9 Iran pundits with undisclosed ties to the defense industry

Since Trump ordered the drone attack that killed Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, television news has been filled with commentary on the strike and its implications. An investigation by Popular Information reveals that numerous pundits appearing on cable TV to opine on Iran have undisclosed financial ties to the defense industry. 

This is significant because defense contractors and other entities that do business with the Pentagon profit from war. They sell the products that make war possible. If there is more fighting, they will sell more weapons. That’s why weapons manufacturers saw their stock prices spike after Soleimani was killed. 

A television pundit that’s in business with defense contractors will not necessarily advance arguments to benefit their clients. But these financial ties are the relevant context for the viewer. Instead, these pundits are generally introduced only by their former government positions and presented as dispassionate analysts. Viewers are not told of the pundits’ current role in the private sector or their defense industry ties. 

Popular Information assembled this information by reviewing transcripts of segments about Iran appearing on Fox News, Fox Business, and CNN between January 3 and January 7. Transcripts of segments about Iran on MSNBC’s primetime shows over the same time period were also reviewed. (Transcripts of MSNBC’s daytime programming were not available.)

It is a small slice of the overall coverage of Iran. But it illustrates how a significant portion of the information about foreign policy broadcast to Americans comes from people with undisclosed financial conflicts.

Joe Lieberman

Joe Lieberman appeared on Fox News and Fox Business on January 6. He was identified as the “United Against Nuclear Iran chairman and former Democratic vice-presidential candidate.” 

Lieberman praised Trump’s assassination of Soleimani as “bold” and “unconventional.” He dismissed critics of the strike as motivated by “partisanship and anti-Trump feeling.” Lieberman also argued that it was “very clear from the Constitution and common sense” that Trump had the legal authority to conduct the strike.

Neither Lieberman nor Fox News disclosed that Lieberman works for Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), an Israeli weapons manufacturer that recently opened an office in DC “with the aim of winning new contracts in the United States.” Lieberman, who was hired through his law firm, Kasowitz Benson Torres, was brought on to “strategically advise IAI in its activities in the U.S. and its relations with the Department of Defense.” The company hopes “to substantially increase sales in the United States, which last year amounted to about a billion dollars.”

William Cohen

William Cohen appeared on CNN on January 5. He was identified as the “former secretary of defense under President Clinton.”

Cohen argued for a continued presence for U.S. troops in the region, saying “without the U.S. there, they're going to get [a] much greater level of threat and much greater violence.” Cohen warned that “we leave, ISIS makes a comeback, Al Qaeda, and certainly the Iranians have greater influence.”

Neither Cohen nor CNN disclosed that he is chairman and CEO of The Cohen Group, a global consulting firm. According to its website, The Cohen Group “assists aerospace and defense firms on policy, business development and transactions.” The firm touts that it “has assisted [defense] clients to compete for and win tens of billions of dollars in contracts.”

Michael Chertoff

Michael Chertoff appeared on CNN on January 7. He was identified as the “former Homeland Security Secretary under President George W. Bush.”

Chertoff defended Trump’s legal authority to conduct the strike, saying Trump had “the ability to respond without a formal declaration of war.” Chertoff also praised Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, an Iran hawk who has been leading the public defense of the assassination, as “very capable” and “smart.”

Neither Chertoff nor CNN disclosed that Chertoff is chairman of the board of the American subsidiary of BAE Systems, the fourth largest weapons manufacturer in the world. 

Dave Deptula

Dave Deptula appeared on CNN on January 4. He was identified as a former “Air Force Lieutenant.” 

Deptula said he believed Pompeo’s claim that “Soleimani was planning and in charge of and getting ready to orchestrate operations that would result in the death of hundreds of Americans.” He praised Trump for acting with “incredible restraint and prudence over the last 18 months.” He called Trump’s assassination of Soleimani a necessary measure “to defend American interests and personnel in the region.”

Neither Deptula nor CNN disclosed that he is the Dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, which is part of the Air Force Foundation. The purpose of the Mitchell Institute is to “empower our nation’s leaders by… [e]ducating about aerospace power's unique role in securing America's global interests.” The Air Force Foundation is financed by numerous large defense contractors, including BAE Systems, Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

John Negroponte

John Negroponte appeared on Fox News on January 3. He was identified as “the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq [and] the United Nations under George W. Bush.”

Negroponte said that the killing of Soleimani was not an “act of war” but “an act of self-defense.” He suggested that Soleimani’s death could “reduce Iranian capabilities” and “cause demoralization throughout their paramilitary forces.”

Neither Negroponte nor Fox News disclosed that Negroponte now serves as the Vice-Chairman of McLarty Associates, an international lobbying firm that represents the defense industry. According to the firm website, McLarty Associates has “helped defense and aerospace companies achieve their goals in key markets all over the globe,” which includes assistance selling “airplanes [and] other defense products.”

James Stavridis

James Stavridis appeared on CNN on January 6. He was identified as “a former NATO supreme allied commander and author of the book ‘Sailing True North.’”

Stavridis said the killing of Soleimani was “a tactical move that takes a very dangerous chess piece off the board” but that the Trump administration currently lacked “a strategy.” He called the security strategy produced by Trump’s former National Security Adviser, H.R. McMaster, a “pretty good document.”

Neither Stravridis nor CNN disclosed that Stravridis is the Chair of the Board of Counselors at McLarty Associates, the international lobbying firm that represents the defense industry clients.

Mark Kimmitt

Mark Kimmitt appeared on CNN on January 7. He was identified as “a former state and Defense Department official under George Bush and former deputy director of coalition forces in Iraq.”

Kimmitt said critics of the drone attack on Soleimani were “overblowing this whole situation” because Soleimani was “a legitimate battlefield target.” (It’s unclear what battlefield Kimmitt was referencing since the United States is not formally at war with Iran.) 

Neither Kimmitt nor CNN disclosed that, since 2011, Kimmitt has worked as a consultant for companies in the defense industry at his own firm, MTK Defense Consultants

Don Bramer

Don Bramer appeared on Fox Business on January 6. He was identified as a “former naval intelligence officer.” 

During the segment, Bramer said he “absolutely” supported Trump’s decision, saying that it was needed response to threats from Iran. He downplayed opposition to Trump’s actions in the international community. 

Neither Bramer nor Fox News disclosed that Bramer founded a lobbying firm, The Bramer Group. As Media Matters reported, Bramer is currently a registered lobbyist for three defense contractors ⁠— ​ARCH Global Precision, ​Kongsberg Protech Systems, and MSI-Defense Systems US.

Dan Hoffman

Dan Hoffman appeared on Fox News on January 7. He was identified as a “former CIA station chief.”

In a brief appearance on Hannity, Hoffman said it was the role of the intelligence community to look at “the world through those twisted Iranian eyes” and make a judgment about Iran’s intentions moving forward. 

Neither Hoffman nor Fox News disclosed that Hoffman is on the advisory board of the BGR Group, a government relations firm. The BGR Group “represents a number of major defense companies focused on shaping and informing U.S. national security policy.” As an advisory board member, Hoffman “provides strategic advice and counsel to BGR clients.”

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