Dirty Money for PBS

If you watch New Hampshire Public Television (WENH) for a while, chances are you’ll see an advertisement stating that the programming is sponsored by BAE Systems of New Hampshire. The TV ad shows happy smiling families playing baseball to raise money for the American Cancer Research Fund, and ends with the slogan “BAE Systems: A Global Company With A Local Heart”.

Heartwarming stuff. Unless, of course, you know who BAE Systems actually are.

They used to be known as British Aerospace, until they merged with Marconi in the late 1990s. They’re the UK’s number one defense contractor, and one of the largest arms manufacturers worldwide. They make warplanes, ships, submarines, radar systems—everything from gyroscopic compasses to weapons of mass destruction.

One of their more well-known products is the Hawk fighter-bomber. During the 1980s and 90s, BAE Systems sold 40 Hawk aircraft to the Indonesian government, who used them to help with the attempted genocide in East Timor. The UK Labour government shipped them another 16 after the genocide started, saying that they were powerless to revoke an arms contract signed by the previous government. Of course, that doesn’t explain why they extended the contract to avoid it expiring during the EU arms embargo on Indonesia…

You might also know BAE Systems via their subsidiary Heckler & Koch. The H&K MP5 was standard issue for Indonesian troops in East Timor during the genocide. To get around inconvenient trade embargoes, BAE Systems licensed the design to MKEK, a Turkish company who were happy to sell the weapons to Indonesia. (You may also remember seeing one of them pointed at Elian Gonzales.)

BAES are on very good terms with the US government too, to the tune of $5 billion a year. (That’s a very nice tune, it goes cha-ching.) BAE gets special treatment from the Pentagon, being allowed to trade as if it was a domestic arms company. That means lots of juicy contracts fighting “The War Against Terrorism”.

They’re also close friends with the regime in Saudi Arabia, allegedly thanks to their purchasing houses, yachts and hookers for Saudi officials via a corporate slush fund. In 1995, investigative reporters caught BAE staff on film offering electroshock batons for sale as torture equipment, and admitting that they had sold 8,000 to the Saudis and thousands more to the Chinese, who are particularly fond of using them against Tibetans. The great thing about BAES electroshock batons is you can torture someone for hours and not leave a mark. For some reason, they fail to mention all this on their home page, merely stating that they are “innovating for a safer world”.

When the UK government tried to start an anti-corruption initiative, BAE Systems actually refused to take part. In fact, they are so sleazy that the Bush administration accused them of being corrupt. All of which makes the WENH ad rather surreal, but not as surreal as the fact that BAES have the titanium composite cojones necessary to publish a corporate social responsibility page.

So, next time you see the happy smiling faces of the BAE Systems children on WENH, perhaps like me you’ll wonder what happens when one of them asks “What do you do at work, Daddy?”

Yes, I know, all the bad things happen in other parts of BAE Systems. The New Hampshire people make teddy bears for orphans. No, actually they’re the Information and Electronic Warfare Systems unit, who make the guidance systems for the happy fighter jets that fly over Aceh.