Monday, December 1, 2008

Only Those With A Conscience Can Feel Shame

[A T-72 tank of the sort that Gen. Barry McCaffrey's client, Defense Solutions, delivered to the Iraqi Army. Image credit: Global Security.]

The Columbia Journalism Review article's opening sentence says it all, I think:

Is there any limit to the shamelessness of NBC News?

Above the Fold: Kaiser On NBC News And The Military-Industrial Complex

At least, they would have said it all if they'd asked Is there any limit to the shamelessness of NBC News or Barry McCaffrey?

This article, and numerous others, are the fallout from the second David Barstow article on the way that Pentagon consultants have shilled for the Iraq War without disclosing that they work for companies that can benefit from the war. As the CJR has noted, NBC and Barry McCaffrey have been particularly shameless, as Barstow points out:

General McCaffrey, 66, has long been a force in Washington’s power elite. A consummate networker, he cultivated politicians and journalists of all stripes as drug czar in the Clinton cabinet, and his ties run deep to a new generation of generals, some of whom he taught at West Point or commanded in the Persian Gulf war, when he rose to fame leading the “left hook” assault on Iraqi forces.

But it was 9/11 that thrust General McCaffrey to the forefront of the national security debate. In the years since he has made nearly 1,000 appearances on NBC and its cable sisters, delivering crisp sound bites in a blunt, hyperbolic style. He commands up to $25,000 for speeches, his commentary regularly turns up in The Wall Street Journal, and he has been quoted or cited in thousands of news articles, including dozens in The New York Times.

His influence is such that President Bush and Congressional leaders from both parties have invited him for war consultations. His access is such that, despite a contentious relationship with former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, the Pentagon has arranged numerous trips to Iraq, Afghanistan and other hotspots solely for his benefit.

At the same time, General McCaffrey has immersed himself in businesses that have grown with the fight against terrorism.

The consulting company he started after leaving the government in 2001, BR McCaffrey Associates, promises to “build linkages” between government officials and contractors like Defense Solutions for up to $10,000 a month. He has also earned at least $500,000 from his work for Veritas Capital, a private equity firm in New York that has grown into a defense industry powerhouse by buying contractors whose profits soared from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In addition, he is the chairman of HNTB Federal Services, an engineering and construction management company that often competes for national security contracts.

One Man’s Military-Industrial-Media Complex

I wrote about this relationship between Pentagon consultants and the news after the first of Barstow's articles. In particular, I wrote this:

By way of personal disclosure, I should point out that I'm employed in the defense industry. I should also add that I've encountered at least one of the individuals mentioned in this article, and that I neither like nor respect that individual. I say that only to explain that I could legitimately be accused of having a prejudice here.

No Conflict Of Interest Here

Under the circumstances, it now seems only fair to mention that the individual I had in mind when I wrote that paragraph was Barry McCaffrey. Virtually from the moment I met him, I've thought him to be a horse's ass. I don't say that with pleasure, given that I'm not identifying myself. It almost seems like sniping. Unlike Gen. McCaffrey, though, I understand that personal prejudice or profit can overcome judgment, and anyone reading this should be aware of my prejudices. I think it's sufficient to say that nothing about what I've read in Barstow's article is particularly surprising.

I should also point out that, while I'm not aware of any competition between my employer and McCaffrey's clients, it's quite possible there is one. Nearly all corporations in the defense business hire former flag officers to help market their services or products. Partly they hire them to gain better knowledge of the market, and partly they do it to gain access or influence. If my company didn't hire McCaffrey, it probably has hired a different ex-general. More than anything else, Barstow's article demonstrates that this is how the game is played these days. Nevertheless, McCaffrey seems to have played this game less fairly than most:

Access like this does not come cheap, but it was an opportunity potentially worth billions in sales, and Defense Solutions soon found its man. The company signed Barry R. McCaffrey, a retired four-star Army general and military analyst for NBC News, to a consulting contract starting June 15, 2007.

Four days later the general swung into action. He sent a personal note and 15-page briefing packet to David H. Petraeus, the commanding general in Iraq, strongly recommending Defense Solutions and its offer to supply Iraq with 5,000 armored vehicles from Eastern Europe. “No other proposal is quicker, less costly, or more certain to succeed,” he said.

Thus, within days of hiring General McCaffrey, the Defense Solutions sales pitch was in the hands of the American commander with the greatest influence over Iraq’s expanding military.

“That’s what I pay him for,” Timothy D. Ringgold, chief executive of Defense Solutions, said in an interview.

General McCaffrey did not mention his new contract with Defense Solutions in his letter to General Petraeus. Nor did he disclose it when he went on CNBC that same week and praised the commander Defense Solutions was now counting on for help — “He’s got the heart of a lion” — or when he told Congress the next month that it should immediately supply Iraq with large numbers of armored vehicles and other equipment.

One Man’s Military-Industrial-Media Complex

Defense Solutions didn't limit themselves to hiring McCaffrey. They also hired Crazy Kurt Weldon, the former Pennsylvania Congressman who is under investigation by the FBI for corruption. According to Wired magazine, they badly screwed up at least one of these contracts:

Under typical U.S. defense contracts, fees are tied to performance (thus giving the contractor an incentive to keep costs down). Defense Solutions gets its fee, regardless. And with an 8 percent fee, the more you spend, the more you earn. This would be a most unusual arrangement, at least in the United States, where cost plus percentage-of-cost contracts are prohibited under U.S. law. As federal acquisition regulations state quite clearly: "The cost-plus-a-percentage-of-cost system of contracting shall not be used (see 10 U.S.C. 2306(a) and 41 U.S.C. 254(b))."

The Pentagon's Defense Acquisition University's "ask a professor" website sums up the obvious reason for this prohibition: "A cost plus percentage of cost type arrangement would encourage the contractor to experience as much cost as possible to receive a greater amount of fee."

Why would Iraq agree to such a contract? It's not clear, but Ziad Cattan, the man the United States chose to oversee Iraq's defense procurement, signed the contract. As the LA Times reported, Cattan, has since been accused of massive corruption, much it involving no-bid contracts for Soviet-era equipment.

So, what happened to the tanks?

Well, the Soviet-era tanks had been sitting in storage for about one or two decades, Defense Solutions states in its progress report. (Copies of the documents were provided to Danger Room; the pictures above and below are taken from them.)

Problems, not surprisingly, started on day one.

Weldon's Firm Made Defective-Tank Deal With Iraq

A deal that the Pentagon wouldn't have allowed somehow found its way to McCaffrey's clients.

Those of you whose memories stretch as far back as the Clinton Administration will remember that McCaffrey was Bill Clinton's drug czar - a bizarre appointment given that he had neither law enforcement nor public health experience. You have to have a long memory to understand what's going on here. No one in the press has owned up to what's going on since the first of Barstow's articles:

The networks reacted to that Times story with a stunning wall of silence. Neither CBS nor NBC nor ABC has ever mentioned it on any of their evening news broadcasts. (Glenn Greenwald noted yesterday that clocks had been created “to count the number of days the networks blackballed Barstow’s story”; they now stand at “223 days, and counting.”)

In fact, the only time NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams ever dealt with the subject publicly came in a brief mention in his blog, nine days after Barstow’s original piece. In that posting, McCaffrey was one of just two generals who Williams specifically defended, explaining that he had become a close friend of McCaffrey. “I can only account for the men I know best,” wrote Williams, but he was sure that at “no time did our analysts, on my watch or to my knowledge, attempt to push a rosy Pentagon agenda before our viewers."

Above the Fold: Kaiser On NBC News And The Military-Industrial Complex

Glenn Greenwald showed that he could remember back to 2003 with this comment on the Barstow column:

Some of the key facts which Barstow reports concerning the improper behavior of McCaffrey and NBC News were documented all the way back in April, 2003, in this excellent article from The Nation, which Barstow probably should have credited today. That article -- entitled "TV's Conflicted Experts" -- detailed the numerous defense contractors to which McCaffrey had a substantial connection -- including Mitretek, Veritas and Integrated Defense Technologies, all featured by Barstow today -- and highlighted how the policies and viewpoints McCaffrey was advocating as a "military analyst" on NBC directly benefited those companies.

The ongoing disgrace of NBC News and Brian Williams

Williams is the prototypical network news spokesmodel - he seems to have no idea what the professional ethics or responsibilities of a journalist might be. It's not too surprising that he and McCaffrey are pals.

And when you get right down to it, that's the problem here. The defense industry, the Congress, the Pentagon, the lobbyists, and the Washington press all know each other way too well for the good of the rest of the country. They don't want to investigate each other. As Charles Kaiser observed in the CJR column, this situation shows no signs of changing. As Glenn pointed out, NBC has its own stake in the defense business:

As several commenters observe, and as I've noted before, there is an irony to this story: namely, few companies benefit more from massive military spending and wars than NBC's own parent company, General Electric. Still, the GE/NBC relationship is publicly known and, therefore, everyone can decide for themselves how reliable, if at all, NBC's reporting is on issues that directly affect the company which owns it. By important contrast, the conflicts of McCaffrey (and other analysts) have been largely undisclosed, thus deceiving viewers when these networks present them as independent analysts of America's war policies.

The ongoing disgrace of NBC News and Brian Williams

It takes a conscience to feel shame. Shameless self-promoters like McCaffrey don't feel it, and empty-headed spokesmodels like Brian Williams can't muster up the mental resources to understand why they should. The system in DC has largely cleansed itself of people who can feel shame. When people like this are in charge of what happens in our government, and what we find out about it, that conclusion is inescapable.


Dana Hunter said...

Barry McCaffery is a prime candidate for having the term "douchenozzle" applied to him in a sentence:

"Barry McCaffrey is a douchenozzle propaganda pusher, enabled by media douchenozzles who pretend that a man shilling for defense corporations and endless war has no conflict of interest."

Cujo359 said...

ROTFLMA. I need to learn to do tie-ins, don't I?