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Several of President-elect Biden’s foreign policy cabinet members, advisors, and White House staff come from arms industry-tied WestExec Advisors and Pine Island Capital

Tony Blinken, Biden’s nominee for Secretary of State, speaks at the Center for a New American Security, the arms and tech industry-backed think tank co-founded Michèle Flournoy, Blinken’s partner at WestExec Advisors (photo by Erin Scott via CNAS on Flickr)

Several of President-elect Joe Biden’s advisors, transition team members, declared and rumored candidates for cabinet positions, and White House staff positions have positions at consulting firm WestExec Advisors and its strategic partner, the private equity firm Pine Island Capital Partners, according to reports from The American ProspectThe New York Timesand The Daily Poster.

Tony Blinken, Biden’s declared Secretary of State nominee, Lloyd Austin, Biden’s Secretary of Defense nominee, and Michèle Flournoy, who was a leading candidate for the Secretary of Defense position, are all DC partners (Blinken is currently listed as “on leave”) at the private equity firm Pine Island Capital Partners, which invests in military and technology companies.

According to Pine Island’s website, the firm’s DC partners use their connections in government to help Pine Island’s companies obtain public contracts:

Capitalizing on their influential networks and drawing on their deep industry knowledge and experience, Pine Island’s Washington, D.C. partners work in tandem with the investment team to source deals, conduct analyses, win bids, close transactions, and directly advise the companies in which we invest.

Pine Island Capital Partners was founded by John Thain, who ran Merrill Lynch during the 2008 financial crisis and a former president of Goldman Sachs, Phil Cooper, another Goldman Sachs alumnus, and Clyde Tuggle, a former Coca-Cola executive and a current board member at Southern Company’s Georgia Power subsidiary and the upscale clothing brand Oxford Industries.

From the New York Times:

Pine Island Capital has been on something of a buying spree this year, purchasing the weapons system parts manufacturer Precinmac and a company until recently known as Meggitt Training Systems and now known as InVeris, which sells computer-simulated weapons training systems to the Pentagon and law enforcement agencies.

As mentioned above, capitalizing on the government connections of its partners is a key part of Pine Island’s business strategy.

The firm employs a stable of “DC partners” including former cabinet staff like Tony Blinken and Michèle Flournoy, former military brass like General Lloyd Austin and Admiral Mike Mullen, and a number of former Congressmembers like former Senators Byron Dorgan, Saxby Chambliss, Tom Daschle, and Don Nickles and former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt. 

Many of these former government officials are currently lobbyists for powerful corporate interests, including companies in the military and technology sectors that have a major stake in the Biden administration’s foreign policy.

Pine Island launched Pine Island Acquisition Company, a “blank check” company that has no specific business but raised $200 million from investors with the intent of acquiring military and technology companies.

Two major investors in PIAC are hedge fund managers Ken Griffin, whose Citadel Advisors bought a 6.9% stake, and Israel Englander, whose Millennium Management bought a 5.2% stake.

SEC filings from Pine Island Acquisition Company report Pine Island’s reliance on its partners’ connections for business opportunities:

We believe that with our access, network and expertise, we are well-suited to take advantage of the current and future opportunities present in the aerospace, defense and government services industries

Additionally, we believe that the reputations and networks of Pine Island Capital Partners’ team, both individually and collectively, will ensure exposure to a significant number of proprietary opportunities

We believe there will be increased demand in the U.S. defense market for advanced electronics, communications, sensor and detection processing and other technologies that enhance the modernization efforts of the Department of Defense’s (“DoD”) military readiness. We believe this demand represents strong growth that our management team is uniquely positioned to capitalize on given our combined investment experience and deeply connected partner group of former U.S. defense and government officials. (emphasis added)

In addition to their roles at Pine Island Capital Partners, Biden’s Secretary of State nominee Tony Blinken and advisor and possible Secretary of Defense nominee Michèle Flournoy are both co-founders of WestExec Advisors, a consulting firm that has a strategic partnership with their private equity firm.

Several other Biden advisors, transition team members, and White House staff in military, intelligence, and foreign policy positions also have roles at WestExec.

WestExec’s clients include: 

  • Shield AI, “a San Diego-based company that makes surveillance drones and signed a contract worth as much as $7.2 million with the Air Force this year,” according to the New York Times;
  • Windward, an Israeli artificial intelligence firm whose investors include former CIA director David Petraeus, according to The American Prospect;
  • Jigsaw, Google’s in-house think tank; and
  • Schmidt Futures, the philanthropy of Google founder Eric Schmidt

Several of Biden’s team also have ties to the Center for a New American Security, a hawkish liberal think tank that also has deep ties to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, according to In These Times.

Michèle Flournoy is one of the co-founders of CNAS. Ely Ratner, a member of Biden’s defense transition team is Executive Vice President and Director of Studies at CNAS. Robert O. Work, who reportedly briefed Biden and Harris on national security with Tony Blinken is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at CNAS.

The Center for a New American Security receives funding from a variety of weapons manufacturers, oil companies, and Silicon Valley firms, including Lockheed Martin, ExxonMobil, Raytheon, BAE Systems, Google, and Boeing.

Lloyd Austin, Biden’s choice to lead the Department of Defense, and Robert O. Work, who briefed Biden and Harris on national security planning with Tony Blinken, are both board members at Raytheon, a major weapons manufacturer and Pentagon contractor.

Another Raytheon board member, Meaghan O’Sullivan, is a senior advisor to WestExec Advisors. As mentioned above, Work is a principal at WestExec, and Pine Island Capital Partners, where Austin is a partner, has a “strategic partnership” with WestExec.

Raytheon is also a donor to WestExec co-founder Michèle Flournoy’s think tank, Center for a New American Security, where Work is a distinguished senior fellow.