There’s long been a problematic revolving door between Congress and lobbying work on behalf of special interests. On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported on the revolving door — also plenty problematic — between the U.S. military and foreign governments, often those with a long record of human rights abuse. The armed forces have been trying to keep it a secret, too.
The Post‘s investigation — during which the outlet obtained 4,000 pages of records after a two-year legal battle with the military — found that, since 2015, more than 500 retired military personnel have taken high-paying jobs with foreign governments like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, and elsewhere. The gigs with Persian Gulf monarchies play a “critical” role in upgrading their militaries, according to the Post.
The ex-military members working for Saudi Arabia — which intelligence agencies have said is responsible for the brutal 2018 killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi — include retired Marine Gen. and former Obama National Security Adviser James L. Jones, as well as retired Army Gen. and former NSA chief Keith Alexander. The Post notes that they were able to names only some of the retired military members working for foreign governments, and that its litigation against the armed forces and State Department is ongoing as it seeks to obtain more complete information.
One well-known retired military members who has done the bidding of foreign interests is Gen. Michael Flynn, the former Trump national security adviser who pleaded guilty of lying to the FBI before being pardoned, and has since become one of America’s most prominent conspiracy theorists. Flynn made nearly $450,000 from Russia and Turkey a year after retiring from the military, but did not disclose this work to the United States. The Post notes that outside of one instance of a retired Air Force colonel receiving permission to take a job working for a satellite company owned by Russia, the documents did not show any other instances of work being done for foreign adversaries.
The practice of jettisoning active service to take huge paychecks from foreign nations with questionable — to say the least — records isn’t exactly discouraged. Retired military members must get official approval and pass background checks and reviews to do so, but as the Post notes, getting an OK to do so is “almost automatic.” The Post also found several instances of retired military taking contracting jobs in the Persian Gulf despite not having a record of securing approval. It doesn’t even matter, as there is no penalty for violating the law stating they must first get cleared.
Regardless of whether retired officials taking plum jobs developing Saudi Arabia’s defense capabilities is above or below board, it’s certainly unseemly — which is why the armed forces have gone to such great lengths to prevent the speed with which the revolving door turns a secret. “The public is working on the assumption that their sole loyalty is to the United States,” Brandon Brockmyer, investigations and research director for the the Project On Government Oversight, told the Post. “The public has the right to know whether and how a foreign power has access to their expertise.”