JUNE 10, 2009
Foreign governments and private companies that do business with the Pentagon and have an interest in shaping its policies have treated top U.S. defense officials and employees to thousands of lavish trips worth tens of millions of dollars.
Over a period of ten years, Pentagon employees took more than 22,000 trips worth at least $26 million and each time the tab was picked up by a private company—such as a giant pharmaceutical—that does business with the agency or a foreign government that perhaps buys U.S.-made military gear.
The information was made public this week by a Washington D.C.-based investigative journalism organization that conducted a thorough analysis of Pentagon travel disclosure records from 1998 to 2007. It revealed that foreign governments—including China, Russia and United Arab Emirates—sponsored 1,500 trips worth $2.6 million and that companies that sold billions of dollars worth of merchandise to the U.S. military paid for more than 500 trips worth nearly $500,000.
Many of the first-class jaunts were to popular vacation spots such as Hawaii, Rome, Paris, Rio de Janeiro and Las Vegas. U.S. government travelers ranged from four-star military officers to junior enlisted troops. In fact, the Obama Administration’s director of national intelligence (Dennis Blair) was treated to a $3,600 trip to China by the Chinese government in 2001. At the time Blair was commander of the U.S. Pacific Command.
In 2005 a senior Pentagon official (Richard Millies) who oversaw foreign weapons sales was treated to a lavish Middle Eastern trip, worth $24,000, by the government of a country that buys lots of U.S.-made military gear. Millies and his wife flew first-class to Saudi Arabia and spent more than a week enjoying banquets, musical productions and camel races.
The medical industry paid for more travel than any other outside interest to target military pharmacists, doctors and others who operate the Pentagon’s $6 billion annual prescription drug budget. The companies dished out more than $10 million for nearly 9,000 trips, including the Paris adventure (worth $7,800) of the lieutenant colonel who heads the immunology department at the Army’s flagship medical center (Walter Reed) in Washington D.C.
With an annual budget that exceeds $500 billion, perhaps the Department of Defense should consider paying for its own travel to avoid any conflict of interest with foreign governments or companies that do business with the agency that oversees national security and the military.
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