This front page story on General Barry McCaffrey is very troubling, and brings into focus how military commerce is in need of some house-cleaning and ethical reforms. I also must add it is imperative that networks, such as NBC, do a better job of alerting viewers to the background business interests of military men like McCaffrey, who are used as network analysts and policy proponents.
Through seven years of war an exclusive club has quietly flourished at the intersection of network news and wartime commerce. Its members, mostly retired generals, have had a foot in both camps as influential network military analysts and defense industry rainmakers. It is a deeply opaque world, a place of privileged access to senior government officials, where war commentary can fit hand in glove with undisclosed commercial interests and network executives are sometimes oblivious to possible conflicts of interest.
Few illustrate the submerged complexities of this world better than Barry McCaffrey.
The consulting company he started after leaving the government in 2001, BR McCaffrey Associates, promises to “build linkages” between government officials and contractors like Defense Solutions for up to $10,000 a month. He has also earned at least $500,000 from his work for Veritas Capital, a private equity firm in New York that has grown into a defense industry powerhouse by buying contractors whose profits soared from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In addition, he is the chairman of HNTB Federal Services, an engineering and construction management company that often competes for national security contracts.
Many retired officers hold a perch in the world of military contracting, but General McCaffrey is among a select few who also command platforms in the news media and as government advisers on military matters. These overlapping roles offer them an array of opportunities to advance policy goals as well as business objectives. But with their business ties left undisclosed, it can be difficult for policy makers and the public to fully understand their interests.
On NBC and in other public forums, General McCaffrey has consistently advocated wartime policies and spending priorities that are in line with his corporate interests. But those interests are not described to NBC’s viewers. He is held out as a dispassionate expert, not someone who helps companies win contracts related to the wars he discusses on television.