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The Military Industrial Complex: How to research corporate connections

In his Farewell Address in January 1961, American President Dwight D Eisenhower said: "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted.

Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together." Some see this speech as a historical relic to be brushed off occasionally, if for no other reason than to recall a time when Presidents spoke in complete sentences that were comfortable in their mouths. But the military industrial complex continues to flourish and endanger liberties and the democratic process.

How can we be alert and knowledgeable citizens (in Eisenhower's words) but not (as he suggests) for the purpose of compelling the proper meshing of industry and military, rather to begin the process of dismantling an offensive and criminal military? Research and analysis is needed. The web is a treasure trove of information; it can also be a wild good chase. Treat information from unfamiliar websites with the same care as emails that begin, "Dear Sir, we have an investment opportunity for you..." Here are a few introductory sites for research.

1. Top 100 List. Every year, the Department of Defense publishes information on its contractors. The list, which provides details on the "Pentagon's Top 100 Contractors," should be your first stop in research.

From it you can ascertain which companies are receiving the largest contracts, how much contracts have increased or decreased from the past year, and get a more detailed picture on what sort of contracts a company and their subsidiaries are receiving. http://web1.whs.osd.mil/peidhome/procstat/p01/fy2004/top100.htm

The Arms Trade Resource Center's Dollar Shift: The Iraq War and the Changing Face of Pentagon Contracting is drawn almost exclusively from the Pentagon's Top 100 List. The Issue Brief was published in February 2005 and is available on our website at http://www.worldpolicy.org/projects/arms/reports/Top102005Report.html

2. Military Contracts Information. The Defense Department posts contracts valued at $5 million or more each business day at 5 p.m. And archives them on its site. http://www.defenselink.mil/contracts/ At http://www.defenselink.mil/search/ you can search contracts by company or weapons system.

3. The Company's Website. These companies are proud of what they do, and bank on activists not paying attention or not having the stomach to slog through the techno-speak to get to the heart of the matter. From their corporate websites, one can sign-up for regular press releases, delivered right to your inbox.

4. News Searches. Most public or university libraries have Lexus Nexus, ProQuest, or other databases to search newspaper articles for information on companies. Sites like Google News have a "clipping service" function that will send articles with certain key words into your email inbox. Visit Google News Alerts http://www.google.com/alerts?hl=en to set up a clipping service for your company there.

From regular news and business reports, an intrepid researcher can find out some of the issues facing a particular company.

Maybe their union is on strike or they are under investigation for selling prohibited technology to Iran or China. Perhaps one of their heavily subsidized gold-ticket programs failed another test or crashed because of a malfunction, or a particularly gruesome attack on civilians in Iraq is the result of one of the company's "laser targeted for pin-point accuracy" weapons going astray. You can learn that their new CEO, brought in to "clean house and restore integrity," has been forced to resign because of an adulterous affair with a subordinate or that the newest Board Member just left the a position in the White House or the Senate. All of this information helps develop a more complete picture of the company.

5. Once you have basic information on what sort of contracts your company is getting and have a sense of the big issues facing them, one can round out the picture with the money factor: Who gets? Who gives? Who is asking for what? Take a trip to The Center for Responsive Politics' Open Secrets site where you can search for your company's campaign contributions to elected officials (and lots more). http://www.opensecrets.org/

6. Finally, The National Priorities Project's website has a lot of tools to help you make arguments about how military spending is stripping your community of needed resources. http://www.nationalpriorities.org/

The military industrial complex is everywhere and yet it is elusive.

Companies like General Electric don't "bring good things" and the bomb to life, making light bulbs and nuclear triggers at the same time. Mounting consumer boycotts, the way activists did 30 years ago is no longer all that effective or possible. We need new strategies.

There are some pretty sophisticated campaigns stigmatizing corporations doing business in places like the Sudan and Israel.

Applying those "name and shame" tactics to corporations manufacturing weapons of mass destruction and robbing communities of precious resources is a useful avenue to explore.

Some of the others tools include: Public witness: increasing the political cost of profiting from war; Shareholder campaigns: education and advocacy in the corporate boardroom; Campaigns to strip merchants of death of their "corporate personhood:" lengthy legal arguments but brilliant political theater.

Useful and important sites

Top nine weapons companies

For more information

Frida Berrigan is a Senior Research Associate with the Arms Trade Resource Center of the World Policy Institute, a member of the War Resisters League Executive Committee, and a convenor of WRL's Anti-Militarism Campaign.