“Five of the nation’s biggest defense contractors — Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon Technologies and General Dynamics — spent a combined $60 million in 2020 to influence policy, according to a new report from the Center for Responsive Politics.”
“The paper, “Capitalizing on conflict: How defense contractors and foreign nations lobby for arms sales,” details how a network of lobbyists and donors steered $285 million in campaign contributions and $2.5 billion in lobbying spending over the last two decades, as well as hiring more than 200 lobbyists who previously worked in government.
The amount of money at stake is immense, both at home and abroad, the center states on its website, OpenSecrets.org. Not only is a significant portion of the Pentagon’s $740 billion annual budget spent on weapons, the report explains, but American defense firms agreed to sell $175 billion in weapons to other countries over the last year. That includes deals to sell $23 billion in F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and drones to the United Arab Emirates, and billions more in sales to Taiwan and Saudi Arabia, it adds.
The practice appears unlikely to change significantly under the Biden administration. The report notes that while President Joe Biden issued an order restricting officials who leave the White House from quickly lobbying the executive branch or registering as foreign agents, several of his appointees have ties to the defense industry. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, for example, sat on Raytheon’s board before joining the administration.
And since Biden’s inauguration, the report states, the State Department has approved the sale of $85 million in missiles from Raytheon to Chile, and a $60 million deal between Lockheed Martin and Jordan to provide F-16 Fighting Falcons and services.
Foreign nations that are among the arms industry’s biggest customers also spend heavily to influence U.S. policy, often to the tune of tens of millions of dollars in spending covered by the Foreign Agents Registration Act. However, the report notes that some nations that spend the most, such as South Korea and Japan, focus more on trade and commercial issues than military spending.
Australia, the United Arab Emirates, Taiwan and Saudi Arabia are some of the other major buyers of American weapons.
Defense lobbyists are also among the best-connected in Washington, D.C., the report states. Of the 663 lobbyists working for defense contractors, nearly three-quarters used to work for the federal government — the highest percentage of any industry, according to the report.
“These connections make for cozy relationships and highly useful contact lists,” the report says. “Overworked and underpaid congressional staffers can also hope that lucrative lobbying jobs await them at the same companies who come to them pushing their own agendas.”
The so-called “revolving door” also exists on Capitol Hill, the report adds. Over the last 30 years, nearly 530 staffers have both worked for a member of the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees of both houses of Congress or the Defense Appropriations subcommittees, and then as a lobbyist for defense companies.
The report highlights former Defense Secretary Mark Esper as an example of the revolving door in action. Esper worked for the Senate Foreign Relations and House Armed Services committees in the late 1990s and early 2000s, as well as an assistant deputy secretary of defense, before moving to Raytheon’s government relations office. After seven years in that job, President Donald Trump made him secretary of the Army and then head of the Defense Department.”
“It was a striking passage in a Christmas Eve Washington Poststory about a company that helps small businesses get contracts from nearby big corporations. “These small suppliers have been heavily reliant on the health of big companies in their regions,” it read. “If you are in Houston, your business lives and dies with oil and gas. In the Midwest, it’s automotive. Boston caters to medical device companies. Washington is well known for its aerospace and defense.”
Well, it may be well known now, but that’s a relatively recent phenomenon. Defense-contractor headquarters tended to be where the factories were, far away from the decision-makers in D.C. Lockheed and Northrop were in California, for example, and General Dynamics was in St. Louis.
But General Dynamics moved to D.C.’s Virginia suburbs in 1991. “Winning contracts is not just a function of providing the necessary aircraft or submarine,” a St. Louis-based defense industry analyst said when the move was announced. “There also, sorry to say, are politics that get involved in a lot of these decisions. It’s something that’s difficult to quantify, but you know it does have a place in these decisions.”
Lockheed shuttered its California headquarters in 1995 after it merged with Martin Marietta. The deal reflected “Southern California’s dwindling role as a mainstay of the U.S. aerospace industrial complex,” the Los Angeles Times reported at the time. “Lockheed Martin chose Martin Marietta’s home of Bethesda, Md., for its headquarters, formally ending Lockheed’s long domicile in the San Fernando Valley.”
Northrop moved to Falls Church, Va., in 2010. “We think we’ll be able to do a better job for our customers and our company by having our corporate office there,” Northrop chief Wes Bush said back then. “
That’s really not a surprise. The surprise is how much more they cost than we’ve been told.
It might help to think of the nation’s post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq like a pair of icebergs. The Pentagon has a web page that tells us how much we’ve each paid for the wars. But that only tells us how much of those icebergs we can see above the waves. While it includes totals for war fighting, it doesn’t track the Pentagon’s bigger war budget, interest paid on money we’ve borrowed to fight the wars, veterans’ care, and other ancillary costs. There’s a whole lot more hidden beneath the waves. The real issue isn’t whether the cost of war is high; the issue is why the U.S. government keeps under-estimating it, and why U.S. citizens and taxpayers keep tolerating it.
The cost versus benefit of the nation’s post-9/11 wars was highlighted December 9 when the Washington Post began publishing a blockbuster series detailing how poorly the war in Afghanistan is going. The series is based on more than 400 internal government interviews that the Post largely pried from the congressionally created and independent Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction under the Freedom of Information Act. The stories show how U.S. government officials have misled the American public over the past 18 years by publicly declaring how well the war was going while privately acknowledging the opposite.
It echoes much of the analysis on Afghanistan we’ve done regularly here at the Military Industrial Circus (May 2017’s “What kind of military willingly walks onto a perpetual treadmill when the chance of prevailing is next to nil?”) about the rampant truth-fudging (August 2017’s “One can only take the constant spinning for so long before becoming dizzy and cynical over can-do officers who can’t-do.”), the hiding of key indicators about the war’s progress from the American people who are paying and dying for it (November 2017’s “When things are going well, there’s no shutting up the Pentagon.”), and the blindness of our national leaders through three administrations (last March’s “American hubris is always amazing to see, especially in hindsight.”).
For those too young to remember, the nation’s seemingly never-ending post-9/11 wars began as an invasion of Afghanistan. It was designed to crush its Taliban-run government for offering sanctuary to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda prior to the 9/11 attacks. But it quickly morphed into a “Global War on Terrorism” that has involved U.S. military action in about 80 nations. In 2003, the U.S. also invaded Iraq, arguing—wrongly as it turned out—that Baghdad had weapons of mass destruction and played a role in the 9/11 attacks.
The global war on terrorism has killed 7,028 Pentagon personnel, both military and civilian, since 9/11 (at least 7,800 others, employed by private U.S. contractors, have also died in Afghanistan and Iraq.) But its mission creep has also created a non-nuclear chain reaction: The U.S. repeatedly decided it needed more troops, which has led to more veterans. Many of those heroes thankfully have survived wounds that would have killed them in prior wars. But that will boost the cost of their care for decades to come. The Department of Homeland Security, which the government cobbled together from existing agencies in 2003, was padded out with its own bureaucracy. The State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development got their own off-budget accounts too. And the federal government began borrowing money to pay for all this.
You might think, as a taxpayer, that you could just wander over to defense.gov and look up the cost of those two wars. After all, they’ve been the Pentagon’s focus, fiscally and otherwise, for nearly 20 years. But you’d be wrong. The Pentagon, whether reporting on wars or weapons, is remarkably opaque when it comes to spelling out how much they cost. So outsiders have had to step in to make cents of how much our recent wars have cost.
Even more amazingly after nearly 20 years of war, keeping track of how much the U.S. is spending on the wars may be getting tougher. “In some instances, DOD, State Department and Department of Homeland Security Budgets are opaque,” notes a recent report by the Costs Of War Project, which consists of a team of about 50 experts. “Indeed, because of recent changes in budgetary labels and accounting at DOD, DHS, and the State Department, understanding the costs of the post-9/11 wars is potentially even more difficult than in the past.”
Those interested in minimizing war’s costs will limit their ledger to what the Pentagon actually is spending on combat. A more complete accounting will add in additional military spending routinely ladled into Pentagon coffers during wartime. A still-fuller accounting will add veterans’ care, homeland security, and interest on the money we’ve borrowed to fight the war.
There’s a lot of wishful thinking involved when the U.S. is thinking of going to war. If the government were simply sloppy and slipshod, its estimates would be both low and high. But invariably, they are low, which suggests there’s a motive to the math: Low-balling the cost of war makes it more likely war will happen.
The bureaucratic imperative of how the Pentagon buys its wars and weapons is the “buy-in,” a rosy projection designed to show that the conflict or hardware is a relative bargain. Yet once the war or hardware has achieved escape velocity, its price begins escalating.
The Pentagon argues the nation’s investment in any particular piece of shiny new weapon has grown so massive that abandoning the effort would send those sunk costs spinning down the drain. Likewise, war costs soar because of mission creep—rebuilding Afghanistan instead of simply ousting the Taliban following the attacks of September 11, 2001, for example—and concern that pulling out before achieving victory would mean the lives of those Americans already killed in the effort would have been wasted.
Of course, no one can predict the final cost of a war before it has begun. Yet before it begins the government tends to speak of a war’s monthly cost. In Iraq, for example, that led to an early claim that the war would cost $2 billion a month, totaling perhaps $50 billion. Those relatively low numbers, in Pentagon terms anyway, grease the skids to war.
But watch how they grow.
The litany of minimized post-9/11 war-cost estimates is long. It got off to an ignoble start when one White House official suggested the Iraq war might cost more than his finger-crossing political masters wanted to admit. In September 2002, White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey played the skunk at the Garden of Eden party (Iraq has several sites vying to be the biblical paradise) when he suggestedthe Iraq war’s cost to the U.S. could range between $100 billion and $200 billion. He tried to gussy up his then-exorbitant estimate: “The successful prosecution of the war,” he argued in the Wall Street Journal, “would be good for the economy.”
Nonetheless, Lindsey was unceremoniously combat-booted from the White House three months later. Mitch Daniels, the director of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget at the time, said the war’s cost couldn’t be estimated. But he declaredLindsey’s estimate was “likely very, very high.”
By January 2003, two months before the invasion of Iraq, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld uncharacteristically deferred to Daniels’ bean counters when it came to projecting the war’s cost. “Well, the Office of Management and Budget has come up with a number that’s something under $50 billion for the cost,” saidRumsfeld, who seemingly rarely embraced others’ views when he believed strongly in his own.
In April 2003, just after the U.S. invaded Iraq, the Pentagon saidthe Iraq war would cost about $2 billion a month. But three months later, Rumsfeld raised lawmakers’ eyebrows when he doubledits estimated monthly cost to $3.9 billion (along with nearly $1 billion a month for Afghanistan).
The avarice avalanche had begun.
By July 2006, nearly five years after the 9/11 attacks, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) saidCongress “has appropriated about $430 billion to DOD and other government agencies for military and diplomatic efforts in support of GWOT [the Global War on Terrorism].” (You know you’ve reached the Big Time in Washington when your pet project rates its own acronym.) That translated into about $7.4 billion a month.
But the numbers were squishy. “GAO’s prior work found numerous problems with DOD’s processes for recording and reporting GWOT costs, including long-standing deficiencies in DOD’s financial management systems and business processes, the use of estimates instead of actual cost data, and the lack of adequate supporting documentation,” top U.S. Bean Counter David Walker (officially known as the Comptroller General of the United States, the position that runs the GAO), told a congressional panel. “As a result, neither DOD nor the Congress reliably know how much the war is costing.”
“[N]either DOD nor the Congress reliably know how much the war is costing.”
DAVID WALKER, COMPTROLLER GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES
That’s quite a statement coming from the congressional Bookkeeper-in-Chief.
By 2014, the Congressional Research Service said that the U.S. had spent $1.6 trillion “for military operations, base support, weapons maintenance, training of Afghan and Iraq security forces, reconstruction, foreign aid, embassy costs, and veterans’ health care for the war operations initiated since the 9/11 attacks.” That worked out to about $10.3 billion a month.
But even that eye-watering sum misses the mark. The Costs of War Project has spent the past decade pawing through government documents to try to tote up the post-9/11 wars’ total cost. Its latest calculation, released in November, says the U.S. will have spent $5.4 trillion on the global war on terrorism by the end of the current 2020 fiscal year, along with an additional $1 trillion for veterans’ care beyond that. That’s about $20,000 per American.
“There are many hidden or unacknowledged costs of the United States’ decision to respond to the 9/11 attacks with military force,” the group, run out of Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, says on its website. “We aim to foster democratic discussion of these wars by providing the fullest possible account of their human, economic, and political costs, and to foster better informed public policies.” The group’s work is largely funded by the Carnegie Corporation, the Colombe Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, and Boston and Brown universities.
“We go to war with optimistic assumptions” of duration, cost, and casualties, says Neta Crawford, head of Boston University’s political science department and one of the Costs of War Project’s leaders and author of its latest study. “Most people believe that force is effective, but the history of war is that [winning] doesn’t happen at least half the time,” Crawford told POGO.
And it isn’t just fusty academics who feel that way. “No government-wide reporting consistently accounts for both DOD and non-DOD war costs,” advises an April reportfrom the Congressional Research Service. Not only hasn’t the government been able to win its post-9/11 wars; after nearly two decades it can’t tell us how much it has spent failing to do so.
Put that in your howitzer and light it.
Something to keep in mind the next time the Pentagon predicts a war is going to cost $2 billion a month.”
The U.S. sold $55.4 billion worth of weapons to allies and partners around the globe in fiscal year 2019.
Lt. Gen. Charles Hooper, the head of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency: “We’re gonna win this thing folks. Working together — industry, private sector, the implementing agencies, DoD, State — all of us. We’re gonna win this thing.”
“After essentially giving a green light to Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria to attack the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) forces, President Trump took a slight turn when he declared that there would be severe economic consequences for Turkey if the intervention was not carried out in a “humane” fashion.
If the president were to take action to try to stem a military incursion that he helped facilitate, he could start by cutting off support for Turkey’s military, which is heavily dependent on U.S.-supplied equipment.
The most effective thing the president or Congress could do to hamper Turkey’s military efforts is to cut off spare parts and sustainment of its U.S.-supplied weapons, both of which are crucial to the continued operation of the Turkish military machine.
Of 333 combat aircraft possessed by Turkey, 53 are older generation F-5 fighter planes, and 280 are fighter/ground attack planes that are all variants of the F-16, which is co-produced in Turkey. Turkey also has 31 U.S.-origin C-130 transport aircraft.
The United States has supplied the majority of Turkey’s more than 2,400 Main Battle Tanks, including over 900 variants of the M-1 and 850 older generation M-48s, which were purchased in the 1960s and 1970s and modernized in the mid-1980s. In addition, over two-thirds of Turkey’s more than 3,600 armored personnel carriers are U.S.-made M-113s.
U.S. arms sales are often justified on the grounds that they create “interoperability” with key allies so they can fight alongside the U.S. in a crisis. It is less often noted that arms sales also pose substantial risks that U.S.-supplied weapons may be used to abuse human rights, attack civilians, or otherwise act in a fashion contrary to U.S. interests. The most egregious recent example of this phenomenon has been Saudi Arabia’s use of U.S. arms to bomb civilians in Yemen and spark the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Turkey’s invasion of Syria is another example of U.S. arms being misused. The Turkish action should be a cautionary tale for Congress as it grapples with how best to monitor and control U.S. arms transfers.
Congress has already taken a large step forward in recent years in its attempts to cut off U.S. arms and military assistance to the brutal Saudi-led war in Yemen, from using the War Powers Resolution to voting down specific arms sales. Unfortunately, these unprecedented efforts have been vetoed by President Trump, in part under the false assumption that arms sales to Saudi Arabia are a major boon to the U.S. economy.
President Trump’s lack of knowledge of how arms sales work was on display once again when he cited Turkey’s role in producing components for the U.S. F-35 combat aircraft as a reason to maintain the alliance in the face of Turkey’s unacceptable and potentially devastating intervention in Syria. In fact, the United States has suspended Turkey’s involvement in the F-35 program in a dispute over Ankara’s decision to buy Russian S-400 air defense systems. Either someone forgot to tell the president, or he was just engaged in the sort of fact-free riffing that has become one of his hallmarks.
To add insult to injury, it ends up U.S. weapons are being used on both sides of the current battle in Syria. A fact sheet produced by the Center for International Policy’s Security Assistance Monitor has pointed out that the vetted Syrian opposition – including Syrian Kurdish forces – have received roughly $2 billion in U.S. “train and equip” assistance, including a $300 million request in Fiscal Year 2019. But it’s not a fair fight. The Kurdish forces have received mostly rifles, ammunition, and rocket launchers, while Turkey has U.S.-supplied fighter planes, tanks, and bombs.
In the 1970s, when U.S.-armed Greek and Turkish forces were fighting each other in Cyprus, it was a significant factor in prompting Congress to pass the Arms Export Control Act, which forced the Pentagon to inform Congress of major arms sales in advance and set up a mechanism for Congress to block sales that were not deemed to be in the national interest. Perhaps it’s time for an overhaul of that act that strengthens Congress’s leverage over arms sales decisions, perhaps by requiring positive Congressional approval before sensitive sales move forward. It’s time to highlight the risks of runaway arms trading, not just the alleged benefits.”
WilliamHartung is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy. He is the author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex (Nation Books, 2011) and the co-editor, with Miriam Pemberton, of Lessons from Iraq: Avoiding the Next War (Paradigm Press, 2008). His previous books include And Weapons for All (HarperCollins, 1995), a critique of U.S. arms sales policies from the Nixon through Clinton administrations.
“A whopping six Chinese companies have stormed into the top 15 global defense firms according to a new report by Defense News, which released its annual Top 100 list of the biggest defense companies in the world.
The burgeoning Chinese defense industry has blown past the majority of its US counterparts while leaving virtually all of Europe in the dust, according to a new study of the global defense market.”
“The top Chinese company on the list, Aviation Industry Corporation of China, boasts an estimated revenue from defense sales of $24 billion, pushing past traditional US defense giants General Dynamics and BAE Systems. The company has also inched within roughly a billion in revenue of fellow behemoths, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman, both of which pulled in just over $25 billion in 2018.
Two other Chinese companies, China North Industries Group Corporation Limited, and the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation, made the top 10.
Pentagon officials have long bemoaned the Chinese government’s ability to order industry to respond quickly — and completely — to its demands. The new report shines a spotlight on the gravity of those complaints while shining a spotlight on secretive Chinese defense industry.
During his recent nomination hearing to become the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Mark Milley said when it comes to military technology and doctrine, “China went to school on us,” telling the Senate Armed Services Committee, “they watched us very closely in the First Gulf War, the Second Gulf War. They watched our capabilities. And in many many ways, they have mimicked those, and they have adopted many of the doctrines and organizations.”
Some of the huge technological strides Beijing has made recently come as the result of rules that require foreign companies to share their technological expertise in exchange for access to China’s vast market. Using those technologies, combined with a willingness to spend, has allowed Chinese defense companies to grow at an astounding rate.
A Defense Intelligence Agency report released in January said that this state of affairs isn’t likely to change any time soon: “China has the political will and fiscal strength to sustain a steady increase in defense spending during the next decade, which will help support PLA modernization, develop an integrated military-civilian defense industry, and explore new technologies with defense applications,” the report concludes.
Given the poor transparency rules governing Chinese companies and China’s poor record of disclosing defense spending these companies could well be much larger than estimated. “
EDITOR’S NOTE: We have often discussed the inefficient one year budget cycle of the US Government and recommend changes. The One Year Budget Cycle Must Go. Robert F. Hale was comptroller and chief financial officer at the Defense Department from 2009 until 2014. As you will see in his opinion below, he heartily agrees.
“WHY DOD’s YEAR-END SPENDING NEEDS TO CHANGE”
“As the end of the fiscal year approaches at the Department of Defense (DoD), organizations are working hard to spend all the funds which are available for use only during the current fiscal year.
The pithy rationale for these actions: “Use it or lose it.”
We need to find practical ways to apply the brakes to year-end spending so that DoD funds only its highest-priority needs.
DoD spending spikes sharply during the final week of the fiscal year. (To be technically correct, by “spending” I am referring to entering into contracts or otherwise obligating funds.) In a 2010 report researchers from Harvard and Stanford Universities showed that, based on data for the years 2004 to 2009, final-week spending at DoD was more than four times higher than the average weekly spending during the rest of the year. Similar trends occurred at other federal agencies.
The spike doesn’t necessarily mean that year-end funds are wasted. Many year-end funds buy construction-related goods and services, office equipment, and IT equipment and services. These items are needed, but they do not directly support the most critical DoD mission needs, such as training and military readiness. Moreover, research on federal IT spending suggests that final-week purchases are of lower quality than those made during the rest of the year, and I suspect the same finding applies to other categories of spending. The surge in spending may also lead overworked contracting officers to push out lower-quality contracts.
Making operating funds available only for one year works against good resource allocation in another way. Resource managers must estimate forthcoming bills for services in the final month of the fiscal year (for example, final bills for electricity and water) and obligate the funds before year’s end. They have to estimate on the high side because, if their estimate is low, they risk violating the federal anti-deficiency laws. High estimates for routine services leave fewer funds available for mission-critical activities such as training and readiness.
Year-end spending worries federal employees, and it should worry taxpayers too. For several years the Obama Administration conducted a SAVE campaign (Securing Americans’ Value and Efficiency), which asked federal employees to suggest ways to make government more efficient. In my role as DoD comptroller, I reviewed suggestions related to DoD. I was struck by how many employees urged that year-end spending be reduced. A 2007 survey of DoD financial management and contracting professionals showed the same result. Almost all respondents expressed concerns about year-end spending.
The law already has some provisions designed to avoid year-end spending spikes. For example, only 20 percent of major operating budgets are supposed to be spent during the final two months of the fiscal year. But this provision still leaves room for final-week spikes.
Congress could help by passing DoD appropriations on time – that is, by October 1. Late appropriations push even more spending toward the end of the year and may exacerbate year-end spending. Unfortunately, Congress has not provided DoD with an on-time appropriation during any of the Obama years, and it will apparently not do so again this year.
But Congress can help by permitting DoD to carry over a small percentage of its operating budgets (perhaps 5 percent) into the next fiscal year. This flexibility would not increase the total funds available to DoD. However, for funds eligible for carry over, managers could decide whether to buy that office furniture for the headquarters at the end of the year or wait and let other needs compete for the funds next year. There is some evidence that carry-over authority helps. Our Harvard and Stanford researchers found that, at one federal agency that had such authority (the Department of Justice), final-week spending spikes were much smaller.
While serving as DoD’s comptroller, I tried to persuade Congress to permit the Department to carry over small amounts of its operating funding into the next fiscal year. I made a few converts, but not enough to make it happen.
The next administration should try again to secure carry-over authority.”
“The number of cyber incidents reported by federal agencies jumped more than 1,300 percent, from 5,503 to 77,183, over the 10 years through fiscal 2015.
This is not just a theoretical warning.
Federal information security has been on the high-risk list of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) since 1997, and the situation has only grown worse.
These statistics, at once sobering and alarming, were included in a GAO report presented to the President’s Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity this week. The report was in the form of a statement from Gregory C. Wilshusen, the GAO’s director of information security issues.
“Over the last several years, we have made about 2,500 recommendations to agencies aimed at improving their implementation of information security controls,” Wilshusen said. “These recommendations identify actions for agencies to take in protecting their information and systems. For example, we have made recommendations for agencies to correct weaknesses in controls intended to prevent, limit, and detect unauthorized access to computer resources. … However, many agencies continue to have weaknesses in implementing these controls, in part because many of these recommendations remain unimplemented. As of September 16, 2016, about 1,000 of our information security–related recommendations have not been implemented.”
Ineffective cyberprotection “can result in significant risk to a broad array of government operations and assets,” he added.
Press secretary Jamal Brown of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) responded by saying that “cybersecurity is one of the most important challenges we face as a nation. Over the last nearly eight years, federal agencies have made significant progress in strengthening their overall cybersecurity posture. Yet, as cyber threats continue to evolve and grow, we must remain vigilant in our efforts to combat them.”
Among of those efforts was release of a first-ever cybersecurity workforce strategy and implementation of the Cybersecurity National Action Plan, which established the commission that heard Wilshusen’s statement.
“GAO’s recommendations to the commission are important and welcomed,” Brown said.
These examples from Wilshusen show how broad that array can be: “Sensitive information, such as intellectual property and national security data, and personally identifiable information, such as taxpayer data, Social Security records, and medical records, could be inappropriately added to, deleted, read, copied, disclosed, or modified for purposes such as espionage, identity theft, or other types of crime.”
In June 2014, the Office of Personnel Management announced that personal information, including Social Security numbers, belonging to 22 million federal employees and others had been hacked. That is the largest announced cybertheft but far from the only one. The private sector also has been repeatedly hit by cyberthieves.
“These threats come from a variety of sources and vary in terms of the types and capabilities of the actors, their willingness to act, and their motives,” Wilshusen said. “For example, advanced persistent threats — where adversaries possess sophisticated levels of expertise and significant resources to pursue their objectives — pose increasing risks.”
In a March report to Congress, the OMB linked the rising number of cybersecurity incidents to “an increase in total information security events and agencies’ enhanced capabilities to identify, detect, manage, respond to, and recover from these incidents.”
Although the report indicates that about 40 percent of the GAO’s recommendations have not been implemented at any one time, in an interview, Wilshusen said the government’s long-term record is significantly better. Within four years, 88 percent to 90 percent of the recommendations are followed, he said by phone. “Over time,” he added, “the agencies do a pretty good job of implementing our recommendations.”
The GAO offered several recommendations, including strengthening oversight of government contractors that provide information-technology services. That was a lesson learned the hard way through the OPM breach. In 2014, the GAO found that five of six selected agencies “were inconsistent” in their oversight of contractor cyber controls.”
“Entrepreneurs and innovators in commercial industry are just as patriotic as those who work in the traditional defense industry. They’re not comfortable on the long lead time and very long development cycles.
They are not comfortable inside the Federal Acquisition Regulations.
Startup companies and young entrepreneurs were largely absent from the Air Force Association’s air, space and cyber conference this week, an issue that came to a head Sept. 21 during a discussion among the Air Force’s top officers.
To speed the acquisition of commercial technologies and bring new companies into the fold, Defense Department leaders have been reaching out to firms in technology hubs such as Silicon Valley, Boston and Austin. But the AFA conference in National Harbor, Maryland, one of the most prominent annual defense industry expositions, was dominated by traditional contractors that have been doing business with the Pentagon for decades.
A panel of four-star and three-star general officers was asked by an audience member about the notable absence of the non-traditional companies that defense officials have been courting.
“Why would you expect to see a millennial at the opera?” said Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, commander of Air Force Materiel Command. “By that I mean the forum that’s here for AFA and the booth concept is not the environment that the entrepreneurial community that … we engage with is one that they come to.”
“It’s not of interest to them,” she added. “That’s not their culture.”
The Defense Department will have to court them, not the other way around, she said. Pentagon officials must make a concerted effort to meet them on their turf, she noted.
“We have to reach out to the forums and to the venues that they go to,” she said. “That will put some of us out of our comfort zone that we’re used to participating in, but that is the way we have to draw them in.”
Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has made several high-profile trips to Silicon Valley and other centers of innovation. Last week, the Pentagon chief attended a TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco, where he tried to persuade cyber technologists to work for or do business with the Defense Department
At a venue where a Pentagon official wearing a business suit looked like a fish out of water, Carter fielded tough questions. Some, including one about marijuana use, would be considered way out-of-left-field if they had been asked at a traditional industry conference.
Pawlikowski noted that she attended a venture capitalist conference in Los Angeles focused on space issues, with positive results.
“After I finished, I had about a dozen venture capitalists come up to me wanting [me] to know that they had entrepreneurs that were interested in getting involved in this business and [asking] how could they get involved” with the Defense Department, she said.
But the Pentagon’s acquisition process sometimes causes headaches for those involved in outreach efforts to non-traditional industry and startup companies.
Air Force Materiel Command has made a concerted effort to draw in commercial firms with small business innovative research funding, Pawlikowski said.
“What we found though that is if we just leave it up to our usual devices of going out and putting out, ‘Here’s our topics we’re interested in,’ we will get shall we say the more traditional small business” to respond, she said.
“It doesn’t necessarily attract the entrepreneurial business base as a general rule,” she added. “In fact, sometimes our definition of a small business actually makes it hard for that entrepreneurial business base to participate, because if a venture capitalist invests in an entrepreneur then they no longer qualify as a small business, for example.”
Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, echoed concerns about the hurdles thrown up by the often cumbersome acquisition process.
The Pentagon has been pursuing different paths of engagement, he noted.
“What we have to do and what we have been doing is trying to nurture relationships with those small companies by placing bets and asking them hard questions and giving them some time to chew on them,” he said.
They’re wiling to give their intellect to the questions we’re willing to ask,” he said. “We just have to find an environment that they’re comfortable operating in.”
“Americans today enjoy a measure of safety that our ancestors would envy and that our contemporaries do envy.
We generally do not need to wage war to keep it that way.
On the contrary, some recent wars have degraded the U.S. military and undermined our security. Policymakers should therefore be extremely reluctant to risk American lives abroad.
The U.S. military is the finest fighting force in the world; it comprises dedicated professionals who are willing and able to fight almost anywhere, practically on a moment’s notice. Any military large enough to defend our vital national security interests will always be capable of intervening in distant disputes. But that does not mean that it should. Policymakers have an obligation to carefully weigh the most momentous decision that they are ever asked to make. These criteria can help.
Any nation with vast power will be tempted to use it. In this respect, the United States is exceptional because its power is so immense. Small, weak countries avoid fighting in distant disputes; the risk that troops, ships, or planes sent elsewhere will be unavailable for defense of the homeland generally keeps these nations focused on more proximate dangers. The U.S. government, by contrast, doesn’t have to worry that deploying U.S. forces abroad might leave America vulnerable to attack by powerful adversaries.
There is another factor that explains the United States’ propensity to go abroad in search of monsters to destroy: Americans are a generous people, and we like helping others. We have often responded favorably when others appeal to us for assistance. Many Americans look back proudly on the moments in the middle and latter half of the 20th century when the U.S. military provided the crucial margin of victory over Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and the Soviet Union.
But, in recent years, Americans have grown more reluctant to send U.S. troops hither and yon. There is a growing appreciation of the fact that Washington’s willingness to intervene abroad – from Somalia and the Balkans in the 1990s, to Iraq and Afghanistan in the 2000s, to Libya and Yemen in the present decades – has often undermined U.S. security. We have become embroiled in disputes that we don’t understand and rarely can control. Thus, public anxiety about becoming sucked into another Middle Eastern civil war effectively blocked overt U.S. intervention in Syria in 2013, notwithstanding President Obama’s ill-considered red line warning to Bashar al Assad.
But while the American people are unenthusiastic about armed intervention, especially when it might involve U.S. ground troops, most Washington-based policy elites retain their activist instincts. They believe that U.S. military intervention generally advances global security and that the absence of U.S. leadership invites chaos. The essays in this series, “Course Correction,” have documented the many reasons why these assumptions might not be true. The authors have urged policymakers to consider other ways for the United States to remain engaged globally – ways that do not obligate the American people to bear all the costs and that do not obligate U.S. troops to bear all the risks.
But the authors do not presume that the United States must never wage war. There are indeed times when it should. Policymakers should, however, keep five specific guidelines in mind before supporting military intervention, especially the use of ground troops. Doing so would discipline our choices, would clearly signal when the U.S. military is likely to be deployed abroad, and could empower others to act when the United States does not.
Vital U.S. National Security Interest at Stake
The United States should not send U.S. troops into harm’s way unless a vital U.S. national security interest is at stake. Unfortunately, the consensus in Washington defines U.S. national security interests too broadly. Protecting the physical security of the territory of the United States and ensuring the safety of its people are vital national security interests. Advancing U.S. prosperity is an important goal, but it is best achieved by peaceful means, most importantly through trade and other forms of voluntary exchange. Similarly, the U.S. military should generally not be used to spread U.S. values, such as liberal democracy and human rights. It should be focused on defending this country from physical threats. The military should be poised to deter attacks and to fight and win the nation’s wars if deterrence fails.
The criterion offered here is more stringent, for example, than the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine, which held that U.S. troops should not be sent overseas “unless the particular engagement or occasion is deemed vital to our national interest or that of our allies.” By effectively equating U.S. national interests with those of our allies, it allowed for a range of interventions that would not be considered automatically valid under the guidelines spelled out here. Policymakers should not risk the lives of U.S. troops to protect others’ interests as though those interests were our own.
Clear National Consensus
The American people must understand why they are being asked to risk blood and treasure and, crucially, they must have a say in whether to do so. The U.S. military should not be engaged in combat operations overseas unless there is a clear national consensus behind the mission.
Although modern technology allows constituents to communicate their policy preferences easily, traditional methods are just as effective in ascertaining whether the American people support the use of force. We should rely on the tool written into the Constitution: the stipulation that Congress alone, not the president, possesses the power to take the country to war.
As Gene Healy notes in this series, Congress has regularly evaded its obligations. Although the U.S. military has been in a continuous state of war over the past 15 years, few in Congress have ever weighed in publicly on the wisdom or folly of any particular foreign conflict. Some now interpret Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty or United Nations Security Council resolutions as obligating the United States to wage war without explicit authorization from Congress. This is unacceptable. The president may repel attacks against the United States, but the authority to deploy U.S. forces abroad, and to engage in preemptive or preventative wars of choice, resides with Congress — and by extension the people — of the United States.
Understanding of the Costs—and How to Pay Them
We must also understand the costs of war and know how we will pay them before we choose to go down that path. We cannot accurately gauge popular support for a given military intervention overseas if the case for war is built on unrealistic expectations and best-case scenarios. There is no such thing as a free lunch, and there is certainly no such thing as a free war.
Deficit spending allows the federal government to pretend otherwise. Politicians make promises, with bills coming due long after they’ve left office. But we should expect more when it comes to the use of force. Advocates for a military intervention should be forced to frame their solution in relation to costs and benefits. The debit side of the ledger includes the long-term costs of care for the veterans of the conflict. Hawks must also explain what government expenditures should be cut – or taxes increased – to pay for their war. The American people should have the final say in choosing whether additional military spending to prosecute minor, distant conflicts is worth the cost, including the opportunity costs: the crucial domestic priorities that must be forgone or future taxes paid.
Clear and Obtainable Military Objectives
We cannot compare the costs or wisdom of going to war if we do not know what our troops will be asked to do. The U.S. military should never be sent into harm’s way without a set of clear and obtainable military objectives.
Such considerations do not apply when a country’s survival is at stake. But wars of choice — the types of wars that the United States has fought in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and elsewhere — are different. Advocates for such wars must demonstrate not only that the fight is necessary to secure vital U.S. interests, that it has public support, and that it has funding, but also that the military’s mission is defined and attainable.
Military victory is rarely sufficient, however, as our recent wars and interventions demonstrate. In the case of regime-change wars, ensuring that a successful transition to a stable, friendly government occurs can take a considerable amount of time and resources. Whatever replaces the defeated forces must represent a marked improvement in order for the war to advance U.S. vital interests. U.S. leaders, therefore, must not only define the military objective, but also detail what the resultant peace will look like, and how we will know the mission is complete.
It is easy for Washington to start wars, but we cannot leave U.S. troops on the hook for ending them. Policymakers must account for the tendency of war to drag on for years or more, and they must plan for an acceptable exit strategy before committing troops.
Use of Force as a Last Resort
The four criteria above are not enough to establish a war’s legitimacy, or the wisdom of waging it. After all, modern nation-states have the ability to wreak unimaginable horror on a massive scale. That obviously doesn’t imply that they should. Thus, the fifth and final rule concerning military intervention is force should be used only as a last resort, after we have exhausted other means for resolving a foreign policy challenge that threatens vital U.S. national security interests.
This point is informed by centuries-old concepts of justice. Civilized societies abhor war, even those waged for the right reasons while adhering to widely respected norms, such as proportionality and reasonable protections for noncombatants. War, given its uncertainty and destructiveness, should never be entered into lightly or for trivial reasons.
America has an exceptional capacity for waging war. U.S. policymakers therefore have a particular obligation to remember that war is a last resort. Precisely because no one else is likely to constrain them, they must constrain themselves.
U.S. foreign policy should contain a built-in presumption against the use of force. That does not mean that war is never the answer, but rather that it is rarely the best answer. Americans today enjoy a measure of safety that our ancestors would envy and that our contemporaries do envy. We generally do not need to wage war to keep it that way. On the contrary, some recent wars have degraded the U.S. military and undermined our security. Policymakers should therefore be extremely reluctant to risk American lives abroad.
The U.S. military is the finest fighting force in the world; it comprises dedicated professionals who are willing and able to fight almost anywhere, practically on a moment’s notice. Any military large enough to defend our vital national security interests will always be capable of intervening in distant disputes. But that does not mean that it should.”
The outbound lane on Carter’s new bridge is the DIUX, the much-publicized project to put Pentagon reps in Silicon Valley, Boston, Austin and (soon) other high-tech hotspots around the country. The inbound lane is the Defense Digital Service, which brings civilian techies into the Pentagon.
“A SWAT Team Of Nerds”
The Defense Digital Service is “a SWAT team of nerds,” said Chris Lynch, the DDS director. They spend a year or more at the Defense Department helping with particularly knotty and important problems. “On this particular trip,” explained to reporters on Secretary Carter’s plane en route to the TechCrunch conference, “we’re going to meet with some high-profile engineers to try to convince them to come out for at least a year to serve their country.”
To ease that transition, Lynch’s outfit is consciously counter-cultural. He’s made a point of wearing jeans and sneakers from day one. His team call themselves and any friends they find in the bureaucracy “the Rebel Alliance.”
The “service” is also awfully small. “We have about 18 people today,” Lynch said, and they are working on half-a-dozen projects.
“Our goal is to stay small and be very selective about the projects that we’re engaged in,” Lynch said. Defense agencies, services, and commands come to him to pitch their projects, but which ones DDS ultimately takes on is in large part guided by the personal interests, expertise, and passion of the individuals who join the service. The service doesn’t try replace the people already working on a problem for the Defense Department. Instead, DDS aims to help defense insiders over crucial hurdles with a well-timed infusion of outsider knowledge, then move on.
But how can less than 20 people make an impact on the two million-strong Department of Defense? “This model has been proven out many, many times over history, in particular at DoD,” Lynch said. “Small, highly empowered teams can actually make history and can change things.”
“The Department of Defense got to pull off the first ever federal bug bounty,” Lynch said. “It’s probably the last place that a lot of people would have thought it would have happened.”
Now the effects are “cascading “across the federal government, , said D.J. Patil, the Chief Data Scientist at the White House, speaking alongside Lynch. Just as the Defense Digital Service was the catalyst to get the Defense Department to move, the Defense Department’s example is the catalyst getting other agencies to move.
“Since the Department of Defense launched this first-ever Hack the Pentagon bug bounty program, we have seen a number of other departments who have said, ‘oh, that was really good, we’re going to go do that too,’” said Patil.
Marijuana? Maybe. Treason? No.
The audience at TechCrunch seemed more than a little skeptical of Carter’s pitch. Their questions ranged from the National Security Agency to digital privacy, Edward Snowden — a traitor to many in the Pentagon but a hero to many here — and even drug use.
What if a really good engineer went to Burning Man and decided to “partake in some goodies,” the moderator asked. Would that disqualify them from working for the Pentagon?
“Times change,” Carter said. “The laws change respecting marijuana…. Yes, we can be flexible in that regard.”
The call to serve their country “animates a lot of people,” the secretary said, “but they want to know if it can be done in a way that’s consistent with their lifestyle, their values, with everything else that’s important in their lives.” The Pentagon needs to meet them halfway.
But some things cannot change. Asked if the president should pardon Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor who illegally disclosed vast archives of highly classified material, Carter refused to comment on individual cases but came down emphatically against leaks.
“All of us who enjoy the public trust and handle classified information have the responsibility” to safeguard it, Carter said. That does not mean we have the right to tell the world secrets that we personally feel uncomfortable keeping. “To arrogate to oneself the authority to (disclose) something that’s been trusted to you,” he said, “that is something we can’t condone.”
The cultural divide is very real. The day after his talk at TechCrunch, Carter went to Austin to announce a new DIUX outpost to be hosted by the Capital Factory there. A poster on the wall quoted Buckminster Fuller on the need to “reorient world production away from weaponry,” and a local reporter asked whether techies working with DIUX should be worried their technology would be “militarized” or “misused.”
“We’re actually looking to reach out and build bridges to people who have not worked with us before — and yes, that includes people who have reservations,” Carter replied, “because I think when they get to know us, they’ll learn two things. The first is the United States military conducts itself in a way that I think makes people proud,” Carter said. “We’re extremely careful in what we do that we don’t harm civilians. No other military is as scrupulous.”
“The other thing they’ll discover,” Carter continued, “is the great satisfaction that comes from knowing, when you go to bed at night, that you spent your day doing something that contributes to the security of the country and a better world.”