Reprinted from www.corpwatch.orgby Pratap Chatterjee, Special to CorpWatch
August 7th, 2016
A New York Times investigative report shows
that General Atomics helped fund the Center for Strategic and
International Studies (CSIS), a major think tank in Washington DC, when
it recommended that the Obama administration loosen export rules to
allow the company sell more remotely piloted aircraft (popularly called
"We'll have to cut back staff ... if we can't make sell to the Marines or (make) some more overseas sales or something like that. It's significant," Frank Pace, president of General Atomics' aircraft systems group, told Reuters in November 2013.
The very same month, the company dispatched two staff - John "J.R." Reid and Tom Rice - to attend a private working group on drones convened by Samuel Brannen, deputy director of the CSIS International Security Program. Brannen, who began his career as an intern at CSIS in 2002, had just returned to the organization after a four year stint as a policy planner at the U.S. Department of Defense.
Memos obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the New York Times showed that the group met four times in November and December of that year to help Brannen shape a set of recommendations. One session was titled: "Political obstacles to export." Brannen's final 28 page report "Sustaining the U.S. Lead in Unmanned Systems" was published online the following February. The report's introduction acknowledged that General Atomics had provided financial support.
"I came out strongly in support of export," Brannen wrote in an email to Kenneth Handelman, the deputy assistant secretary of state for defense trade controls, soon after the report appeared. "And I'm broadly concerned by DoD's (Department of Defense) lack of vision on umanned. So what's knew?" he joked.
After the report was published Brannen and CSIS continued to push the export agenda, hosting briefings at their offices on the subject that featured members of the working group. One year after the CSIS report was published, the U.S. announced that it would allow drone sales to the United Arab Emirates.
"Think tanks are seen as independent, but their scholars often push donors' agendas, amplifying a culture of corporate influence in Washington," wrote Eric Lipton and Brooke Williams in the New York Times in article about Brannen's work.
CSIS is now back tracking from the thank you note that Brannen published in the report. "The funding from General Atomics in 2013 was not project-based support," John Hamre, the chief executive, said in his statement to the New York Times. "General Atomics' membership contribution was a very small amount of money--probably 5 percent of our average project size - and was handled via an exchange of letters rather than a formal (memorandum of understanding) because it registered as membership support."
The company also provided a response to the New York Times. "General Atomic Aeronautical Systems supports independent research that enhances understanding of the role that unmanned aircraft systems play across the defense and national security community," the company wrote. "CSIS did not preview or share its findings with our company at any point prior to publication, as is indicated in the report itself."
The donations by General Atomics pale in comparison to the checks written by Boeing and Lockheed Martin who have together donated over $77 million to over 20 think tanks in the last five years or so, including CSIS. Both companies have major contracts to support the U.S. military drones.