House Democrats Warn Biden Against Hiring SecDef With Arms Industry Ties

November 14th, 2020 - by Dave DeCamp /

Former Defense secretary Mark Esper fired after resisting Trump’s plan to use US military to attack US citizens.

Biden’s top Pentagon pick sits on the board of a defense firm and has a long history of pushing for US intervention around the world

Dave DeCamp /

 (November 12, 2020) — Two progressive House Democrats penned a letter to Joe Biden, urging him not to appoint someone to the position of secretary of defense who has previously worked in the weapons industry. The letter was released Thursday by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI).

“Respectfully, and in full agreement with your past statements, we write to request that the next secretary of defense have no prior employment history with a defense contractor,” the letter reads. The lawmakers used President Trump’s previous Pentagon chiefs as examples of the revolving door between the arms industry and Pentagon leaders. 

Former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, who was fired this week, worked for Raytheon before joining the Trump administration. Patrick Shanahan, former acting secretary, worked for Boeing for over 30 years before joining the Pentagon as deputy secretary of defense in 2017. Trump’s first Pentagon chief, James Mattis, served on the board of General Dynamics.

“Additionally, nearly half of all senior Defense Department officials are connected to military contractors,” the lawmakers wrote. “Despite President Trump’s boast that he would ‘drain the swamp’ and hire ‘only the best people,’ he has continually failed to do so.”

Michele Flournoy is said to be the frontrunner for the position of secretary of defense in the Biden administration. Flournoy has deep ties with the arms industry and currently serves on the board of the defense firm Booz Allen Hamilton. 

Flournoy worked in the Pentagon under the Clinton administration and the Obama administration. In 2007, Flournoy co-founded the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a hawkish think tank that receives hefty contributions from weapons makers, major corporations, and the US government.

In 2016, Flournoy co-authored a CNAS report titled “Expanding American Power” with a group of hawks, including neoconservative Robert Kagan. The paper called for arms shipments to Ukraine, threats to Iran, increased military spending, and escalations in Syria and Iraq. 

According to The New York Times, Jeh Johnson is also in the running to be Biden’s Pentagon chief. Johnson served as the secretary of homeland security from 2013 to 2017 and currently sits on the board of Lockheed Martin.

Biden’s Pentagon Transition Team Members Funded by the Arms Industry

One-third of Biden’s Pentagon Transition Team Worked for Groups Funded by Weapons makers

Dave DeCamp /

(November 11, 2020) — On Tuesday, Joe Biden released a list of transition teams for the various departments in his future White House. The Pentagon transition team for Biden consists of 23 people, many of whom hail from hawkish think tanks.

The team is led by Kathleen Hicks, who worked in the Pentagon under the Obama administration. Hicks most recent employer is the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and Inter­na­tion­al Stud­ies (CSIS), a think tank that receives contributions from arms makers like Northrop Grumman, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon, to name a few. 

CSIS also receives contributions from governments. The think tank’s top government donors are the US, the UAE, Taiwan, and Japan. Two other CSIS employees are on the transition team; Andrew Hunter and Melissa Dalton, who both worked in the Pentagon under the Obama administration.

CSIS employees author policy papers and Op-Eds that generally call for more US involvement around the world. In August, Hicks co-authored an Op-Ed in The Hill titled, “Pentagon Action to Withdraw from Germany Benefits Our Adversaries,” a piece that slammed Trump’s plan to draw down troops from Germany, which Biden could to call off.

Two members of the transition team come from the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), Susanna Blume, a former Pentagon employee, and Ely Ratner, who served as deputy national security advisor to then-vice president Joe Biden from 2015 to 2017.

CNAS is another think tank that enjoys hefty donations from weapons makers, major corporations, and governments. From 2019 to 2020, CNAS received at least $500,000 from the US State Department and at least $500,000 from Northrop Grumman. Other donors include Google, Facebook, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin.

Three more team members list their latest employer as the RAND Corporation, Stacie Pettyjohn, a wargaming expert, Christine Wormuth, who held a few roles in the Obama administration, and Terri Tanielian, a behavioral scientist.

RAND is another hawkish think tank that receives the bulk of its funding from the US government, including the US Army, Air Force, and Department of Homeland Security. RAND is also funded by the UAE, Qatar, and NATO.

A report from In These Times found at least eight out of the 23 team members come from organizations that receive funding from US weapons makers (not including RAND). Besides the CSIS and CNAS employees listed above, In These Times includes Sharon Burke, who works for New America, Shawn Skel­ly, from CACI International, and Vic­tor Gar­cia, from Rebellion Defense.

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