Introduction to the Military-Industrial Complex (MIC)

Fifty Things to Know About the MIC


1.      They are not “defense companies.” They are war corporations. They market and sell goods and services to the U.S. military, intelligence agencies, and allied governments.

2.      The U.S. financial industry sits at the top of the war industry. Investment banks and asset management firms hold shares of the top public war corporations. The largest private war corporations include Sierra Nevada Corporation and General Atomics, run by billionaires Fatih & Eren Ozmen and the Blue brothers, respectively. Private equity firms regularly buy and sell war corporations. For example, Lindsay Goldberg owns Amentum and Veritas Capital owns Peraton and Cubic. The financial industry and top corporate executives profit greatly from war.

3.      Corporations have captured the U.S. government, primarily via campaign finance, lobbying, and rotating corporate officials through the halls of authority, such as the Pentagon’s top civilian offices.

4.      The U.S. Supreme Court is largely responsible for the rise of corporate authority, and the ensuing corporate capture of government. Limits on election spending were ruled unconstitutional in Buckley v. Valeo (1976). Corporations received a First Amendment right to put money toward ballot initiatives in First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti (1978). FEC v. Massachusetts Citizens for Life (1986) gave corporations more authority to influence politics by utilizing nonprofits. Citizens United v. FEC (2010) allowed corporations to spend unlimited amounts on political contributions. McCutcheon v. FEC (2014) got rid of limits on the total number of political contributions one can give over a two-year period. Now, corporations are in charge of the political process and enjoy far more legal rights than a human person. As corporate personhood gains more and more authority, more and more parts of life are commodified. Human needs such as water, healthcare, and shelter are all in the corporate domain.

5.      Members of U.S. Congress regularly profit by investing in war-industry stock. Senators and representatives also invest in complementary industries, such as fossil fuel. Congress does not exercise effective oversight of the war industry. The average congressperson is uninformed regarding the intricacies of war, espionage, and peace.

6.      Most of the U.S. military budget goes to corporations.

7.      The U.S. government funds the military and pays for war by collecting taxes and by selling Treasury marketable securities. Many war corporations, including but not limited to Accenture, Amazon, Booz Allen Hamilton, Textron, go to great lengths to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.

8.      The war industry doesn’t just sell bullets, bombs, tanks, ships, and aircraft. It also sells base operations, espionage software, physical security, artificial intelligence, nuclear weaponry, border sensors, ways to knock drones out of the sky, cloud computing, satellites, satellite launch, kits that convert dumb bombs into GPS-guided weaponry, office administration, construction, missile defense systems, warehousing and distribution, ordnance disposal, information technology, radar, maintenance and cataloguing of prepositioned stock, logistics and consulting, military clothing, and all manner of training and simulation. Corporations such as BAE Systems run what remains of the government’s arsenals and ammunition plants.

9.      War corporations don’t just sell such products. They fabricate, test, evaluate, qualify, assemble, inspect, package, deliver, maintain, upgrade, monitor, and redesign products—all billable activities. Additionally, war corporations regularly charge their military and intelligence customers for such services as configuration management, data, documentation, engineering, incidental materials, integration, logistics, “obsolescence management”, operational security, parts, revitalization, spares, support equipment, technical order updates, technical services, and additional training.

10.    Corporations have gradually encroached upon military policymaking. Recent examples include SAIC strategic plans and policy support for the Air Force, Deloitte policy assessment and management for the Navy, and CACI policies and practices for Navy acquisition.

11.    The largest scientific project in the United States is war- and espionage-related research and development (R&D) and manufacturing. No other scientific endeavor comes close in terms of dollars and time allocated. The U.S. military spent over $110 billion on research, development, testing & evaluation (RDT&E) in fiscal 2021, not including other militarized R&D, such as the Department of Energy’s work on nuclear weaponry and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) studies. Total federal government R&D funding amounted to roughly $140 billion. These figures do not include the war industry’s independent R&D. The Government Accountability Office recently concluded, “DOD does not know how contractors’ independent R&D projects fit into the department’s technology goals.”

12.    The U.S. government has many research labs pursuing military and intelligence R&D, including but not limited to the Army Research Lab, the Air Force Research Lab, the Naval Research Lab, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Engineer Research & Development Center. Work for these labs is mostly carried out by corporations and academic institutions, not uniformed military personnel. Corporations even run the Department of Energy’s national labs that develop nuclear weaponry. Los Alamos Lab, for example, is run by Battelle, Texas A&M, and the University of California.

13.    Academia is part of the war industry. Many universities in the United States research and develop technology for military and espionage purposes. The main academic participants in the war industry include but are not limited to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Johns Hopkins University, Stanford University, the University of Dayton, Georgia Tech, and Pennsylvania State University.

14.    Telecoms, including your smartphone carrier, contract regularly with the U.S. military and intelligence agencies. In the most recent fiscal year, AT&T has supported the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, provided networks and transmission circuits for military communication, and run cyber defenses for Space Force. (AT&T and its billionaire owner Robert Herring were reportedly instrumental in the establishment of the rightwing media network One America News, or OAN.) Comcast is upgrading U.S. military communication infrastructure. And Verizon just announced a massive new military contract for technical support and network upgrades. Telecoms form the backbone of the federal government’s domestic surveillance apparatus.

15.    With no accountability and a guaranteed flow of money, the war industry regularly produces overbudget, underperforming weapon systems. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the most famous example. Other struggling systems include the KC-46 tanker, the Zumwalt-class destroyer, the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), and the Ford-class aircraft carrier. The Pentagon could help solve this problem by no longer allowing corporations to develop and test products as they produce them (a process called “concurrency”), but that would cut down on corporate profit.

16.    Though the war industry is spread across all fifty United States, a few locations are industry hotspots: greater Boston, Massachusetts; Tampa and Orlando, Florida; Huntsville, Alabama; the Dallas-Fort Worth region of Texas; Silicon Valley; southern California; and the corridor stretching from northeast Virginia to Baltimore (consistently home to the wealthiest counties in the country).

17.    U.S. military leaders facilitate corporate profit. Officers who make it to the highest military ranks are very good at conforming to the system. These officers support nonstop wars of choice and broad military deployments, and defer to pro-war pretexts coming from the war industry’s think tanks and pressure groups. They judge military activity in terms of numbers (dollars spent, weapons purchased, bases active, troops deployed) instead of clear soldierly goals. Many officers are unable or unwilling to distinguish between the needs of a corporation and the needs of a professional military. These officers don’t see war corporations; they see a total force in which military and industry work together. As individuals, they do not lead by example. Physical prowess is not mandatory, understanding cultural nuance not necessary, language fluency exceedingly rare. And they do not have to win wars.

18.    The war industry recruits retired high-ranking military officers. For example, Adm. McRaven joined Palantir, Gen. Dunford Lockheed Martin, Adm. Stavridis the Carlyle Group, Gen. Votel Business Executives for National Security. Some, such as Gen. Petraeus, Gen. Odierno, and Gen. Goldfein, make a beeline to financial firms. Retired generals and admirals in Corporate America convert their connections and knowledge into profit. Corporate jobs for these retirees can include manager, vice president, lobbyist, consultant, and director.

19.    The troops themselves—the average soldier, sailor, airman, guardian, or Marine—enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces largely for economic reasons (though it can be comfortable for them to embrace traditionally patriotic justifications), as donning the military uniform offers one of the few stable jobs remaining in an economy that Wall Street and Washington have gutted through the implementation of neoliberal economic policies. Most military recruits don’t become cannon fodder, but rather serve as vessels for corporate goods and services.

20.    The leadership of the military-industrial complex is rarely punished. Broadly speaking, war profiteering is perfectly legal. On an individual level, former Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms set the standard in 1977 when he received a $2,000 fine and a suspended sentence after lying to the Senate about CIA activities in Latin America. The bankers at the top of the MIC, who engaged in illegal activity and crashed the global economy in 2008, never went to jail. Indeed, they gave themselves lavish bonuses after the U.S. government bailed out the banks. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper infamously lied to Congress in 2013 and faced no legal consequences for such perjury. Air Force Lieutenant General Sami Said, who determined that the military’s domestic use RC-26 spy planes during the summer 2020 protests was legal and not aimed at protestors, was the same officer who held no one responsible for the U.S. military’s August 2021 drone strike in Afghanistan that killed 10 civilians, including an aid worker and his children. General David Petraeus, who gave his biographer highly-classified material for which she did not have clearance, spent no time behind bars. Yet workers who leak crucial information in the public’s interest about government criminality (e.g., Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, and Daniel Hale) are met with a hefty punishment.

21.    Ad agencies, not the Pentagon, design the military’s recruitment campaigns and advertisements. GSD&M is currently in charge of that endeavor for the Air Force and Space Force, Wunderman Thompson for the Marine Corps, Young & Rubicam for the Navy, and DDB Chicago for the Army.

22.    Diversity—sexual orientation, gender, skin color—in the top ranks of the military-industrial complex does not change the structural imperatives of the system. The Central Intelligence Agency with a female director still pursued regime change abroad. Lockheed Martin with a female CEO still made record profits in the business of war. The Pentagon with a black Secretary still kills Africans.

23.    Military and industry classify information (Confidential, Secret, Top Secret) in order to keep weapons systems secret and to keep the public ignorant of the scope of the corporate run surveillance state, the full costs of war, and fraud, waste and abuse. Classifying information prevents the public from understanding and acting against entrenched, costly militarism.

24.    Secrecy harms science. Effective science is based on free, open discussion. Military funding and stipulations (compartmentation, shoehorned focus, classification, near-term deadlines, stovepiped fields) oppose free, open discussion. Breakthroughs benefitting humanity rarely happen when people are tied to military-industry confines, funding priorities, and schedules. The war industry shuns the polymath, the free thinker, and the uninhibited tinkerer. The war industry’s science demands strong minds, but it does not often make the scientific breakthroughs that society needs.

25.    Corporate executives use public-relations expertise and amenable media to play the “jobs” card with politicians. Industry fudges the jobs figures: Some jobs are not in the U.S. (e.g. Textron and Raytheon in Mexico, or microchips manufactured overseas), while other jobs are “induced” (e.g. the mom making less-than-minimum wage on a ridesharing app driving a computer programmer from work to the pub, or the waiter at a St. Louis restaurant where a missile engineer dines). Industry lawyers ensure that a given war corporation establishing a production facility in a town does not have to come through with the number of jobs it promises. The claim that the “defense industry” brings many jobs hides the truth: Spending on healthcare, education, or sustainable energy creates more jobs than spending on the military.

26.    Most workers within the war industry are intelligence and diligent. Jobs range from manual labor (blaster, electrician, machinist, pipefitter, painter, rigger, shipwright, welder) to office jobs (system administrator, public relations specialist, psychologist, attorney) to computer programmer, engineer, metallurgist, physicist, chemist, and mathematician. Whatever the workers produce is not theirs to use or sell. Instead, corporate executives determine what to produce, how to produce it, and to whom to sell it. The profit that the workers create goes toward the executives (CEO pay at the top five war corporations totaled almost half a billion dollars during 2015-19), stock buybacks, and building new facilities to make more profit.

27.    It is very difficult for workers to step back and understand how the larger military-industrial complex functions. Group think, hierarchy, nondisclosure agreements, compartmentation, economic incentives, and a rigid chain of command enforce the status quo. Violence and social isolation deter the few who consider pushing back against the machinery of war. Advertising, public relations, propaganda, and disinformation keep the working class (which greatly outnumbers the ruling class) disorganized and compliant.

28.    People who profit from war often make large public donations. The former CEO of Lockheed Martin gave millions of dollars to the University of Alabama. The owners of Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) gave $1 million to the University of Nevada-Reno. The co-founder of the Carlyle Group gave $5 million to Harvard University. Corporate executives, who hoard wealth and exploit the workers, look generous and get a tax write-off. Most importantly, these donations very effectively whitewash the business of war.

29.    The war industry contracts regularly with NASA, the National Aeronautics & Space Administration. The James Webb telescope was a Northrop Grumman product, for example, and Lockheed Martin was recently selected to build a rocket to carry samples from Mars to Earth. Anyone who tells you it is impossible to fully convert the war industry to civilian purposes is lying. The war industry is already involved in civilian projects, particularly civilian aviation and space exploration, and it will follow the money if non-military budgets are boosted as Defense’s budget is decreased. With enough political will and a federal jobs guarantee, workers of the war industry could easily get to work improving the nation’s infrastructure and pursuing scientific inquiry for the sake of the species.

30.    Supporters of the war industry regularly invoke the civilian benefits that have come from the U.S. government’s immense investment in war technology. The internet, the jet engine, and radar all came from military research and development. But these are ancillary benefits. (Unlike products from other industries, the public cannot eat, consume, play with, learn from, or interact with most goods and services sold by the war industry.) Imagine what technological benefits society could achieve if $750 billion per year was instead directed deliberately toward research and development of technology that benefits human wellbeing and the natural world, not military and war.

31.    The Pentagon is irresponsible with money. The federal government has a long-standing policy that guides military units of all sizes to spend their budgets by the end of the fiscal year. If military units spend all of their money, they are typically allocated the same amount of money or more in the next budget appropriation. However, if they economize, find savings, or do more with less, they likely see their budgets cut in the next appropriation. This policy, often called “use it or lose it,” does not incentivize fiscal responsibility.

32.    The U.S. military has never passed an audit, though many corporations (e.g., Ernst & Young, Kearney & Co., KPMG, PwC) have made a lot of money conducting that audit. These corporations can simultaneously contract elsewhere within the military establishment. For example, Kearney & Co. is helping the Air Force analyze its mission and has advised the Air Force regarding public relations, special access programs, and strategy. Corporations auditing the U.S. military have also audited large war corporations. PwC, for example, has audited Raytheon. The conflicts of interest are immense.

33.    Classified military- and civilian-intelligence budgets are unconstitutional. Opaque budgetary practices violate the Constitution’s requirement that Congress publish an accounting of the receipts and expenditures of all public money.

34.    There are thousands of U.S. military installations of varying sizes inside the United States. Military ranges are massive swaths of land that the Pentagon uses to practice bombing and train aircrew. These locations, which corporations typically administer, include Dare County Range in North Carolina, the Mountain Home Ranges in Idaho, White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, and the Pacific Missile Range in Hawai‘i. Given the worldwide collapse of ecosystems, these military ranges are a great place to start rewilding.

35.    Overseas, the largest concentrations of U.S. troops and corporate contractors are on bases in the Persian Gulf, Europe, and the Western Pacific. Countries run by undemocratic regimes house some of the Pentagon’s most active overseas installations (e.g. al-‘Udeid Air Base in Qatar, the Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, and the “largest overseas military medical research facility” in Egypt).

36.    The military-industrial complex’s “forever warskill people. Ordnance is made in such locations as Garland, Texas (General Dynamics), Holston, Tennessee (BAE Systems), Orlando, Florida (Lockheed Martin), Radford, Virginia (BAE Systems), St. Charles, Missouri (Boeing), and Tucson, Arizona (Raytheon).

37.    War corporations break the law all the time. Infractions have included bribery, overcharging the government, false claims, and violation of export control laws. The government then fines these corporations—those it catches, at least. The fines are not prohibitively expensive, and corporations continue to contract with the government and profit greatly.

38.    The Pentagon has multiple programs to bring small corporations into the business of war. Some large corporations reportedly contract as small businesses in order to obtain the advantages of such a classification. Comparable legal tricks were used by Corporate America to obtain small business loans during the early COVID-19 pandemic.

39.    The U.S. war industry contracts heavily with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Corporations include the famous (Boeing, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman); IT and espionage powerhouses (Accenture, Booz Allen Hamilton, CACI, IBM, Leidos, ManTech, SAIC); large engineering and project management firms (AECOM, Fluor, Jacobs); corporations owned by private equity (Amentum, Peraton); and U.K. firms with a sizeable presence in the U.S. (BAE Systems, Serco). Raytheon is prime contractor for DHS’ Network Security Deployment Division (NSD).

40.    Some multinational corporations headquartered outside the United States (e.g. London’s BAE Systems, Dublin’s Accenture, Herstal’s Fabrique Nationale, Rome’s Leonardo DRS, Haifa’s Elbit Systems, Ottawa’s Canadian Commercial Corporation) contract heavily with U.S. military and/or intelligence.

41.    Corporate media is part of the military-industrial complex. A handful of business interests owns media outlets in the United States. The baseline of information aired on corporate media reflects capitalist dogma. Corporate media such as CNN, NBC, and FoxNews, all follow the same business model: air what attracts the highest ratings and the most clicks in order to generate advertising revenue. Drawing funding from the wealthy donor class and large corporate interests, National Public Radio is similarly penned in. NPR’s CEO, John Lansing, previously ran a U.S. propaganda organization, the U.S. Agency for Global Media. Section 1078 of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) increased such propaganda in U.S. media. Politically conditioning the U.S. public, corporate media do not blame the military-industrial complex or the economic system for any of the problems in the world. Aiming for high ratings and lucrative advertising revenue, corporate media self-censor and taper the spectrum of acceptable foreign policy debate. War corporations purchase advertisements on news shows to hinder the debate even more, as pundits and newscasters typically do not speak out against advertisers. Corporate media then hire career militants (e.g., former CIA Director John Brennan, MSNBC; former CIA Deputy Director Mike Morrell, CBS News; retired General Jack Keane, FoxNews) who further confine the debate. Pundits and scribes within corporate media rarely disclose their professional ties to war corporations and/or financial investments in the industry.

42.    Big business runs other media through which people learn about war. Regent Equity Partners owns Sightline Media Group, whose products include most of the major military-focused periodicals: Air Force Times, Army Times, C4ISRNET, Defense News, Federal Times, Marine Corps Times, and Navy Times. Sightline recently acquired the periodical American Police Beat. The Pentagon runs its own massive media empire coordinated by the Assistant to the Secretary for Public Affairs.

43.    Hollywood gets matériel from the Pentagon, and, in exchange, allows the federal government to alter movie scripts. Hollywood also regularly demonizes official enemies, priming the public to loathe the stereotypical enemies on the receiving end of U.S. ordnance. Hollywood also functions as a recruiter, offering alluring portrayals of military and intelligence activities, seducing new generations into believing the thrill or benevolence of such undertakings.

44.    Think tanks guide the government’s discourse on matters of war and peace. Think tanks promote views advantageous to their funders. And it is the military-industrial complex that funds major Washington think tanks. In turn, the think tanks invent, hype, and promote new threats and new rationalizations for why the United States must maintain a global military presence and fight wars. Such an environment reliably and loudly produces report after report, panel after panel, and interview after interview, about Iran’s “malign activities,” China’s “destabilizing influence,” Russian “meddling,” and Arab “terrorism.” Corporate media then amplify this disinformation. Think tanks also swarm presidential candidates when they are assembling their foreign policy teams, ensuring foreign policy options remain within familiar, profitable confines. Lastly, there is no need for you, a congressperson, to go to the Congressional Budget Office when a think tank (that takes money from the same corporations your campaign takes money from) will promptly provide you with a fine-tuned, pro-war report. Many think tanks draft legislation for congresspeople who receive campaign funding from the war industry.

45.    Threat inflation sustains the racket: Advanced persistent threats, affiliates, biological agents, black identity extremists, a bomber gap, China, Cuba, dark networks, dirty bombs, great powers, guerrillas, hackers, insurgents, Iran, lone wolves, malicious actors, a missile gap, non-compliant governments, non-state actors, a non-state hostile intelligence service, North Korea, people who don’t accept state violence or intimidation, regimes, rogue states, Russia, special interest aliens, terrorists, unaccompanied immigrant children, unprivileged enemy belligerents, and Venezuela. All of these groups, threats or not, are hyped. Reality—for example, you have a greater chance of getting struck by lightning in the United States than falling victim to an armed attack carried out by a Muslim—is ignored. The war industry benefits, as threats can sell any good or service imaginable. The Pentagon benefits, as threats justify sky-high budgets, invasive legal authorities, and massive bureaucracies.

46.    The two main ways that the U.S. war industry sells weaponry to foreign governments are foreign military sales (FMS) and direct commercial sales (DCS). In FMS, the U.S. government acts as the intermediary between the corporation and the foreign government. DCS, on the other hand, are negotiated privately between foreign governments and U.S. corporations. The State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs is in charge of issuing the export licenses that permit DCS. The war industry’s sale of goods and services to foreign governments is incredibly profitable. In fiscal year 2020, the war industry sold $50.8 billion in foreign military sales and $124.3 billion in direct commercial sales. The U.S. war industry leads the world in arms exports.

47.    U.S. legal code facilitates, not hinders, weapon sales to foreign governments. The Arms Export Control Act requires recipients of U.S. war industry goods and services to use them only in self-defense, and the Leahy Law (as codified in Foreign Assistance Act, Section 502B) prevents U.S. military assistance from reaching militaries that have committed serious human rights violations. Washington merely certifies that the weapons sold are used defensively and that the foreign government is not substantially violating human rights.

48.    The military-industrial complex is an incorrigible polluter, poisoning the air, soil, and water. This pollution comes in many forms, including fossil fuel combustion, leaky petroleum storage tanks, detonation of ordnance, burn pits, radioactive waste, nuclear fallout, polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), corporate dumping, chemical solvents and coatings (such as hexavalent chromium, used in protecting weaponry from corrosion), and depleted uranium (DU). The substances used to put out aircraft fires are highly toxic.

49.    How does the Pentagon clean up its pollution? By turning to Corporate America. Many corporations tackle the Pentagon’s pollution. The bigger ones, such as Jacobs and Tetra Tech, are best known for their engineering and construction prowess. Contracting announcements indicate that Corporate America conducts studies and environmental assessments; prepares plans, drafts documents, and issues reports; surveys sites, oversees wetlands, and supervises land use; writes up Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act documentation; monitors environmental compliance; peruses Executive Orders; plots basing patterns; reviews the National Environmental Policy Act; removes contaminated soil; excavates, characterizes, separates, and transports waste; studies socio-economic issues and demographics; drafts emergency response preparedness; relocates radioactive material; and runs community outreach and public engagement.

50.    The military-industrial complex comes before the wars. The structure—a large standing military and an immense industry—needs enemies and thrives on conflicts hot and cold. The Cold War, the “war on terror,” the domestic surveillance state, and today’s “great power competition” against both Moscow and Beijing are outward expressions of the permanent warfare state. When war is your business, peace is your enemy.