Retired Marine Corps Gen. James Jones, a leading contender to become President-elect Barack Obama’s national security adviser, serves on the boards of directors of Boeing and Chevron and advises a number of other businesses that work closely with the military and intelligence community.
Jones, a former head of NATO and U.S. forces in Europe, retired in early 2007 after 40 years of military service. Since then, Jones has joined the boards of directors of Boeing and Chevron, as well as Invacare Corp., which produces medical equipment. He also serves as a consultant toCross Match Technologies, a biometrics company that works with the Pentagon and FBI, and serves on the board of advisers to MIC Industries, which developed the Ultimate Building Machine.
Jones also heads the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, and unveiled a plan for securing the country’s energy future to Obama’s transition team just a few days after Obama was elected.
While Jones’s association with companies specializing in weapons systems, biometrics, energy and healthcare does not disqualify him from becoming the president’s national security adviser, watchdog groups are urging that Jones and other candidates for top national security positions be carefully scrutinized.
Obama’s transition office declined to comment on any issues relating to the possible selection of Jones as a security adviser.
A Chamber spokesman also said that the organization cannot comment on “speculation from the media.”
“Gen. Jones is taking a very active role in shaping the Chamber’s energy policy,” said spokesman J.P. Fielder.
Jones has been criticized by several environmental groups for his ties to oil giant Chevron at a time when the U.S. is trying to wean itself from dependency on foreign oil.
“These are things that the Obama administration is going to have to vet very carefully,” said Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). “He [Jones] is clearly going to have to drop off all those boards. He seems very qualified, [but] the fact that someone has an appearance issue, you have to be more careful at how you handle that person once they have the job.”
Vice President Dick Cheney has been criticized during his tenure for his work at Halliburton, of which he was chief executive officer. As a board member, Jones would not have been as involved in the companies.
At Boeing, Jones serves on the board’s audit committee, which primarily assists in oversight of the company’s financial statements. Jones in 2007 earned $108,116 from his Boeing board position, according to filings to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
Defense companies attract many retired generals to their boards, particularly for their previous government service and the kind of connections they can bring to the Pentagon and the rest of the defense world.
Jones pulled in $57,322 in Chevron common stocks from his work on the company’s board, according to SEC filings.
The retired general earned $50,405 in 2007 from serving on Invacare’s board. Data on the other companies were not available as of press time.
“We have to consider carefully how the rules apply to folks like Gen. Jones,” said Sheila Krumholz, the executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. “If he were a lobbyist it would be easier to define.”
She cautioned that sometimes board members can perform the function of lobbyists by promoting their companies.
Choosing the right people in a new administration is “a balancing act,” said Kenneth Gross, who leads Skadden’s political law practice. “You want someone who has a depth of experience, [someone] who has been in the real world.”
If Jones’s whole career had been in the private sector, that would raise a question, he said. But Jones’s extensive government service could trump his other connections, Gross added.
Jones has been seen as an independent thinker who has been critical of the war in Iraq and has avoided connections to either party. Jones was neutral in the presidential campaign, but appeared at a campaign event for the GOP candidate, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.). Obama spoke highly of him during a presidential debate
Another leading contender for a top security job in Obama’s administration — retired Adm. Dennis C. Blair — could face some tough questioning from Congress over his business connections if he is nominated to be Director of National Intelligence.
In 2006, Blair became fodder for congressional criticism for his role in the F-22 Raptor fighter jet program, the same program the Obama Pentagon would have to decide whether to continue or stop. Blair had to step down as president of the Institute for Defense Analyses amid concerns that his positions on several corporate boards at the time created conflicts of interest. The IDA, a nonprofit organization funded largely by the government, was evaluating the F-22 program for the Pentagon and Blair was serving on the board of EDO Corp., which was part of the program.
The Pentagon’s inspector general later concluded that Blair had violated the IDA’s conflict-of-interest standards, but that he did not influence the organization’s analysis of the F-22 program.
Blair, a highly respected retired Navy admiral with strong ties to the intelligence community, serves on the board of Iridium, a satellite company, and Tyco, a wide-ranging manufacturing company.
Blair was the CIA’s first associate director of military support, and also served on the National Security Council.