As a boy in the 1950s, I can remember my father, a World War II vet, becoming livid while insisting that our family not shop at a local grocery store. Its owners, he swore, had been "war profiteers" and he would never forgive them. He practically spat the phrase out. I have no idea whether it was true. All I know is that, for him, "war profiteer" was the worst of curses, the most horrifying of sins. In 1947, Arthur Miller wrote a wrenching play on the subject of war profiteering, All My Sons, based on a news story about a woman who turned her father in for selling faulty parts to the U.S. military during my father's war. It was a hit and, in 1948, was made into a movie starring Edward G. Robinson.
Now, skip 42 years. In September 1990, I wrote an op-ed for the New York Times with the title "Privatize the Pentagon," a distinctly tongue-in-cheek column suggesting that it was time for the U.S. to develop what I termed a "free-enterprise-oriented military." "Looking back," I wrote then, "isn't it odd that unlike the environment, the post office, the poor, and Eastern Europe, the military has experienced no privatizing pressures?"
No privatizing pressures? Little did I know. Today, if my dad were alive to fume about "war profiteers," people would have no idea why he was so worked up. Today, only a neocon could write a meaningful play with "war profiteering" as its theme, and my sarcastic column of 1990 now reads as if it were written in Klingon. Don't blame my dad, Arthur Miller, or me if we couldn't imagine a future in which for-profit war would be the norm in our American world, in which a "free-enterprise-oriented military" would turn out to be the functional definition of "the U.S. military," in which so many jobs from KP to mail delivery, guard duty to the training of foreign forces, have been outsourced to crony capitalist or rent-a-gun outfits like Halliburton, KBR, Xe Services (formerly Blackwater), and Dyncorp that think it's just great to make a buck off war. As they see it, permanent war couldn't be a dandier or more profitable way to organize our world.
If one giant outfit gives war profiteering its full modern meaning, though, it's Lockheed Martin. You'll know what I'm talking about when you read today's post. As much as any robber baron of the nineteenth century, that corporation has long deserved its own biography. Now, William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation, has written Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex, the definitive account of how that company came to lord it over our national security world. It's a staggering tale that would leave my father spinning in his grave. Tom
Is Lockheed Martin Shadowing You?
How a Giant Weapons Maker Became the New Big Brother
By William D. Hartung
Have you noticed that Lockheed Martin, the giant weapons corporation, is shadowing you? No? Then you haven't been paying much attention. Let me put it this way: If you have a life, Lockheed Martin is likely a part of it.
True, Lockheed Martin doesn't actually run the U.S. government, but sometimes it seems as if it might as well. After all, it received $36 billion in government contracts in 2008 alone, more than any company in history. It now does work for more than two dozen government agencies from the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy to the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency. It's involved in surveillance and information processing for the CIA, the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the National Security Agency (NSA), the Pentagon, the Census Bureau, and the Postal Service.
Oh, and Lockheed Martin has even helped train those friendly Transportation Security Administration agents who pat you down at the airport. Naturally, the company produces cluster bombs, designs nuclear weapons, and makes the F-35 Lightning (an overpriced, behind-schedule, underperforming combat aircraft that is slated to be bought by customers in more than a dozen countries) -- and when it comes to weaponry, that's just the start of a long list. In recent times, though, it's moved beyond anything usually associated with a weapons corporation and has been virtually running its own foreign policy, doing everything from hiring interrogators for U.S. overseas prisons (including at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and Abu Ghraib in Iraq) to managing a private intelligence network in Pakistan and helping write the Afghan constitution.
A For-Profit Government-in-the-Making
If you want to feel a tad more intimidated, consider Lockheed Martin's sheer size for a moment. After all, the company receives one of every 14 dollars doled out by the Pentagon. In fact, its government contracts, thought about another way, amount to a "Lockheed Martin tax" of $260 per taxpaying household in the United States, and no weapons contractor has more power or money to wield to defend its turf. It spent $12 million on congressional lobbying and campaign contributions in 2009 alone. Not surprisingly, it's the top contributor to the incoming House Armed Services Committee chairman, Republican Howard P. "Buck" McKeon of California, giving more than $50,000 in the most recent election cycle. It also tops the list of donors to Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI), the powerful chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and the self-described "#1 earmarks guy in the U.S. Congress."
Add to all that its 140,000 employees and its claim to have facilities in 46 states, and the scale of its clout starts to become clearer. While the bulk of its influence-peddling activities may be perfectly legal, the company also has quite a track record when it comes to law-breaking: it ranks number one on the "contractor misconduct" database maintained by the Project on Government Oversight, a Washington-DC-based watchdog group.
How in the world did Lockheed Martin become more than just a military contractor? Its first significant foray outside the world of weaponry came in the early 1990s when plain old Lockheed (not yet merged with Martin Marietta) bought Datacom Inc., a company specializing in providing services for state and city governments, and turned it into the foundation for a new business unit called Lockheed Information Management Services (IMS). In turn, IMS managed to win contracts in 44 states and several foreign countries for tasks ranging from collecting parking fines and tolls to tracking down "deadbeat dads" and running "welfare to work" job-training programs. The result was a number of high profile failures, but hey, you can't do everything right, can you?
Under pressure from Wall Street to concentrate on its core business -- implements of destruction -- Lockheed Martin sold IMS in 2001. By then, however, it had developed a taste for non-weapons work, especially when it came to data collection and processing. So it turned to the federal government where it promptly racked up deals with the IRS, the Census Bureau, and the U.S. Postal Service, among other agencies.
As a result, Lockheed Martin is now involved in nearly every interaction you have with the government. Paying your taxes? Lockheed Martin is all over it. The company is even creating a system that provides comprehensive data on every contact taxpayers have with the IRS from phone calls to face-to-face meetings.
Want to stand up and be counted by the U.S. Census? Lockheed Martin will take care of it. The company runs three centers -- in Baltimore, Phoenix, and Jeffersonville, Indiana -- that processed up to 18 tractor-trailers full of mail per day at the height of the 2010 Census count. For $500 million it is developing the Decennial Response Information Service (DRIS), which will collect and analyze information gathered from any source, from phone calls or the Internet to personal visits. According to Preston Waite, associate director of the Census, the DRIS will be a "big catch net, catching all the data that comes in no matter where it comes from."
Need to get a package across the country? Lockheed Martin cameras will scan bar codes and recognize addresses, so your package can be sorted "without human intervention," as the company's web site puts it.