QI Brief
47

March of the Four–Stars: The Role of Retired Generals and Admirals in the Arms Industry

This piece was co-written by Dillon Fisher, Democratizing Foreign Policy Program Intern.

Executive Summary

The revolving door between the U.S. government and the arms industry, which involves hundreds of senior Pentagon officials and military officers every year, generates the appearance — and in some cases the reality — of conflicts of interest in the making of defense policy and in the shaping of the size and composition of the Pentagon budget.

This report looks at the post–government employment records of a subset of the larger flow of “revolvers”: four–star generals and admirals who retired between June 2018 and July 2023. Among the findings are the following:

  • 26 of 32 four–star officers who retired after June 2018 — over 80 percent — went to work for the arms industry as board members, advisors, executives, consultants, lobbyists, or members of financial institutions that invest in the defense sector.
  • The biggest category of post–retirement employment for four–stars, by far, was as board members or advisors for small and medium–sized arms contractors, with 15 choosing that option. This compares to five who became board members, advisors or executives for one of the top 10 arms contractors. 
  • Five retired four–stars became arms industry consultants, five became lobbyists for weapons companies, and four joined financial firms that make significant investments in the defense sector.

This brief recommends a number of measures designed to limit undue influence and potential conflicts of interest on the part of retired four–star generals and other retired Pentagon officials and military officers who pass through the revolving door.

  • Bar four–star officers from working for firms that receive $1 billion or more in Pentagon contracts per year.
  • Extend “cooling off” periods before retired Pentagon officials and military officers can go to work on behalf of the arms industry.
  • Increase transparency over post–government employment and activities on the part of retired Pentagon and military officials working on behalf of arms contractors, including reporting on their interactions with Congress and the executive branch.

The most comprehensive current proposal to address the revolving door issue is Senator Elizabeth Warren’s Department of Defense Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act.1 The bill would encompass many of the recommendations put forward in this report.

Introduction

This brief documents the extent to which recently retired four–star generals and admirals have gone to work as lobbyists, executives, board members, consultants, or financiers of the arms industry upon leaving government service. It covers the period from June 2018 through July 2023.

The role of generals and admirals in the arms industry is part of the larger problem of the revolving door, in which hundreds of senior Pentagon and military officials go to work for major Pentagon contractors every year, using their contacts with former colleagues to wield influence on behalf of their corporate employers and clients. A 2021 report by the Government Accountability Office found that over 1,700 senior government and military officials — including generals, admirals, and top acquisition officers — went to work for one or more of the top 14 weapons contractors between 2014–19, for an average of over 300 per year.2 This report looks in greater detail at a smaller number of “revolvers,” focusing only on four–star generals and admirals.

The revolving door is a problem because it creates the appearance — and in some cases the reality — of conflicts of interest in the making of defense policy and in the shaping of the size and composition of the Pentagon budget.  The role of top military officials is particularly troubling, given their greater clout in the military and the government more broadly than most other revolving door hires. Their influence over policy and budget issues can tilt the scales towards a more militarized foreign policy.  

The revolving door is a problem because it creates the appearance — and in some cases the reality — of conflicts of interest in the making of defense policy and in the shaping of the size and composition of the Pentagon budget.

There is also the potential for military officials to favor companies they are supposed to oversee while they are still in government, with the goal of landing a lucrative position with them upon retirement. As Senator Elizabeth Warren (D–MA) put it, “When government officials cash in on their public service by lobbying, advising, or serving as board members and executives for the companies they used to regulate, it  undermines public officials’ integrity and casts doubt on the fairness of government contracting.”3

Official government tracking of post–government employment of retired four–stars and other senior government officials with national security responsibilities is insufficient, but even under current rules a number of concerning cases have been uncovered.  

For example, as the Project on Government Oversight  (POGO) has noted in its path breaking report “Brass Parachutes,” while he was in the service, General James E. Cartwright advocated vigorously for the JLENS, a surveillance balloon notorious for an incident in which it broke free from its moorings and floated 160 miles off course.4 Cartwright blocked the Army from canceling the program in 2010, then joined the board of JLENS’s producer, Raytheon, after retiring as vice–chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.5

In another prominent case, General James Mattis went to bat for the blood testing firm Theranos while he was serving as Commander of the U.S. Central Command, then joined the company’s board upon leaving government service. Mattis pressed the Army to buy and utilize Theranos equipment, as he acknowledged in an email to Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes uncovered by the Washington Post: “I’ve met with my various folks and we’re kicking this into overdrive to try to field your lab in the near term.”6

After Mattis left the military to join the Theranos board, he defended the company’s practices — even as it was marketing a product that did not work, with false claims that included denying charges that it was out of compliance with Food and Drug Administration requirements.7 Mattis later claimed that, despite being a board member, he was not informed of the limitations of the Theranos devices while he was serving at the company for compensation of $150,000 per year.8 In 2018, Holmes was indicted on charges of wire fraud for allegedly perpetrating a “multi–million dollar scheme to defraud investors, doctors, and patients.”9 The Securities and Exchange Commission described Theranos as an “elaborate, years–long fraud” in which Holmes “exaggerated or made false statements about the company’s technology, business, and financial performance.”10

Retired military officers were also prominently involved in a lobbying effort that prevented the Navy from divesting itself of multiple copies of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), which the service had determined were not relevant to the most important challenges facing the Navy and would, if retained, result in a service that was “less capable, less lethal, and less ready.”11 The LCS is also plagued with technical problems that were described in detail in a New York Times investigation of the campaign to save the ship from retirement.12

The role of ex–Navy officers in the campaign to save the LCS was described in detail by Danielle Brian, Executive Director of the Project on Government Oversight, in her April 2023 Congressional testimony.13 Among the retired Navy officials spearheading the effort to block the retirement of the LCS was a retired Navy veteran, Timothy Spratto, who served as general manager of BAE Systems’ shipyard in Jacksonville, Florida, where the littoral combat ships are serviced.14 Before joining BAE, Spratto served as Assistant Chief of Staff, Material Readiness and Assessments, Naval Surface Forces Atlantic.15

Another key player in the effort to save the LCS was retired Rear Admiral James A. Murdoch, who served as program executive officer for the littoral combat ship program from 2011–14 before leaving government service to become the international business development director for ship and aviation systems at Lockheed Martin, one of the prime contractors for the Freedom–class Littoral Combat Ships.16 Also involved in the successful lobbying effort was retired Captain Tony Parisi, who worked on the General Dynamics team that trains crews to run the LCS, and wrote an op–ed in 2022 for Real Clear Defense titled “Don’t Give Up the Ship.”17 The work of these former military officers resulted in the procurement and continued deployment of flawed ships that cost taxpayers billions of dollars and put crew members at risk.18

More consistent and detailed reporting on post–government activities of military officers who go to work in the arms industry would likely uncover many other incidents similar to the ones described above.

Proponents of the revolving door argue that the expertise ex–military officers bring to the arms industry can improve its performance and ability to produce systems relevant to the needs of the warfighter. This is belied by the fact that — according to a study by Senator Elizabeth Warren’s office — over 90 percent of senior government officials who go into the arms industry serve as lobbyists.19 Their job is to promote projects and practices that boost the bottom lines of their new employers, not weigh in on how the firms carry out their government–funded projects, for good or ill.  To the extent that there is expertise in the military sector that can make contractors more effective, it can be transmitted without hiring a majority of retiring senior officials as lobbyists (see detailed recommendations, below).

Over 90 percent of senior government officials who go into the arms industry serve as lobbyists.

One overall finding of this report is that the nature of the revolving door has shifted.  Not only do retired officers join the boards of major contractors like Lockheed Martin or the ranks of lobbyists at major firms that include weapons contractors as clients, but they set up their own consulting firms, work as advisors to defense startups, and join firms that finance arms companies. There are many routes available for former military officials to seek work in the arms sector. In the sections that follow we provide details on post–government employment of recent four–star retirees and recommendations for curbing their influence over decisions on Pentagon spending and policy.

Cashing in: The march of the generals (and admirals)

The vast majority of retired four–star generals and admirals who have left government service in the past five years have gone on to work for the arms industry. Of the 32 four–star officers who retired between 2018–23, at least 26 went to work for the arms industry as board members, advisors, consultants, lobbyists, or financiers.  Many of the military retirees also went to work for industry–funded think tanks and advocacy groups, but for the purposes of this report these connections are not counted as involving work for the arms industry. (see appendix for details).20

Of the 32 four–star officers who retired between 2018–23, at least 26 went to work for the arms industry as board members, advisors, consultants, lobbyists, or financiers.

The breakdown of what types of arms industry related jobs were taken by retired four–stars is below. Many of the retired officials had multiple connections to the weapons sector.21

  • Six went to work as board members or executives for one of the Pentagon’s top 10 contractors, including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, and BAE Systems.
  • Six started their own defense consulting firms or joined an existing consulting firm.
  • Fifteen became advisors or board members for small or medium–sized weapons contractors.
  • Five went to work for lobbying firms that have clients in the arms industry.
  • Four went to work for financial firms with major investments in the arms sector.

One notable exception to the rule is retired General Arnold Bunch, former Commander of the Air Force Materiel Command. Bunch has assumed the role of director of Tennessee Hamblen County school system, covering the county school district he grew up in.22

Among the most prominent four–stars who have gone through the revolving door are former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford, who joined the board of Lockheed Martin five months after leaving the military; General Mike Murray, former head of the U.S. Army Futures Command, who went on the boards of three defense tech firms — Capewell, Hypori, and Vita Inclinata; General Terrence O’Shaugnessy, former head of the U.S. Northern Command, who is now a senior advisor to Elon Musk at SpaceX, a firm that launches military satellites and produces the Starlink system, a dual use system which among other things has been used to supply internet service to Ukrainian troops in their war against Russia’s invasion of their country; General Richard D. Clarke, former Commander, U.S. Special Operations Command, who joined the boards of General Dynamics, defense tech firm Shift5, and drone maker General Atomics;  and General John W. Raymond, former head of the U.S. Space Command, who went on to be a managing partner at Cerberus Capital Management, which invests heavily in cutting edge technologies with applications in the defense and aerospace sectors.

Retired Four-Star Generals and Admirals Moving to Work in the Arms Industry, 2018 to 2023

Recommendations for reform

Restrictions on post–government employment involving both top military brass and senior Pentagon officials should be tightened to avoid the appearance or reality of conflicts of interest, along the lines outlined below.

Bar flag officers from working for any arms contractor receiving more than $1 billion per year from the Pentagon: Given their greater levels of power and influence and broad contacts within the government at large, top generals and admirals should be barred from working for major weapons contractors upon leaving government employment. And as set out below, their ability to work on behalf of the arms industry in other forms should be subject to an extended “cooling off” period.

Extend cooling off periods: When it comes to the revolving door, time is the enemy of influence. A substantial cooling off period moving from the Pentagon or Congress to the arms industry would mean that key contacts with former colleagues would be less useful as personnel in the executive branch turn over. And potential “revolvers” might be more likely to find employment outside of the defense sector in the meantime. Cooling off periods for all relevant national–security related positions should be at least four years, extended from the current norm of one to two years.

Improve transparency: Lists of former military and Pentagon officials who have gone to work in the arms industry should be compiled and made publicly available. In addition, contractors who employ former government officials should be required to report on their activities on a regular basis, including any contacts with relevant government officials and any materials developed in efforts to influence those officials.

Expand the definition of lobbying activity: As national political reporter Isaac Arnsdorf noted in a 2016 investigative piece for Politico, efforts to avoid lobbying restrictions have created “an entire class of professional influencers who operate in the shadows” as “policy advisers, strategic consultants, trade association chiefs, corporate government relations executives, [and] affiliates of agenda–driven research institutes.”23 Current law does not require any of those influencers to register as lobbyists. Congress should review the full range of activities carried out on behalf of arms corporations and expand the definition of what qualifies as lobbying activity subject to government regulation as appropriate.

The most comprehensive current proposal to address the revolving door issue is Senator Elizabeth Warren’s Department of Defense Ethics and Anti-corruption Act.24 The bill would encompass many of the recommendations put forward above, including imposing a four–year ban on arms contractors from hiring DoD officials and preventing them from hiring former DoD employees who managed their contracts. The Act would also require defense contractors to provide detailed information to the Pentagon on former senior DoD officials they have hired, among other provisions.

Appendix: four-star generals and admirals with post–government employment in the arms sector, 2018–23

This section covers the post–retirement activities of four–star generals and admirals who retired between January 2018 and July 2023.  Four–stars who left government service more recently, such as former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, who retired in September, are not included.  As noted above, connections that count as work in the arms sector for purposes of this issue brief include serving as board members, advisors, lobbyists or consultants for arms firms, or in firms involved in financing weapons companies.

Former Commander, U.S. Forces Korea, United Nations Command, and U.S.–ROK Combined Forces Command: Robert B. Abrams

Army General Robert Abrams retired as Commander, U.S. Forces Korea on August 31, 2021, after almost 40 years of service.25 Following his retirement, in September 2021, Abrams founded Robert B. “Abe” Abrams, LLC, an advisory and consulting firm.26 The company does not have an official website, but is registered in North Topsail Beach, North Carolina.27 Since January 2022 Abrams has also served on the Board of Advisors for NOCTEM Health, a company that provides clinicians with the best sleep–care for their patients.28 Since January 2023, he has acted as a senior advisor to the CEO and Board of Vaya Space.29 Vaya Space calls itself the “green rocket launch company,” with the goal of revolutionizing space and removing plastics from our planet.30 The firm has significant business in the arms sector.  According to its website Vaya Space offers ready–now transformative capabilities for strategic and tactical surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), insensitive munitions, rapid satellite replenishment, and other applications.31

Former Commandant of the Marine Corps: David H. Berger

General David H. Berger retired as Commandant of the Marine Corps on July 10, 2023.32 As of this writing we have not found information on Berger’s employment in the civilian sector following his retirement.

Former Commander, U.S. Army Pacific: Robert Brooks Brown

Army General Robert Brooks Brown retired in September 2019 following 38 years of service. Brown was a Distinguished Fellow at the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) before becoming president and CEO of the organization in October 2021.33 The AUSA is a “nonprofit education and professional development association” that supports the Army’s soldiers, families, and civilian employees.34 In addition to advocating on personnel issues, AUSA also lobbies for higher spending on new weapons systems and an expansion of the defense industrial base. AUSA is funded in part by a group of “national partners” comprised of hundreds of weapons contractors, large and small, including major contractors like Boeing, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman.35 AUSA also provides a convening function for bringing together representatives of the arms industry and the federal government.  For example, the organization’s annual meeting provides an opportunity for scores of arms contractors to promote their wares to an audience that includes both individuals involved in procurement of weapons systems and those who can advocate for them with key players in Congress and the executive branch.36

Perhaps most importantly, AUSA has an extensive government relations department that vigorously lobbies the U.S. government to spend more on the Pentagon in general and the Army in particular.  Among items on its priority agenda for 2023 are “support Army unfunded priorities” — the Army “wish lists” that call for spending on items not included in the Pentagon’s official budget request.  In recent years, wish lists have been used by Pentagon budget boosters in Congress as a rationale to add tens of billions of dollars to the Pentagon budget beyond what the department asked for.  Other AUSA priorities include accelerating the development and procurement of new weapons systems and expanding the defense industrial base.37

Former Commander, Air Force Materiel Command: Arnold W. Bunch, Jr.

General Arnold Bunch retired as Commander, Air Force Materiel Command on June 13, 2022, following 38 years of service.38 He has deviated from the path taken by his fellow high–ranking retirees by going into  the education sector. Bunch has become director of Tennessee Hamblen County school system, the two districts he grew up in.39 While admitting during his public interview that he lacked a background in education, his experience in handling 81,000 people under his command at Wright–Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio was enough to sway the school board.40

Former Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa & Commander, Allied Joint Forces Command: Robert P. Burke

Admiral Robert P. Burke retired from the Navy on June 27, 2023, after nearly 40 years of service.41 Burke has since joined the Center for Human Capital Innovation, a strategic human capital consulting firm, as a senior vice president.42 The Center for Human Capital Innovation works with private, non–profit, and federal government sectors to improve organizational performance. Clients include the Department of the Navy, the Department of the Army, the Department of Homeland Security, and Lockheed Martin.43

Former Commander, U.S. Special Operations Command: Richard D. Clarke

Army General Richard D. Clarke retired as Commander, U.S. Special Operations Command in August 2022 after nearly 40 years of service.44 On February 3, 2023, Clarke was elected to the Board of Directors of General Dynamics.45 General Dynamics is a leading global defense and aerospace company and is one of the Pentagon’s biggest contractors.46 Additionally, on March 7, 2023, Clarke accepted a position on the Board of Directors of Shift5, a “technology company that unlocks fleet and weapon system onboard data to achieve operational readiness, lethality, and survivability.”47 Shift5 has a demonstrated record of employing retired high–ranking military officers on its Board of Directors as well as its Board of Advisors.48

Also beginning in March 2023, Clarke began as a strategic advisor to Institutional Venture Partners and Human Capital, both based in the San Francisco Bay Area.49 Institutional Venture Partners is a venture capital and private equity firm, as is Human Capital, according to the LinkedIn profiles of both companies.50 Among other firms, Human Capital is an investor in Anduril, a major defense technology company. Clarke is also a Distinguished Fellow at the Atlantic Council, working on issues pertaining to Forward Defense with the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security.51 According to his Atlantic Council biography, Clarke sits on the board of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, a producer of unmanned aerial vehicles.52

Former Commander, Army Materiel Command: Edward Daley

Army General Edward Daley retired as commander, Army Materiel Command, on May 1, 2023, following 36 years of service.53 In June 2023, Daley joined the Roosevelt Group as a senior advisor.54 The Roosevelt Group is self–described as “honest brokers between Capitol Hill, the Pentagon, and the broader U.S. government” in executing “government relations strategies based on trusted information, subject matter expertise, and values connections.”55 The group is a lobbying and advocacy firm, focusing on a number of areas: aerospace and defense; military installations and communities; climate and development; biotechnology and research; budget and appropriations; advanced technologies; transportation and infrastructure; and homeland security.56

Former Commander, Indo-Pacific Command: Philip S. Davidson

Navy Admiral Philip S. Davidson retired on April 30, 2021, as Commander, Indo–Pacific Command.57 In November 2021, he founded Davidson Strategies LLC.58 He also serves on the board of drone–maker AeroVironment and the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment.59

Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: Joseph F. Dunford 

Retired U.S. Marine Corps General Joseph F. Dunford served as the 19th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff before his successor, General Mark Milley, assumed the position. Dunford retired in September 2019, having reached 40 years of service with the Marine Corps.60

A few months later, on February 10, 2020, Dunford joined Lockheed Martin’s Board of Directors.61 In this role, he serves as the Chairman of the Classified Business and Security Committee, which assists “the Board of Directors in fulfilling its oversight responsibilities relating to the Corporation’s classified business activities and the security of personnel, data, and facilities.”62 Dunford is also a member of the Nominating and Corporate Governance Committee, which makes recommendations to the Board of Directors regarding corporate governance and related oversight responsibilities.63

In addition to his role at Lockheed Martin, Dunford joined Liberty Strategic Capital in February 2022 as a senior managing director/partner and as a member of the firm’s investment committee.64 Liberty Strategic Capital is a private equity firm focusing on global technology investment with a strong emphasis on cybersecurity, and is led by former Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin.65

Former Commander, Southern Command: Craig S. Faller

Navy Admiral Craig S. Faller retired in January 2022 as Commander, U.S. Southern Command.66

On June 16, 2022, Sigma Defense Systems appointed Faller to its board of advisors.67 Sigma Defense Systems LLC is a technology company that provides the Department of Defense with systems and services in integration, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.68 Additionally, on October 24, 2022, Viken Detection announced that Faller had been appointed to its Board of Directors.69 Viken Detection is a company that provides security imaging and material identification equipment to help public safety inspection professionals working to counter drug trafficking, terrorism, and human trafficking.70

Former Commander, U.S. Training and Doctrine Command and Former Chancellor, Army University: Paul E. Funk II

Army General Paul E. Funk II retired as commander, Training and Doctrine Command on September 9, 2022.71 In November 2022, Funk founded Paul Funk Leadership Consulting, LLC, which does not have an official website but is based in Bell, Texas.72

Former Commander, U.S. Army Forces Command: Michael X. Garrett

Army General Michael X. Garrett retired as commanding general of the U.S. Army Forces Command on July 8, 2022, following 38 years of service.73 In June 2023, Garrett was elected to the board of directors of Textron, Inc., a “multi–industry company that leverages its global network of aircraft, defense, industrial and finance businesses to provide customers with innovative solutions and services.”74 Textron ranked 47th on the Pentagon’s top 100 contractor list for fiscal year 2022, receiving a total of $1 billion in prime contracts.75 Garrett also serves as a distinguished Senior Fellow on National Security at the Middle East Institute, where he contributes to work on defense, military affairs, large–scale combat operations, U.S. security policy, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and more.76

Former Chief of Staff of the Air Force: David L. Goldfein

Former General David L. Goldfein retired as Chief of Staff of the Air Force on August 6, 2020, following 37 years of service.77 Goldfein has since joined WestExec Advisors, a strategic advisory firm offering geopolitical and policy expertise to clients.78 On January 14, 2021, Goldfein became a senior advisor to Blackstone Investment Group.79 Goldfein’s role within Blackstone’s portfolio also extends to his position as a member on the Board of Directors of Draken International, LLC. Draken International is a Blackstone portfolio company that provides contract electrical warfare and fighter aircraft for military and defense industry customers — including the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.K. Ministry of Defense.80 Blackstone owns a majority share of Draken International.81 Additionally, on March 8, 2023, Goldfein joined the National Security Advisory Board of Shield Capital, a San Francisco–based venture firm that invests in defense and space startups.82 Shield Capital is led by former Pentagon and Defense Innovation Unit officials, and has a portfolio of companies focusing on artificial intelligence, autonomy, cybersecurity, and space. The defense and space contractor L3Harris is also reportedly a strategic investor in Shield Capital.83

Goldfein is also a distinguished visiting fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution,84 as well as a senior fellow with the Johns Hopkins Advanced Physics Laboratory.  Johns Hopkins is a major recipient of Pentagon funding, to the tune of $1.2 billion in fiscal year 2022.85

Former Commander, U.S. Air Forces Europe-Africa & Commander, Allied Air Command: Jeffrey L. Harrigian

General Jeff Harrigian retired from the Air Force in July 2022.86 Harrigian joined Lockheed Martin, one of the nation’s largest defense contractors, as Vice President for Strategic Campaigns in December 2022.87

Former Commander, Air Combat Command: James M. Holmes

Air Force General James “Mike” Holmes retired in October 2020 after nearly 40 years of service.88 In November 2020, Holmes joined the Roosevelt Group as a senior advisor.89 As mentioned above, the Roosevelt Group is a Washington, D.C.–based lobbying and consulting firm that represents clients such as Honeywell International, a defense contractor.90 Beginning in February 2021, Holmes was appointed Chairman of the Board of Directors for Red 6.91 Red 6 is an augmented reality company that currently works with the Air Force to fulfill training needs, according to NBC News.92

Former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: John E. Hyten

Former Air Force General John Hyten retired as Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs on November 19, 2021. His educational and career experience focused on engineering and acquisition in addition to space operations.93 On June 15, 2022, Hyten joined Blue Origin, a commercial space company that develops “reusable launch vehicles that are safe, low cost, and serve the needs of all civil, commercial, and defense customers,” as a Strategic Advisor.94 So far, Blue Origin has received hundreds of millions of dollars in Pentagon funding to “invest in rocket development and infrastructure required to compete for national security space launch contracts.” Most recently, the company signed an agreement with the U.S. Space Systems Command that opens the door for Blue Origin’s new rocket — still in development — to compete for launching military satellites.95

Former Chief of the National Guard Bureau: Joseph L. Lengyel

Air Force General Joseph L. Lengyel retired as Chief of the National Guard Bureau on August 28, 2020, after 38 years of service.96 In June 2021, he joined the Board of Directors of the Space Force Association,97 whose mission is to “achieve superior national spacepower by shaping a Space Force that provides credible deterrence in competition, dominant capability in combat, and professional services for all partners.”98 Lengyel is also an Executive in Residence at the University of Texas, San Antonio.99 He contributes some time as a mentor specializing in defense for new startups at Capital Factory in Austin, Texas.100

Lengyel joined RAIN Defense + AI as an advisor in July 2022.101 RAIN Defense + AI is “an invitation–only global business hub for the Defense + AI Ecosystem.”102 The company works to provide a knowledge platform about the intersection of defense and artificial intelligence by sourcing all the relevant data.103 RAIN’s board of advisors includes more than one retired high–ranking military official.104 In January 2022, Lengyel also joined the Board of Advisors for Lulius Innovation.105 Lulius Innovation is a veteran–owned company that focuses on software development and technology consulting.106

Immediately following his retirement, in September 2020, Lengyel created and began working as the President/CEO of Omega Bluebird Group, LLC.107 According to Lengyel’s LinkedIn profile description, Omega Bluebird Group provides “service, advice, and consulting at the operational and strategic level…assessment and development of multi-functional organizations…,” and employs experts in “defense, crisis management, assessment and development of partnerships for success.”108  The company has no official website, but reportedly is based out of Bulverde, Texas.109

Former Vice Chief of Naval Operations: William K. Lescher

Admiral William “Bill” Lescher retired as Vice Chief of Naval Operations on September 2, 2022, after 42 years of service.110 In January 2023, Lescher joined Red Cell Partners as a senior advisor.111 Red Cell Partners is “an incubation firm building and investing in rapidly scalable technology–led companies that are bringing revolutionary advancements to marketing in national security and healthcare.”112 Lescher also joined DEFCON AI, a Red Cell Partners portfolio company, as a strategic advisor.113 DEFCON AI, which is involved in “building next generation tools for the modern military mobility environment.”114

Former Vice Chief of Staff of the Army: Joseph M. Martin

Former General Joseph M. Martin retired as Vice Chief of Staff of the Army on July 1, 2022, following 37 years of service.115 Following his retirement, Martin joined the Client Advisory Board of Valiant,116 a “global government services contractor” providing a “diverse range of vital, comprehensive services to defense, aerospace, national security, and intelligence partners.”117 Additionally, in August 2022, Martin created Joe Martin and Associates, LLC, a leadership development company based out of Dallas–Fort Worth, Texas.118

Former Commander, U.S. Central Command: Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr.

Former Marine Corps General Kenneth F. McKenzie retired as Commander, U.S. Central Command on April 1, 2022, following 42 years of service.119 Beginning in June 2022, McKenzie assumed the role of Executive Director of the then–brand new Global and National Security Institute at the University of South Florida.120 The institute is designed to place Florida at the forefront of addressing defense, economic, and related issues. McKenzie also took over leadership of Cyber Florida, which seeks to form partnerships between cybersecurity experts and military installations to assist, when needed, in homeland cybersecurity defense initiatives.121

Former Commander, U.S. Transportation Command: Maryanne Miller

Air Force General Maryanne Miller retired as Commander, U.S. Transportation Command, on August 20, 2020, following 39 years of service.122 She was the only female four–star leader in the Pentagon during her time in service.123 Miller was also the first Air Force Reserve officer to achieve the rank of general, and the first woman to serve as Chief of the Air Force Reserve.124 On May 24, 2021, Miller was elected to the Board of Directors of the Bristow Group,125 a worldwide aviation solutions company that specializes in vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft for search and rescue, firefighting, military support, and other services.126

Miller also joined the board of advisors at New Vista Capital,127 otherwise known as New Vista Acquisition Corporation, following her retirement. According to Bloomberg, the company aims to acquire businesses and assets via mergers, capital stock exchange, asset acquisition, stock purchase, and/or reorganization.128 Additionally, according to her Council on Criminal Justice biography, Miller acts as an advisor to Freedom Lift Innovations129 — which produces “optionally piloted helicopters” for military and civilian customers – and Aerolane130 — a logistics and air transport firm that has both military and civilian customers.

Former Commander, U.S. Army Futures Command: John M. “Mike” Murray

Army General Mike Murray retired as commander of U.S. Army Futures Command on December 6, 2021, after nearly 40 years of service.131 On May 10, 2022, Murray joined the Board of Directors of Vita Inclinata as a Strategic Advisor.132 Vita Inclinata is a developer and producer of precision aerospace and industrial stabilization devices.133

On June 14, 2022, Murray joined the Board of Advisors of Capewell, a global leader in engineering aviation and life support solutions.134 Capewell is a leading designer, manufacturer, and distributor of safety, tactical, parachute, and aerial delivery products, which are then largely distributed to the defense, public safety, and law enforcement communities.135 Also in June 2022, Murray joined Hypori on its Board of Directors.136 Hypori is a SaaS company that works with government agencies — including the U.S. Army — and businesses to protect data and prevent data leakage.137 It is a service–disabled veteran–owned business based in Reston, Virginia.138

Former Commander, Northern Command: Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy

Air Force General Terrence “Shags” O’Shaughnessy retired as Commander, U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command in August 2020 following 34 years of service.139 Since his retirement, O’Shaughnessy has assumed the position of Vice President of Special Programs for SpaceX, as well as Senior Advisor to Elon Musk on matters regarding SpaceX. SpaceX has a growing role as a military contractor, both in launching military satellites and in the production of dual use systems like Starlink, which has supplied internet services to the Ukrainian military in its fight against Russia’s invasion of their country.140 The Special Programs sector of SpaceX focuses on leveraging the company’s commercial technology for government applications.141

Former Commander, U.S. Space Command: John W. Raymond

Space Force General John W. Raymond relinquished command of U.S. Space Command in August 2020.142 He retained his role as Chief of Space Operations until November 2022, when he retired following 38 years of service in the U.S. military.143 On April 19, 2023, Raymond joined Axiom Space as a strategic advisor and member of the board. A Houston–based company, Axiom is a leader in commercial human spaceflight and is the manufacturer of the world’s first commercial space station.144 Axiom is also currently the only private company that has the privilege of connecting its modules to the International Space Station. The company has also recently been awarded a contract to pursue the development of upgraded spacesuits for the ISS.145

In May 2023, Raymond joined Cerberus Capital Management as a senior managing director of the company’s supply chain and strategic opportunities platform.146 In this role, he is to provide “strategic guidance on a portfolio of investments in technology, aerospace, and defense modernization areas.”147 Cerberus Capital Management’s investments span a wide range of relevant industries linked to the defense industrial base, such as: semiconductors and microelectronics; artificial intelligence and machine learning; electrification; cybersecurity; autonomy and transportation; aerospace and defense; and biotech.148

Former Commander, U.S. Strategic Command: Charles A. Richard

Navy Admiral Charles Richard served as Commander, U.S. Strategic Command, leaving active duty military service in January 2023.149 He is now the James R. Schlesinger Distinguished Professor at the Miller Center, a public policy institute based at the University of Virginia.150

Former Chief of Naval Operations: John M. Richardson

Admiral John Richardson retired as Chief of Naval Operations on August 22, 2019, after 37 years of service.151 Since his retirement, Richardson has been invited to join several organizations, the first being an October 2019 selection to the Board of Directors of Boeing — specifically, the Aerospace Safety Committee.152 The Aerospace Safety Committee is responsible for the direct oversight of all aerospace products.153 Richardson has also since been placed on the Special Programs Committee at Boeing, which exists “to review on a periodic basis those programs of the company which for purposes of national security have been designated as classified by the United States government.”154 Boeing was the Pentagon’s sixth largest contractor in Fiscal Year 2022, with total prime contract awards of $14.8 billion.155

Additionally, Richardson joined the Board of Directors for Exelon Corporation in 2019.156 Exelon is a leading energy provider in the United States, providing millions of Americans with electric and gas services.157In 2022, Richardson joined the Board of Directors for Constellation Energy,158 the nation’s largest producer of carbon–free energy that works to provide sustainable solutions to homes, businesses, and public-sector customers in the United States.159

Richardson joined the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory as a senior fellow on November 13, 2019. Johns Hopkins is a  major recipient of Pentagon funding, with over $1.2 billion in prime contract awards in fiscal year 2022 alone, as mentioned above.160

On February 26, 2020, Richardson was elected to the Board of Directors of the Center for New American Security, a major recipient of funding from weapons contractors.161 Additionally, on December 17, 2020, Richardson was selected to join the Board of Directors of BWX Technologies, Inc.162 BWX Technologies is a leading supplier of nuclear reactors and fuel to the U.S. Navy and provides services and products to support the operation of nuclear warhead facilities.163

Former Commander, Cyber Command and Head of National Security Agency: Michael S. Rogers

Former Admiral Michael Rogers retired in June 2018 after 37 years of service, four of which were dedicated to leading both Cyber Command and the National Security Agency.164 He has since joined the Board of Directors of the U.S. Naval Institute, an independent forum dedicated to the understanding of sea power and other critical security issues.165 In July 2019, Rogers joined the Brunswick Group, a lobbying and public relations firm, as a senior advisor. Rogers assists the Brunswick Group in areas of cyber security, privacy, geopolitics, technology, and intelligence.166 Rogers acts as a senior advisor at the McCrary Institute for Cybersecurity and Critical Infrastructure Security at Auburn University, his alma mater.167

Rogers also joined Quantum Xchange’s Board of Directors. Quantum Xchange is a “policy-based enterprise cryptographic management platform” that works to provide data security for private and government clients.168 Rogers was brought on in December 2022 to advise the company in its adoption of Phio TX, the “groundbreaking enterprise cryptography management platform and key delivery system used by commercial enterprises, government agencies, and their partners.”169

Former Commandant of the Coast Guard: Karl L. Schultz

Admiral Karl Schultz retired as Commandant of the Coast Guard on June 1, 2022.170 Since his retirement, Schultz has guest authored for the Brookings Institution, but as of this writing we could not identify whether he has secured post–government employment.171 He has been the subject of controversy since leaving government service, accused of covering up a decades–long investigation into sexual abuse within the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut.172

Former Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps: Gary L. Thomas

Marine Corps General Gary Thomas retired as Assistant Commandant on October 19, 2021.173 Immediately following his retirement, Thomas joined the Board of Directors of Draken International, the previously mentioned Blackstone portfolio company.174 Thomas was named Chairman of the Board of the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation on January 1, 2022.175 He also became CEO of Paradigm MedSolutions, LLC in April 2023.176 Paradigm MedSolutions works with businesses and governments to “bring products and services to the marketplace through [their] robust network of medical and business professionals.”177 The company works with the Pentagon, Tricare, and the Veterans Administration, and helps producers and manufacturers navigate the government arena.178

Former Commander, Africa Command: Stephen Townsend

Former Army General Stephen J. Townsend retired as Commander, Africa Command in August 2022.179 Two months later, in October 2022, Townsend created an independent consulting firm called SJ Townsend & Associates, LLC, for which he acts as board member, consultant, and speaker.180

Beginning in March 2023, Townsend joined the Advisory Board of Fortem Technologies, a leading company in “airspace awareness, security, and defense for detecting and defeating dangerous drones.”181 In May 2023, he became a board member at Archer Aviation, a commercial company that has partnered with United Airlines and the United States Air Force.182 On August 1, 2023, it became public that Archer Aviation booked a $142 million contract with the Air Force to build electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft.183

In June 2023, Townsend joined Phoenix Defense as a board member. Phoenix Defense Group consists of multiple companies “strategically aligned” to deliver “products, services, and expertise including engineering, software, simulation, IT, and manufacturing” to the defense, aerospace, and other critical industries.184

Former Supreme Allied Commander, Europe and Commander, Europe Command: Tod D. Wolters

Air Force General Tod D. Wolters retired in 2022 following 40 years of service. Wolters now acts as a senior advisor for Jones Group International (JGI), which he joined on July 26, 2023.185 Jones Group International is a strategic advisory firm that serves foreign and military clients. JGI was founded and is currently chaired by retired Marine Corps General James L. Jones, who is under some scrutiny related to his employment as a security consultant/advisor to the governments of Saudi Arabia and Libya.186 Wolters is expected to bring his expertise on the security landscape of Europe to JGI.

Wolters also serves as a consultant with Northrop Grumman.187 His employment as a Senior Security Consultant with Northrop Grumman began in January 2023.188

Former Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force: Stephen W. Wilson

General Stephen Wilson retired as Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force on November 13, 2020, after 39 years of service.189 On August 27, 2021, defense and aerospace company BAE Systems, Inc. announced the appointment of Wilson to its Board of Directors.190 According to the Project on Government Oversight, BAE Systems, Inc. is one of several suppliers of the B–21 program and supports two legs of the U.S. nuclear triad (sea–based and ground–based ballistic missiles).191 In Fiscal Year 2022, BAE Systems was the 11th largest Pentagon contractor, receiving awards worth $5.1 billion.192



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  20. Of the five four–stars who were not found to have gone to work for the arms industry, three went into non–military employment, and information on post–government employment on two could not be found. See appendix for further details. 

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  180.  GEN (Ret.) Stephen (Steve) Townsend, LinkedIn,  https://www.linkedin.com/in/gen-ret-stephen-townsend-2a6037225/ 

  181. About Us: Fortem Technologies, https://fortemtech.com/about/ 

  182. Mission: Archer Aviation, https://www.archer.com/mission 

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