Since Donald Trump’s election, a number of Democrats have tried to cast themselves as leaders of the “resistance.” Few have done it with more gusto than Adam Schiff.
The California representative has become something like the point man for all things Trump-Russia, using his position as the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Select Intelligence Committee to act as the “guardian against the [administration’s] worst abuses” and making television appearances and public statements to warn about the administration’s alleged ties to Russia.
At the same time, Schiff has solidified his status as one of Congress’s leading anti-Russia hawks. He has ardently supported harsher sanctions on Russia, warned of future election interference by the Kremlin, and cautioned that its operatives are trying “to tear us apart” through their online activities. Last year, in response to the GOP’s decision not to endorse sending lethal arms to Ukraine in its platform — a policy he spent years working with Republicans like John McCain to push — he aggressively questioned those involved as part of the Trump-Russia investigation.
Schiff’s alarmism has paid off for him personally, catapulting him to national prominence and supplying him a potent theme for fundraising. But it also has the potential to be profitable for another group: the arms manufacturers and military contractors that are among his biggest donors.
The Rain Forest in Iraq
Schiff’s hawkishness isn’t limited to Russia. He voted for the original AUMF that has served as the legal basis for the war in Afghanistan and all other aspects of the “war on terror” since. He was an early supporter of the Iraq War, joining twenty-eight other Democrats in handing Bush the keys to invade Iraq, and he insisted on staying the course for much of the 2000s. He also backed Obama’s war in Libya, pushed for the military destruction of ISIS, and called for “greater involvement” in Syria, including setting up a “no-fly zone.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, Schiff’s list of campaign contributors in recent years is littered with the names of prominent defense contractors. Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Orbital ATK, Harris Corporation, and Raytheon all make an appearance. The latter has given the California representative a total of $64,015 over the course of his career, and in 2013, its PAC held a fundraiser for him at the Verizon Center headlined by Beyoncé. That same year, Schiff was treated to a fundraiser by Igor Pasternak, a blimp manufacturer who returned to Ukraine and, inspired by the 2014 revolution, began working with the country’s defense ministry.
But surpassing all these is Parsons Corp, a multinational engineering services firm whose headquarters in Pasadena have sat in or adjacent to the different congressional districts Schiff has represented over the years. Parsons has been Schiff’s second-most generous funder, donating a total of $101,500 (just narrowly behind Disney). While it gives prodigiously to both parties, Parsons has maxed out for Schiff ($5,000 each for the primary and election) every election cycle he’s been an incumbent — an honor it hasn’t bestowed on any other congressperson.
Parsons’s various subsidiaries receive huge amounts of government largesse. Its “Government Services” subsidiary landed more than $740 million in government contracts in 2017, most of which came from the defense department, while its “Global Services” subsidiary has raked in tens of millions of dollars worth over the last few years, almost all from the Pentagon.
Parsons benefited directly from Schiff’s vote for the Iraq War, becoming the second largest reconstruction contractor in the country. It won a $900 million contract for security and justice, a $500 million contract for renovating public buildings, medical facilities and housing, a $1.5 billion contract for construction and engineering work, and was part of a $1.8 billion infrastructure deal.
And as if war-profiteering wasn’t enough, Parsons’s work in Iraq tended to be rife with problems, including delays and shoddy workmanship. It managed to construct only fifteen of the 150 medical facilities it was supposed to build, and the $75 million police academy it put up in Baghdad was plagued by plumbing issues — light fixtures damaged by human waste seeping through the ceiling, and a room so leaky it was nicknamed the “rain forest.” The special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction later found that nearly every project it worked on was beset with construction failures.
While other lawmakers criticized the company for its failures, Schiff was muted, blaming a lack of oversight and competitive bidding for the problems. At that point, he was California’s top recipient of Parsons money.
The Party Line
Iraq isn’t the only Schiff-backed war Parsons has benefited from. After Libyan autocrat Muammar Gaddafi was killed as a direct result of US intervention, the Pentagon hired Parsons to help the Libyans dispose of his chemical weapons. And Parsons equipment has already been sent to the Ukrainian government for defense purposes.
Schiff’s public inflation of the Russian cyber-threat may also be serendipitous for the company, which over the past six years has been slowly pivoting away from construction toward cybersecurity and missile defense. It has hosted a Cyber Defense Exercise run by the NSA four years in a row, and recently acquired Williams Electric Co., which is set to boost its work in cybersecurity.
Schiff, of course, has been a big backer of US intelligence agencies. Shortly after Trump’s election, he penned an open letter to the intelligence community in which he stressed that its “contribution remains more important to our national security than ever,” and paid tribute to its “commitment to the rule of law,” “unwavering patriotism,” and “sacrifice.” Elsewhere, he has said that criticizing the intelligence community “impairs our national security,” and rebuked Trump for impugning “the tens of thousands of Americans who are at work every day of the year, many in great physical danger, to protect us.”
Other Schiff donors would also stand to profit from the military escalations he has supported. In fact, they’ve acknowledged that rising tensions with Russia are good for business, and in some cases have even called for the policy (allowing arms exports to Ukraine) for which Schiff has spent years advocating.
As the Intercept’s Lee Fang reported last year, the Aerospace Industries Association, a lobby group that works on behalf of corporations like Lockheed and Raytheon, complained that the Pentagon wasn’t spending enough to resist “Russian aggression on NATO’s doorstep,” and one Raytheon board member called for the US to “raise the cost for what Russia is doing in Ukraine” because “even President Putin is sensitive to body bags.”
Lockheed’s vice president of air and missile defense systems said at last year’s Paris Airshow that “the threat [from Russia and others] is absolutely increasing and it’s increasingly rapidly,” spurring greater interest in missile defense. While there, Raytheon’s president of integrated defense systems also commented that countries previously hadn’t been interested in missile defense because “they didn’t see Russia as a threat, but now that has changed.”
“As a direct result of the threat dynamic that our customers are seeing, they want to have the ability to protect their sovereignty,” the company’s CEO told CNBC late last year.
Similarly, the CEO and chairman of Nothrop Grumman informed investors last month that “the nature of the threat environment that we observe around the globe today” is going to feed into greater national security investment (from which the arms industry profited). And the CEO of Harris Corporation — which has already supplied $21 million worth of military radios to Ukrainian forces — said to investors on a conference call in January that the perceived Russian military threat was driving up demand for their radios. In fact, back in 2015, when the US government was looking to invest in countering Russian and Chinese competition in space, Harris capitalized by stepping up R&D in space protection. It won $184 million worth of government contracts for this purpose.
Every one of these companies is a donor to Schiff.
No Conspiracy Necessary
It’s impossible to know how much of Schiff’s rhetoric and votes are motivated by campaign contributions. But the link between defense contractors’ interests and an aggressive US foreign policy is undeniable.
Defense contractors who have given lavishly to Schiff talk openly about how tensions with Russia — which he has played a key part in fomenting — are good for business. And Parsons, which financially backed Schiff early on, personally profited from his support for the wars in Iraq and, to a lesser extent, Libya.
We’re still waiting to find out exactly how the hand of the Kremlin affected the 2016 election. The symbiotic relationship between the defense industry and congressional hawks like Schiff is far clearer.