of Defense posi­tions, appoint­ing Mark Esper, a for­mer lob­by­ist for Raytheon, to the posi­tion of Sec­re­tary of Defense. (Trump fired Esper and a num­ber of oth­er senior mil­i­tary offi­cials in recent days, in what appears to be a sign of Trump’s effort to stay in pow­er despite los­ing the pres­i­den­tial election.)

Has Biden already for­got­ten who put him in the posi­tion he’s in?” says Ramón Mejía, anti-mil­i­tarism nation­al orga­niz­er with the Grass­roots Glob­al Jus­tice Alliance, an alliance of com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions. The only rea­son he’s pres­i­dent-elect is because Black, Brown, Indige­nous youth mobi­lized to vote out Trump’s fas­cism. Biden shouldn’t make the mis­take that Democ­rats are com­mon­ly known to make, which is to aban­don the same peo­ple who put them there.”

War-mak­ing and cor­po­rate prof­i­teer­ing is a non-starter,” Mejía adds. We must divest the bulk of our bud­get from a war-fuel­ing extrac­tive econ­o­my, and pri­or­i­tize invest­ing in a life-sus­tain­ing regen­er­a­tive economy.”

Sarah Lazare is web edi­tor at In These Times. She comes from a back­ground in inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ism for pub­li­ca­tions includ­ing The Inter­cept, The Nation, and Tom Dis­patch. She tweets at @sarahlazare.

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