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Foxes watching the hen house? DC insiders oversee Biden defense plans – Responsible Statecraft

Posted by M. C. on January 26, 2023

After years at the trough, these govt. contractors are now empowered to judge how billions are spent on a key national security strategy.

Written by
Eli Clifton

Earlier this month, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees named eight commissioners who will review President Joe Biden’s National Defense Strategy and provide recommendations for its implementation.

But the Commission on the National Defense Strategy, which is tasked with “examin[ing] the assumptions, objectives, defense investments, force posture and structure, operational concepts, and military risks of the NDS,” according to the Armed Services Committees, is largely comprised of individuals with financial ties to the weapons industry and U.S. government contractors, raising questions about whether the commission will take a critical eye to contractors who receive $400 billion of the $858 billion FY2023 defense budget.

The potential conflicts of interest start at the very top of the eight-person commission. The chair of the commission, former Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), sits on the board of Iridium Communications, a satellite communications firm that was awarded a seven-year $738.5 million contract with the Department of Defense in 2019.

“Iridium and its Board members follow Iridium’s Code of Business Conduct and Ethics and all rules and regulations applicable to dealings with the U.S. government,” Iridium spokesman Jordan Hassin told Responsible Statecraft.

A January 11 press release announcing the commission’s roster cited Harman’s current board memberships at the Department of Homeland Security and NASA but made no mention of her Iridium board membership, which paid her $180,000 in total compensation in 2021. Harman held 50,352 shares in Iridium, now worth approximately $3 million, in March 2022, according to the company’s disclosures.

“The members of the Commission on the National Defense Strategy each hold long records of ethical public service and national security leadership,” a Senate Armed Services Committee spokesperson told Responsible Statecraft. “The commissioners have committed to adhering to all government ethics policies to prevent any potential conflicts of interest. Congress will provide responsible oversight throughout the Commission’s work.”

That oversight will be complicated, judging by the financial ties to government and defense contractors held by six of the eight commission members.

“Lets face it, the National Defense Strategy and the Commission on the National Defense Strategy are flipsides of the same coin,” Mark Thompson, national security analyst at the Project on Government Oversight, told Responsible Statecraft. “Both are heavily infected by Pentagon spending and Pentagon contractors.”

“These folks have a vested interest in spending more,” said Thompson. “In Washington’s national security community, the way you get credibility is to work at think tanks funded by defense contractors or serving on boards of defense contractors.”

Indeed, Thompson’s characterization of who has “credibility” appears to be reflected in appointments to the Commission.

Commission member John “Jack” Keane serves on the board of IronNet, a firm that describes itself as providing “Collective Defense powered with network detection and response (NDR), we empower national security agencies to gain better visibility into the threat landscape across the private sector with anonymized data, while benefiting from the insight and vigilance of a private/public community of peers.” The firm’s 2022 second quarter report made clear that IronNet is dependent on government contracts.

“Our business depends, in part, on sales to government organizations, and significant changes in the contracting or fiscal policies of such government organizations could have an adverse effect on our business and results of operations,” the report said.

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