America’s Defense Associations: Key Elements in US Security and War Machinery

With the Washington Post’s series on Top Secret America (a Pulitzer Prize for summarizing what everyone already knew) hitting the streets, it’s appropriate to take a quick look at a few of the national security non-profits that operate betwixt and between the public and private sectors, many holding their own classified briefings and conferences. These Washington, DC defense associations operate in similar fashion to the many Think Tanks in the area who are also non-profits. Unlike the Think Tanks though, they have local chapters nationwide housed near many military and defense contracting facilities, as well as major research universities. This potentially provides the defense association’s membership with influence right down to the state and local levels.  Through feast and famine their rallying cry never changes: there’s never enough money to meet strategic, operational and tactical objectives or the strategic, operational and tactical requirements are wrong. It’s always about avoiding the next “train wreck.”

Defense non-profits like the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) also represent the non-military interests of members such as Boeing—at once a defense contractor and commercial airline manufacturer. In fact, James Albaugh, dual hat XVP of Boeing and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, sits on the Aerospace Industries Association’s Board of Governors and the Executive Committee.  The defense associations, like the heavyweight corporations they speak for, maintain Boards of Directors/Trustees who are nearly always only six degrees of separation apart. For example, you’ll just as easily find a member of Northrop Grumman Corporation on the AIA roster as you will on that of the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA).

Defense association presidents and officers are generally paid very well for networking, sitting on this and that board of directors or trustees, and representing their member’s interests.  The individuals that run these associations are nearly all spun out of the revolving door of the federal government whether they were employed in a civilian, military or paramilitary capacity. In addition to compensation packages they receive from their own associations (they all “serve at the discretion of the Board of Directors/Trustees” and have their salaries approved by them), they receive retirement packages for their years employed by the federal government and rank/grade achieved. That includes health care, social security and other perks (commissary shopping, for example) that fall mostly to former employees of one of the military branches.

Defense associations are allowed to lobby Congress spending up to $1 million per year. Most defense non-profits, like AUSA and NDIA have legislative agendas that are based on membership demands. And there is an added and unspoken benefit:  it’s extremely difficult to know where the dividing line between education and lobbying is. That’s the beauty of the non-profit defense association. With so many Directors/Trustees,  conferences, trade shows, classified meetings and networking done behind closed doors (between military and civilian personnel at all levels) it’s impossible to know who leaking insider information to whom or who is on the receiving end of that crucial nod or wink.

Selective Service

Gordon Sullivan, a retired US Army General, received $638,000 in 2008 from the Association of the US Army (AUSA). That includes compensation received from all sources according to its 2008 IRS Form 990*. AUSA had revenues just over $32 million according to the IRS document.

Amongst the many items that AUSA is spending its lobbying money on is ensuring the survivability of Selective Service Boards.  “We must also continue the Military Selective Service Act that provides a database allowing a rapid mobilization in times of national emergency as well as the Standby Selective Service Boards.” [MF: since this story was published, some of the AUSA pages have been deleted, and thus the links have been removed.]

Yes, indeed.  If the USA intends to destroy Iran; fight Mexico’s drug war; entrench itself in Iraq and Afghanistan; continue to send armed forces into Pakistan; fully fund AFRICOM; encircle China and Russia with missile defense systems; cut taxes, health care programs, pensions and social security; allow income inequality to increase in America; watch the US infrastructure (roads, water systems, communities and people) collapse; and develop predominant national culture of war, then Sullivan better make sure that those Draft Boards are ready for either domestic revolution or WWIII. Shooting for an end-strength of 700,000 isn’t going to be enough.

NDIA made the news some time ago for its opposition to a proposal (by Rep. Maloney (D) and Sen. McCaskill (D)) for a database—FAPIIS–that would list government contractors who were penalized with fines or disbarred for various types of malfeasance.  That database is up and running.

In 2007, Lawrence P. Farrell, a retired USAF lieutenant general, made $909,433 in total compensation (with a benefit plan contribution of $35, 931) as President of the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) according to its IRS Form 990 for 2007. An FPDS entry on June 2010 indicates NDIA had revenue of $27 million.

NDIA, like AUSA and most of the defense associations that rest inside the Washington, DC, Beltway, are classified as IRS 501 (C) (3) organizations and are tax exempt. Their charters invariably indicate that they are “educational” groups though that’s sometimes a stretch.

For example, NDIA facilitates conferences for “legal and ethical” interaction between commercial contractors and civilian and military employees of the federal government. In this sense, it is a trade association. But it also provides scholarships to worthy college students and defense community awards for exceptional service. For the most part, though, the business of the non-profit is to put private and public sectors together to explore contracting opportunities for everything from weapons systems to uniforms.

NDIA has a long and distinguished history working in the defense community promoting the interests of the Defense Industrial Base (defense contractors) and the nation’s national security. Starting as the Army Ordnance Society in 1919, it publishes one of the oldest and finest defense publications in the USA—National DEFENSE. National DEFENSE is managed by Sandra Erwin, one of the most underrated national security reporters and analysts in the national security community. National DEFENSE’s stories are timely and insightful with depth. Erwin has kept the publication “21st Century” with the support of Farrell who is also the magazine’s publisher.

It shouldn’t be long before Danger Room, the Wired Magazine Blog (Conde Nast/Advanced Publications), strikes out on its own to form its own magazine. The model for that will be National DEFENSE though it’ll be interesting to see if they will stand the test of time. National DEFENSE has been around since 1926.

F-35 Obsolete?

Before changing its name to NDIA the group was known as the American Defense Preparedness Association and was led by US Army Ordnance/Material Command legends Larry Skibbie (LTG, USA Ret.) and Bill Eicher (MG, USA Ret.). Under their guidance, a salvage operation of the financially failing National Security Industrial Association was completed.  Skibbie and Eicher laid the foundations that have allowed Farrell to expand NDIA’s membership and widen NDIA’s reach. NDIA recently joined with its equivalents in Canada and the UK to find more contracting opportunities in anticipation of the inevitable “train wreck.”

The AIA head, Marion Blakely, was paid just over $800,000 in 2008 according to its IRS Form 990. Blakely was a controversial figure as head of the Federal Aviation Administration. While there, her imposition of new work rules (that led to pay cuts) caused many of the FAA’s most experienced air traffic controllers to retire (nearly 30 percent). She would later claim she was shocked that so many would leave their positions because of the pay cuts. Her predecessor, John Douglass, former Assistant Secretary for the Navy (RDD) under Bill Clinton received a severance package of $623,616.

The AIA recently had a posting on its main website that the F-35 Lightening is already obsolete and that the Obama Administration should consider next generation alternatives to the fledgling aircraft “as foes advance.”

So as every defense association group gets set to hop-to on behalf of its membership, the question is: Who is willing to sacrifice? The answer to that has surely has to be all or none.

Farrell’s recent editorial is largely on track.

Maintaining wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is high cost. Global dominance is very expensive. Prepositioning for the challenge of the BRIC’s is high cost. Invading and occupying Iran will be high cost. Keeping fuel prices low is tough. Sending a converted Ohio Class sub to kill/capture 10 members of AQ is expensive. Creating a perpetual war state out of a Republic—that is ostensibly a democracy—is costly.

But if these are the things that America’s leaders really want, then by all means let’s stop dancing around the matter. Start printing dollars, get Sullivan’s Draft Board’s up and running, declare total war footing, ramp up the defense industrial base and COCOM’s, and re-create the world in America’s image.  Stop doing it piecemeal.

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*Form 990’s are free online. Guide Star is a good source. Register there for free.

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4 thoughts on “America’s Defense Associations: Key Elements in US Security and War Machinery

  1. Just thinking aloud here…. Perhaps the end state of spending ourselves into the ground will be an American glasnost and perestroika, after which the United States can celebrate its independence from its “sorrows of empire.”

  2. To Dr. Marilyn Dudley-Flores:

    Maybe… But 1- the dependence of euro-american (and Chinese, Brazilian, Indian…) industrial societies on fossil fuels (and equally devastating and inefficient nuclear power), 2- the intellectual and moral failure of their elites, 3- their incapacity to leave the tragic western dogma of economic growth that destroys both nature and humans, 4- The capitalist inner dynamics regarding value and surplus 5- The habitus from centuries of colonial plunder even among non-western elites 6- The limited, partial, sectorial understanding of the challenges by honest, critical intellectuals and activists (specially the strengh of the dogma of growth from socialists to capitalists, the internalized western dominance, the fear of thinking beyond industrialism, the false promises of green capitalism, or even degrowth ‘light’ recycled in a capitalist, postcolonial order…)
    All this will lead to more empire (even if US role is diminished in the transnational decision-making), more military build-up, more wars, more ecological devastation. One can doubt USAns and all citizens of the “civilization of plastic” will have anything to celebrate in the coming years.

  3. Dear Karim,

    I was being somewhat facetious, like the sweet lemonesque way some Russians describe the “independence” from their former republics now gone their own way. But, I’m glad you responded. There’s a lot that you’ve put on the table to unpack and discuss. I especially find intriguing your mention of the fear of thinking beyond industrialism and the false promise of green technology. I’ll try to get one of my OPS-Alaskans to post over his blog a piece he called “Who Shilled the Electric Car?” and provide a link. It’s a lengthy observation he made to a Member of Congress about the Zap vehicle.

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