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October 16, 2012

Pentagon: Now on Sale at The Foreign Policy Auction
Posted by The Editors

Guest Post by Ben Freeman, Ph.D.

Ben Freeman is an Investigator at the Project on Government Oversight, where he specializes in Department of Defense personnel issues, weapons procurement, and the impact of lobbying by foreign governments on U.S. foreign policy.

AuctionThe ongoing debate about Pentagon spending and sequestration is a glaring example of how special interests with deep pockets can convince policymakers that even their most absurd claims are true.

After slashing tens of thousands of jobs during years of record profits, the defense industry finances “studies” professing their ability to create jobs. While threatening to layoff off even more workers to save for their corporations’ money, big Pentagon contractor CEO’s enjoy lavish compensation packages worth more than $20 million. To put that into perspective, the Pentagon could pay more than 300 soldiers with the compensation of just one of these CEO’s.

But, Pentagon contractors aren’t the only special interest that would like to keep the spigot of taxpayer money flowing to the Pentagon. For decades, lobbyists working for foreign governments have been quietly, but effectively, working to keep Pentagon money flowing to foreign countries. From fighting to keep and expand military bases in Germany, to lobbying for sending dozens of new F-16’s to Taiwan, foreign lobbying has been instrumental in keeping the Pentagon budget bloated.

Foreign lobbying’s impact on the U.S. military is one of the few issues in America politics that can, without hyperbole, trace its roots back to Adolf Hitler. As the Nazi party came to power in Germany during the 1930’s it sought to influence citizens in other countries, particularly the U.S. On October 22, 1936 a New York Post headline read “Nazi Publicist on GOP Payroll,” and reported that the Republican State Committee was employing prop­agandists associated with U.S. Nazi groups. Outrage over this and similar incidents ultimately led to passage of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) – the first major piece of lobbying legislation at the Federal level.

Reports filed under FARA tell stories of special interest influence that are eerily reminiscent of the tactics employed by big Pentagon contractors. From making large campaign contributions on the very same day they meet with a Member of Congress to discuss a foreign client’s needs, to drafting legislation on behalf of a foreign government, there is little that many D.C. lobbyists won’t do for their foreign clients.

And, most of these governments aren’t exactly staunch U.S. allies. As I chronicle in my book, The Foreign Policy Auction, almost every country that experienced political uprisings during the “Arab Spring” lobbied in the U.S. The Egyptian government, specifically, was aggressively lobbying for U.S. non-intervention before, during, and after the revolution in Egypt. The Pakistan foreign lobby went on a lobbying blitz following the death of Osama bin Laden, in what was a relatively successful campaign that kept more than a billion dollars in U.S. military aid flowing to the country harboring the mastermind of 9/11. China routinely lobbies to discuss the U.S.’s growing debt. Even Iran has lobbyists working in the U.S.

In short, almost every major U.S. national security decision in the 21st century has been influenced by the lobbying of foreign governments.

This undermines U.S. sovereignty and costs taxpayers billions of dollars a year. Foreign lobbyists have even cost the family members of terrorist attack victims $4.5 billion, as I document in The Foreign Policy Auction. Here’s how the story goes:

Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya sponsored and carried out several terrorist attacks that killed U.S. citizens, including the bombing of France’s UTA Flight 172. After years of fighting in U.S. courts, families of UTA Flight 172 victims were awarded $6 billion in damages on January 15th 2008 by a D.C. District Court.

Two months later the Libyan government was looking for a way out of paying this hefty sum, and signed a $2.4 million contract with The Livingston Group, headed by Bob Livingston, former Republican Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Ultimately, this investment helped Libya get all their terrorist attacks forgiven, during the height of the “War on Terror,” for just pennies on the dollar.

Within a month of signing the contract, the Livingston Group had, on Libya’s behalf, contacted Minority Leader John Boehner, numerous officials at the State Department including the Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs and Secretary Condoleeza Rice’s chief of staff, as well as staffers and Members of a number of Committees including the Judiciary, Armed Services, Foreign Affairs, and Foreign Relations.

On July 31st the Libyan Claims Resolution Act that the Livingston had been pushing was introduced. By that time the firm had contacted nearly 600 Legislators, staffers, members of the Executive Branch, and other influential players on behalf of Libya, according to FARA records. The Livingston Group was even gracious enough to provide Legislators with actual legislative language and a script for discussing Libya in Congressional hearings. In short, agents working on behalf of a known terrorist were putting words in the mouths of U.S. politicians.

According to an official statement, the families of the victims of flight 772 were not pleased with the Bill because it would, “invalidate the court’s judgment, and allow Libya to avoid a court judgment. This simply cannot be what Congress intends.”

Unfortunately for the victims’ families, the bill passed both Chambers that same day. Within weeks the bill was signed into law and the U.S.-Libya Claims Settlement Agreement was signed by U.S. and Libyan representatives in Tripoli. The Agreement required Libya to pay just $1.5 billion to U.S. families who lost loved ones in all of Libya’s terrorist attacks; $4.5 billion less than the UTA Flight 172 victims’ families had been awarded just 8 months before.

The real tragedy is that Qaddhafi was neither the first nor the last terrorist to be pardoned through the work of foreign lobbyists. The State Department announced just last month that the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), or People's Mojahed in Organization of Iran was being removed from the list of foreign terrorist organizations, after years of running a well-financed lobbying, advertising, and public relations campaign.

The fact is that every single day the agents of foreign governments are working to undermine U.S. foreign policy. The Auction is always open. The only question is - which country is buying your government today?

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