Military analysts who made frequent media appearances during the recent debate over a possible U.S. strike on Syria have ties to defense contractors and other firms with stakes in the outcome, according to a new study, but those links were rarely disclosed.
The report by the Public Accountability Initiative, a nonprofit watchdog, details appearances by 22 commentators who spoke out during this summer’s Syria debate in large media outlets and currently have industry connections that the group says can pose conflicts of interest.
In some cases, the potential conflicts were clear-cut — such as board positions and shares in companies that make weapons that probably would have been used in any U.S. action. In other instances, including work for private investment and consulting firms whose clients are not disclosed, it was not possible to know whether those speaking had an interest in the debate.
The report also notes the prominent role of seven think tanks during the debate and their close links to defense companies.
“We found lots of industry ties. Some of them are stronger than others. Some really rise to the level of clear conflicts of interest,” said Kevin Connor, the group’s director and a co-author of the report. “These networks and these commentators should err on the side of disclosure.”
In several media appearances in September, Stephen Hadley, a former national security adviser to President George W. Bush, was a forceful advocate for strikes. He told Bloomberg TV that Republicans should back the president’s use-of-force resolution and argued in a Washington Post op-ed that failure to punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons against his own people would damage U.S. credibility if military action were threatened over Iran’s nuclear program.
While Hadley’s role in the Bush administration was always noted, there was no mention of his ties to Raytheon, manufacturer of Tomahawk cruise missiles, which likely would have been fired from Navy destroyers stationed in the eastern Mediterranean in strikes against Syria. Hadley has been on the board of directors of Raytheon since 2009 and, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing from June included in the new report, owned 11,477 shares of Raytheon stock, now worth about $875,000. Hadley was also paid $128,500 in cash compensation by the company last year, according to a filing with the SEC.
In one appearance, CNN noted that Hadley is a principal at RiceHadleyGates, an international strategic consulting firm based in Silicon Valley and Washington.
Fred Hiatt, editorial page editor at The Post, said Hadley’s opinions in the newspaper’s op-ed commentary were not colored by his association with Raytheon.
“More disclosure is generally better than less, but I’m confident that Hadley’s opinion piece, which was consistent with the worldview he has espoused for many years, was not influenced by any hypothetical, certainly marginal, impact to Raytheon’s bottom line,” Hiatt said in a statement.
A spokesperson said Hadley was traveling in China and unavailable for comment.
Retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, a former commander of the U.S. Central Command, also made several media appearances to discuss the Syrian situation and cautioned that the kind of limited intervention that was being proposed has in the past been difficult to accomplish. But in the five appearances covered by the study, his ties to the defense industry were not disclosed.
Zinni has been on the board of directors of BAE Systems, a top defense contractor, since 2002 and was board chairman from 2009 to 2012. The company specializes in cybersecurity, intelligence analysis and several weapons systems. Zinni, in addition, sits on the board of advisers of DC Capital Partners, a private equity firm that focuses on investments in intelligence, homeland security and other sectors.
Reached by e-mail, Zinni said his board memberships are public. “The media who contact me for comment should post any relevant info re my background including my board positions if they desire,” he wrote.
Retired Gen. Jack Keane, a former Army vice chief of staff, made frequent appearances as well, including as a Fox News military analyst, during which he supported U.S. action against Syria. His military career and his affiliation with the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank where he is board chairman, were regularly cited.
But there was no disclosure of Keane’s ties to General Dynamics, where he has been on the board since 2004, and to SCP Partners, a venture capital firm focused in part on investments in defense and security, where he is a venture partner. General Dynamics’ Bath Iron Works is the lead designer and builder of the destroyers from which the Tomahawk missiles would have been launched. Keane’s office said he was not available to comment.
Asked about the report’s findings, Michael Clemente, executive vice president of news at Fox News, said in a statement, “We generally disclose contacts when our judgment is that it’s journalistically germane to the story.”
Two other networks where analysts covered by the report made frequent appearances, CNN and NBC, did not respond to requests for comment.