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WaPo quietly acknowledges op-ed author’s defense industry ties

The piece opposed Biden’s Afghanistan troop withdrawal and originally didn’t disclose the author’s financial stake in that view.

Last week, the Washington Post ran an op-ed opposing President Joe Biden’s commitment to withdraw U.S. military forces from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, by Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass and Meghan O’Sullivan, “professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, and the North American chair of the Trilateral Commission,” according to the Post. That bio, as originally published on Friday, omitted a crucial, and highly lucrative, position held by O’Sullivan: board member at Raytheon Corp, one of the top five arms makers in the world.

Raytheon, which has a $145 million contract to train Afghan Air Force pilots, is a major supplier of weapons to the U.S. military. In other words, weapons of war is Raytheon’s business and the end of America’s longest war almost certainly poses a threat to the company’s bottom-line.

O’Sullivan and the Post failed to note her role in the weapons business for which she was paid $940,000 in cash and stock between 2017 and 2019.

Image captured via mobile on April 20, 2021

Indeed, the op-ed also failed to note that the Afghanistan Study Group report, which the authors cited and disclosed that O’Sullivan was a member of the group, was also largely composed of individuals with deep financial ties to the weapons industry.

The report, which Haass and O’Sullivan cited to push back on Biden’s assessment that al-Qaida no longer poses a significant risk and that a U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan isn’t in the vital interest of U.S. national security, was authored by 15 former policymakers, retired military officers, and regional experts. An investigation by Responsible Statecraft and The Daily Beast found that 11 of the 15 members, including O’Sullivan, had current or recent financial ties to major weapons manufacturers.

The Post, for their part, quietly modified O’Sullivan’s biography on Tuesday morning following a tweet, and ensuing tweetstorm, I posted highlighting O’Sullivan’s undisclosed board membership at Raytheon. 

Her modified biography acknowledges she “is on the board of directors of Raytheon Technologies” but does not point to the potential conflict of interest between her opposition to U.S. troop withdrawals from Afghanistan and her well compensated role in the weapons industry.

Indeed, the Post’s clarification of her biography is helpful, but the paper’s failure to disclose the potential conflict of interest when allowing a weapons company board member to oppose the end of a nearly 20-year long war without so much as disclosing their board membership until four days after publication, points to the low bar for conflict of interest disclosure in the op-ed pages of a major newspaper and in the foreign policy debate.

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