The Former US Military Top-Brass Working for Companies Profiting from Drone Warfare

There's a revolving door between the US army and the companies paid multi-million dollar contracts to support drone warfare.

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Aug 20 2015, 3:05pm

An MQ-9 Reaper Drone. Image via Wikimedia

Generals and other top military staff who ran the US "Drone Wars" in the Middle East now work for the top drone firms, with lucrative positions at private contractors holding big contracts to help run the remotely controlled killing machines.

Supposedly "targeted killings" by drones have led to international concern, as victims of "surgical strikes" carried out by the unmanned weapons include wedding parties in Yemen, friendly-fire killings of Afghan soldiers, and nearly 200 children in Pakistan.

So, wreaking mass death from above is a negative, but on the positive side they have also led to big contracts for defense firms. A Bureau of Investigative Journalism report identified a bunch of large companies that have major contracts for analyzing data and providing other support work that drones need to operate.

The Bureau found a booming private business dedicated to helping the American military decide if and when the unmanned aircraft should launch their missiles and kill people. This was a new, privately run info-war, with companies on contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars supporting the "intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance" (ISR) that makes drones kill.

Now a separate analysis by VICE reveals a revolving door between the parts of the military responsible for drone attacks, and the private firms that have lucrative contracts to support drone warfare. In other words, ex-Generals are using their cache as military experts to work for drone companies with a financial interest in promoting new forms of war.

General James Mattis in 2012. Photo via US Naval War College

To take one example, ex-General James Mattis is on the board of General Dynamics. General Dynamics is a drone manufacturer and has held a contract for analyzing footage from drones. They are both involved in the old fashioned "physical" war and the new "info" war.

Mattis—who declared in 2005 that it was "fun to shoot some people" in the Afghan conflict—was the head of Centcom in 2010 until 2013. Centcom is the US Department of Defense's Central Command in charge of all operations in the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia. As head of Centcom, Mattis "oversaw the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and was responsible for a region that includes Syria, Iran, Yemen."

Mattis is now regularly quoted in the media calling for a firmer military stance in the Middle East. He even testified recently at Congress alongside Jack Keane—another former General (and architect of the "Surge" in Iraq) who also sits on the General Dynamics board. In January, Mattis warned Senators against "mindless sequestration"—budget cuts—because America has to use "its ability to intimidate to ensure freedom for future generations" with more "forward-deployed forces overseas," and a military prepared for different types of warfare "including the pervasive cyber domain." I guess that would be the domain that his employer operates in.

Consultants Booz Allen Hamilton were also identified as a drone war firm, with a contract for "supporting special operations." Last February, Booz Allen hired US Army Chief Information Officer Lieutenant General Susan Lawrence as a Senior Vice President. Lawrence had also been the Commanding General of "Netcom"—the US Army Technology Command, in charge of all their "Command, Control, Communications, and Computers." She was in charge of the technology which was used for the surveillance of the battlefield enemy.

Lieutenant General Lawrence's first public appearance for Booz Hamilton this year involved showing off the firm's cyber capabilities at a military conference organized by the "Association for the United States Army" attended by "key leaders from the Army, Department of Defense, and Congress."

General Ann E Dunwoody. Photo via US Army

L-3 Communications won a contract for imagery analysis and earned $155 million over five years from 2010. The company boasts that, "Many of L-3's top business leaders are former military personnel." Their board includes General Ann E Dunwoody. She is the first woman to become a four star general. She was put in charge of the US Army Materiel Command by George Bush in 2008 until her retirement in 2012. This position included responsibility for the research and development of weapons systems. Now L-3 can draw on that experience.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism identified a lesser known firm—Ohio based MacAulay Brown—which has had contracts to "support targeting, information operations." The firm's advisory board includes Lieutenant General Rhett Hernandez. Until 2013 he was "the first Commander of Army Cyber Command," in charge of what the firm described on its website as "building a cyber force of more than 17,000 people" for the US Army. The company boasts, "He developed strategic direction, requirements, and an acquisition approach for all cyberspace operations in the Army." Hernandez could be a valuable asset as America outsources the building of a cyber force to companies such as MacAulay Brown.

Britain's BAE Systems is another company gaining from drone wars. They have contracts for "video analysis" and other drone-supporting work with the US military. The arms company has tried to attract the talent of the military-security establishment to the top of their corporate structure, but its US board lacks an equivalent of the former generals and drone war specialists found in other arms firms.

Lower down the totem pole, however, BAE has appointed this kind of staff. They seem to have had a hard time hanging on to their expertise. John "Jack" McCracken was BAE's director for "Global Analysis" in its "Systems Intelligence & Security" group in Washington, which hires many ex-military "intelligence analysts." According to BAE, Jack McCracken "holds extensive experience conducting joint and combined intelligence operations in the Middle East." He worked in Washington for the "US Special Operations Command"—the "anti-terror" command, which runs many of the drone attacks in the Middle East. McCracken helped them form relationships with the "national intelligence community," upon which the drone wars rely to identify targets.

Robert Fectau, previously "Chief Information Officer" for the "US Army Intelligence & Security Command," went on to become the Chief Information Officer for BAE's "Systems Intelligence & Security" group.

McCracken appears to have left BAE, while Fectau joined their competitor—a US firm called SAIC—"a leading services and solutions provider for homeland security, military, defense, intelligence, and other government agencies."

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In 1961 US President Eisenhower spoke of a new danger in American politics—a "conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry." He warned that, "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."

Concern about this military-industrial complex has waxed and waned ever since Eisenhower's warning. During the height of the Iraq War, the obvious sins of politically connected contractors like Halliburton or Blackwater became a big political issue. But the turn to drones has taken the war on terror off the front pages, not least by reducing western casualties.

Nevertheless, the military-industrial complex is fully exploiting the drone wars, as rich companies encourage, enable, and profit from a new wave of IT-enabled killing. This is all with a little help from their new employees, freshly recruited from the ranks of the US military top brass.

Follow Solomon Hughes on Twitter.

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