Category Archives: Lobbying

Murdoch press lists corporate spending on political and lobbying activities

Times journalists Alex Ralph, and Harry Wilson present and comment on material collected by the Times Data Team: Tom Wills, Ryan Watts, Kira Schacht. Links have been added by PCU’s editor to enable readers to learn more if they wish to do so.

“FTSE 100 groups, including banks, defence contractors, tobacco manufacturers and telecoms companies, have spent more than £24 million on lobbying in Brussels and about £335,000 funding all-party parliamentary groups in Westminster”.

They add: “There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing or rule-breaking by companies”.

FTSE 100 political spending (over the last two years)

The Times first focusses on All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs)

APPGs are run by and for Members of the Commons and Lords who join together to pursue a particular topic or interest. Many involve individuals and organisations from outside Parliament in their administration and activities – or as the journalists put it, “help to push industry agendas in parliament”. Read more here.

Unsurprisingly, BAE Systems, which spent £37,000 on a group “to promote better understanding of the Her Majesty’s armed forces in parliament”, is among the biggest backers of the parliamentary groups.

The writers comment that parliamentary groups have proved contentious because of the large amounts spent on reports that often support the views of industry and which grant access to parliament for companies and lobbyists.

BT’s £53,000 included backing the parliamentary internet, communications and technology forum, known as Pictfor, whose members include Tom Watson, the Labour deputy leader and Lord Birt, former Blair adviser and director-general of the BBC. A list of funders may be seen here.

Note: ’Donations to APPGs’ shows spending between Jan 2015 and Mar 2017 as declared on the Register of APPGs. ’Spend on EU lobbying’ shows companies’ minimum estimates for the most recent financial year declared on the EU Transparency Register at the time of research. Here is a snapshot taken from one of 10 pages listing donations/other spending and the companies’ rationales for these sums being given.

The Times’ second focus is on the denial of information to shareholders

Less than £10,000 of identified political and lobbying spending in the EU was disclosed to shareholders in the companies’ recent annual reports. ompanies are not required to disclose details to shareholders and little information on corporate political and lobbying activities is revealed in annual reports, which are published before shareholder meetings. The tens of millions of euros spent each year in the EU go largely undeclared to shareholders.

Corporate Europe, which campaigns for greater transparency in EU decision making, has spent years tracking how the business world moulds policy.

Vicky Cann, the group’s UK representative, said that the banking and energy industries were the most active lobbyists. “The financial services industry is a huge spender and even then we think the real scope of their spending is probably bigger than we can currently see,” she said. Her colleague gave the example of recent emissions legislation that was the subject of intense lobbying by BP and Shell.

As Peter van Veen, director of business integrity at Transparency International, said, “Corporate transparency over political activities is important to ensure the public can have the confidence that their politicians and industry leaders are conducting business ethically . . . If companies are not voluntarily willing to disclose their political activities and funding of these, then stronger legislation should be considered and a possible starting point may be to broaden the definition of political activities and expenditure in the Companies Act 2006.”

 

 

 

 

Media 73: “Why has the BBC focussed on past tensions and scandals in NI election coverage?”

Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers Association and Farmers For Action ask why the BBC ignores constructive legislation proposals – is their sole aim to gain ratings?

They point out that the BBC should be playing its part in informing its viewers and listeners and questioning the politicians ahead of the election on what could be the biggest ever turnaround in prosperity for Northern Ireland.

One such proposal for Stormont on farm gate prices for staples would return to Northern Ireland farmers a minimum of the cost of production inflation-linked plus a margin which would lead to an estimated 20,000 jobs+ across Northern Ireland and an annual welfare saving of £280million+, much needed by the NHS, but to no avail so far.

wt4A copy of the leaflets being handed out may be seen here or by scrolling down

In the run to last year’s election and again this year NI farm groups tried to get the BBC to report the proposal with no success.

As a result the committees of both NIAPA and FFA have concluded that whilst the vast majority of political parties and independents are very supportive of this idea, rather than play their part in trying to build a prosperous future for all in Northern Ireland the BBC would rather ignore the fact that the foundations of its largest industry are crumbling and just hype up NI tensions of the past and exaggerate scandals to gain ratings.

The food supply across the world versus an increasing population is dwindling, yet NI is well placed to have a buoyant food industry. However that position is fading along with the 4-7 jobs down the line that every person working on a farm creates.  In fact, the situation is so serious that 25% of farming families are living below the poverty line and can ill afford the license fee due to the majority receiving little over half the cost of production for their produce.

The BBC is a cost to everyone in NI and has a duty to report the news good and bad: what it does not have is a licence to manipulate the news at election time to suit the ratings.

Rural poverty is on the increase and seriously impacting virtually the whole of Northern Ireland according to the recent Rural Support Report and The Gosling Report. Both reports tell how bad the situation is but go on to explain how good it could be if Stormont would implement legislation on farm gate prices.

Have the BBC lost touch of what really matters?

 

*

 For more information, contact William Taylor, NI Farm Groups

56 Cashel Road, Macosquin, Coleraine, BT51 4NU

Tel. 028 703 43419 / 07909744624  Email taylor.w@btconnect.com

.

.

Is the HS2 project the most blatant example of UK/USA’s revolving door/vested interest ridden politics?

hs2-viaductvisual

“A gravy train for consultants, involving banks, lawyers and government officials” – and industry?

Many are shocked by the hugely damaging environmental and social impacts of demolition of properties in London and homes, farms and businesses and along the proposed HS” route.

Added to this reaction is horror at news of the emerging and all-too familiar reports of conflicts of interest – a polite expression for what is a form of apparently legal corruption.

A skeletal chronological summary of news about the nominated leadership of the HS2 project and some contract awards follows, based on reports in the Financial Times, 2015-2017.

Background 2015

The Institute of Directors suggested that it would be cheaper to knock down Birmingham and build a new city 20 minutes closer to the capital, while the Institute of Economic Affairs cast doubt on HS2’s regeneration benefits, pointing out that HS1 failed to regenerate Kent, with the average employment rate in the south east of Britain 5% lower than before the high speed service was introduced.

Portugal, Poland, Spain, the Netherlands and Belgium have all cancelled planned or existing high-speed rail projects and some argue that Britain should follow suit. Martin Blaiklock, a consultant on infrastructure and energy project finance, said that extra capacity could be built more cheaply by adding to existing railways. “[HS2] is very high-risk,” he says. “It is a gravy train for consultants, involving banks, lawyers and government officials.”

Conflict of interest emerges in 2015-16 in favour of an American multinational 

revolving-door-peopleIt was reported that Roy Hill, managing director of the US-headquartered engineering company CH2M, has been seconded to HS2 acting chief executive on a temporary basis from November, after Simon Kirby, the former chief executive, elected to leave for Rolls-Royce. Mr Hill worked at HS2’s offices in Canary Wharf for CH2M between 2012 and 2014 after the company won the role of development partner carrying out preparatory work, in a contract worth about £70m.

CH2M entrenched?

In Gill Plimmer’s FT article yesterday, readers were reminded that Mark Thurston, an executive at CH2M, has now been appointed chief executive of HS2 Ltd, replacing the aforementioned Roy Hill.  He will take over in March.

David Higgins, HS2’s chairman, said he recognised the need to avoid any conflict of interest and that Mr Thurston would consequently cut all links with his previous employer. “They will be treated in the same way as any other supplier – no more or less favourably than that,” Mr Higgins said of CH2M.

CH2M has already been paid around £500m for working on the line as development partner and then the delivery partner on Phase 1 of the high-speed railway project, from London to Birmingham. Phase 2 covers Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds.

Mace, a large consultancy and construction company, which worked on the London 2012 Olympics and plans for Hinkley Point C, has written to HS2 Ltd, set up by government in 2009, announcing that it intends to challenge the decision to award CH2M, the US engineer, a contract to design the second phase of the London to Manchester line. “As a British-owned company, we were naturally disappointed with HS2’s decision and are looking closely at our options,” Mace said.

 gravy-train

Ms Plimmer states that Mace is threatening to sue the state-owned company behind Britain’s planned £56bn high-speed railway line over alleged conflicts of interest..

She quotes a source close to the legal process who said it was “extremely likely” that Mace would file a claim in the High Court this week. “Mace is concerned over conflicts of interest. It is looking for an injustice to be corrected,” the source said. “CH2M has been awarded half a billion pounds worth of contracts even though nothing has been built yet.” CH2M declined to comment.

Legal action could delay the project, which is expected to get Royal Assent this week, paving the way for construction to start this year. Final amendments to the HS2 bill are being debated on Monday in the House of Commons.

Tony Berkeley, the Labour peer and a former engineer who worked on the Channel tunnel, said the situation “smells”. “There must be other companies in the UK who are capable of doing it. Is HS2 actually competent to do the procurement or are they just relying on CH2M to do the whole thing and procure themselves?”

 

 

 

 

Closer to home: spotlight on combined authorities and elected mayors – democratise!

A reader brought to our attention the recent article on transport by Richard Hatcher. Before we focus on this, we set it in the context of his reflections on combined authorities for thoughtful people in the seven CAs already established and a further seven proposed – read in detail here

Why government – and employers – want a directly-elected mayor

A directly-elected mayor is a presidential form of local government, accountable only in direct elections every four years with no right of removal.  It means the government can deal with a single leader and one not tied to local political parties as a council leader is – an arrangement that suits the private sector too. Directly-elected mayors offer the possibility of a Tory mayor, or at least an independent, being elected in Labour-dominated urban areas. And they are ideally suited to the media’s fondness for reducing politics to personalities.

Democratise the Combined Authorities: London has an elected Assembly – why not the West Midlands?

 

batc

 

Richard Hatcher points out on BATC’s website that there is a precedent, the scrutiny arrangements in London: “There ongoing public accountability of the directly elected mayor and the Greater London Authority is ensured by a directly elected London Assembly.  The London Assembly has 25 elected members. They are not just existing councillors drafted onto a Scrutiny Committee, they are elected by citizens who vote for them specifically because they are going to fight for their interests. And they aren’t just reactive to policy, they act as champions for Londoners proactively investigating concerns through not just one but 15 issue-based committees and raising their findings and their policy demands with the Mayor and with the government itself”.

The Constitution of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) does not exclude the option of an elected Assembly, Hatcher asks “If it’s right for London why isn’t it right for the West Midlands?”. Three principles are laid down and seven positive steps – read on here.

Scrutiny?

His article written earlier this month describes the WMCA Scrutiny Committee as being ‘seriously incapable’ of carrying out that responsibility: “The Scrutiny Committee only has 12 councillor members. It is scheduled to have only four meetings during the year, for two hours each.  It is inconceivable that the Committee can engage with the huge range of activities of the WMCA, select issues to scrutinise and carry out a serious process of scrutiny in that time. (Each set of documentation for the monthly CA Board meetings typically amounts to a hundred pages or more, let alone those from the other dozen or more committees.)”

Be aware of conflicts of interest

The Scrutiny Committee allocates 3 places to representatives of the 3 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), the employer-led bodies representing business interests. Hatcher comments: “This is an extraordinary decision which seems unique among Combined Authorities”. For example, there are no LEP representatives on the Greater Manchester CA Scrutiny Committee. The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report into devolution and Combined Authorities, published in June 2016 said:

“It is alarming that LEPs are not meeting basic standards of governance and transparency, such as disclosing conflicts of interest to the public.

LEPs are led by the private sector, and stakeholders have raised concerns that they are dominated by vested interests that do not properly represent their business communities”.

So far two of the three LEP places have been taken up by named representatives. One is Sarah Windrum, founder and CEO of Warwickshire technology company The Emerald Group, on behalf of the Coventry and Warwickshire LEP. The other is Black Country LEP Board Member Paul Brown, Director of Government Services for Ernst & Young, a global accountancy company.

Ernst and Young serves as auditor and tax adviser to Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon – the businesses which have come under the most fire for avoiding taxes. As its website says, it is closely involved in the formulation and delivery of policy “across a wide range of central Government departments”.  Given the controlling role of government in the WMCA, Hatcher thinks it inevitable that Paul Brown, as Director of Government Services, would be exercising scrutiny on behalf of the CA over policies which his employer, Ernst and Young, would have been involved in formulating and delivering.

Other members of the Black Country LEP have a direct interest in investment in land for construction. The Chair of the BC LEP is Simon Eastwood, Managing Director of Carillion Developments, Carillion Plc. Carillion plc is a British multinational facilities management and construction services company with its headquarters in Wolverhampton. It is one of the largest construction companies operating in the UK. Among its projects in the West Midlands is the redevelopment of Paradise Circus in Birmingham city centre. Read on here.

Hatcher concludes: “In the absence of an elected Assembly, the Scrutiny Committee is the only instrument of public accountability of the WMCA. Its credibility depends on there being no suspicion in the public mind that there are actual or potential conflicts of interest. For that reason we believe there should be no representatives of LEPs on the Scrutiny Committee”.

 

 

 

In the public domain now: revolving door, rewards for failure, media bias, lobbying and corporate party funding

revolving-door-peopleThe Political Concern website was set up seven years ago to raise awareness of the ‘revolving door’, rewards for failure, widespread behind-the-scene lobbying and party funding which corrupts the decision-making process here and abroad.

The social, economic and environmental challenges facing this country are still not being effectively addressed, largely due to the distortion of policy-making by those on ‘an inside track, largely drawn from the corporate world, who wield privileged access and disproportionate influence’ according to a report by the Parliamentary Public Administration Select Committee [PASC] in 2008].

However it is now common knowledge, with the growth of social media, that those on ‘the inside track, largely drawn from the corporate world, who wield privileged access and disproportionate influence’ are skewing decision making – so mission accomplished?

As the examples of this corruption are now accepted as the norm, after this post, individual examples of this practice need no longer be listed.

The ideal

adams-common-good

The reality

Our attention has been drawn to outsourcing company Capita’s recruitment of former PwC chairman and senior partner Ian Powell as its next chairman. Capita’s website rejoices in PwC’s interactions with the UK Government and other public sector organisations. PwC and others received large sums of public money from a range of government departments, as a FOI request from former Public Accounts Committee chair Margaret Hodge revealed.

Another reader noted that MP Andrew Mitchell has been recruited as consultant with Ernst & Young to mend fences after its record as auditor for Lehman Brothers and its fines for involvement with tax avoidance schemes. Expected remuneration: £30,000 a year for up to 5 days’ work.

The last example was the appointment of Peter Stephens as Nissan’s head of UK external and government affairs after serving as deputy director of the now merged Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) with responsibility for EU strategy. A year later, many questioned the way Nissan‘s Sunderland’s deal was arrived at, criticising the government for a lack of transparency but the National Audit Office saw no evidence that the government offered Nissan a ‘sweetheart deal’ to boost production figures.

The latest example of corporate party donations seen is a gift of £25,000 to the Conservatives from Entourage Concierge Ltd – ‘inspiring a proactive approach to luxury’ – not for the JAMs!

 

fit-to-rule-tests-atos

 

Enough!

 

 

 

Will the public rally round Tony Blair as he seeks to ‘fill a massive hole in British politics’ – or is this just Murdoch mischief?

tony-blairThe understandably affronted proprietor of the Times no doubt approves the article in today’s edition (and quoted in the Independent) asserting that in January Tony Blair is expected to launch an institute based near Whitehall which will help to make the country change its mind about leaving the EU. One of two names being considered is the ‘Tony Blair Institute for Global Change’.

It is alleged that, to this end, he has held ‘information-gathering’ talks with Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of US president-elect Donald Trump, former chancellor George Osborne and other senior ministers and officials.

Last month Blair wrote an article in issue 17 of the New European newspaper, a British weekly ‘for the 48%’ launched in July and aimed at those who voted to remain within the European Union. He urged “remain” supporters to “mobilise and organise” an insurgency to make the public change its mind about leaving the EU.

A charm offensive?

jim-murphyBlair’s spokesman confirms that his ally Jim Murphy, the former leader of Scottish Labour, has been recruited to advise Blair on merging his charitable and business interests in Mayfair, Millbank and Canary Wharf under one not-for-profit brand and bolster his ‘political clout’. Murphy is a member of the political council of the sabre rattling Henry Jackson Society, a transatlantic think tank which advocates an interventionist foreign policy by both non-military and military methods – read about its spine-chilling ‘Centre for the Response to Radicalisation and Terrorism’ here.

Murphy will work with 130 staff including Catherine Rimmer, Blair’s chief of staff, and Angela Salt, the chief executive of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, in merging Blair’s charitable and commercial operations under one not-for-profit brand.

And confusion reigns

rupert_-_murdoch_-_laughingMeanwhile, the Times reports/exults that 60 Tory MPs, including seven former cabinet ministers, have demanded that Theresa May pulls Britain out of the single market and customs, in a letter co-ordinated by the Conservative MP Steve Baker; the Eurosceptics are reported to have said that only the cleanest Brexit can fulfil the referendum pledge to “untie ourselves from EU shackles and freely embrace the rest of the world”.

 

 

 

 

Fluoridation of drinking water: MP allegedly failed to declare an interest

hmg-logo

 

sirpaul-beresford

Sir Paul Beresford MP, a member of Parliament’s standards committee is facing an investigation (Declaration of Financial Interests) on suspicion of breaching House of Commons rules.

A letterhead used in August

bfs-header

This MP, a senior figure in the dental profession, is facing an official investigation by Kathryn Hudson, the Standards Commissioner, after she received a complaint alleging that he had not declared links to the British Fluoridation Society (BFS). Beresford has been vice chairman of the BFS for some years.

fluoride-uk-mapThis pressure group advocates the addition of fluoride to the country’s drinking water, as only 10% of the population suffers this hazardous chemical onslaught at present – London and the South being happily fluoride free.

Earlier this year Sir Paul, who is also chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Dentistry, spoke in the House of Commons and poured scorn on growing support for a ‘sugar tax’.

He then advocated the promotion of oral fluoride for children “until such time as the water supply in the area in which the children live is fluoridated.” 

Sir Paul told The Telegraph that the role was unpaid and he stepped down from it some time ago. He said that he was unaware they had used his name on their letterheads or that the society considered him to be its vice chairman.

However the real public interest issue is not whether Sir Paul as paid or not, but the misuse of power with a vested interest bringing influence to bear on the decision-making process.

 

 

 

Revolving door 37 – confession time?

Recently Patrick Jenkins, Financial Editor of the FT, explored the history of the revolving door, saying that the practice of former politicians and central bankers seeking high paid work in financial services has a long pedigree, particularly in the US.

With apparent surprise – though it has been established practice in Britain involving senior politicians and corporates – he says. “Now it seems to be an accelerating trend in Europe”.

revolving-door-largerYet for the last six years sites such as Spinwatch, less directly Corporate Watch and the Private Eye magazine (see this article) – have highlighted this phenomenon. This Political Concern website was set up in 2010 to raise awareness of the ‘revolving door’, rewards for failure, widespread behind-the-scene lobbying and party funding which corrupts the decision-making process. A ‘media’ category was added later.

Patrick Jenkins’ article prompted the writer to count the articles on this website which have ‘revolving door’ in the title; there were 37 – but many more had incidental references and others added the graphic on the right. Jenkins writes:

“News that Lord King, the former governor of the Bank of England, has taken a key advisory role at Citigroup follows only weeks after it was announced that former European Commission president José Manuel Barroso would chair Goldman Sachs International. Rumours are growing, too, that senior members of the last UK government may follow a similar path, following in the footsteps of the previous Labour administration”.

After citing Tony Blair as ‘one of the most famous examples of the phenomenon to date’ and listing the many roles he has taken on in his post-politics career, Jenkins moved on to focus on central bankers and policy-makers switching from public service into the private sector and vice versa.

He ends: “Defenders of the practice say it helps break down barriers between financial services companies and policymakers, but critics think it can leave an unpleasant taste. “The potential is certainly there for conflicts of interest — both real and perceived,” says Bob Jenkins, who has worked as an asset manager, regulator and market reformist”. 

Brandon Patty, a young American politician, gets nearer the truth

brandon-pattyHe wrote in the FT yesterday, with reference to America, that the general public has zero confidence in . . . career bureaucrats, professional politicians looking out for our best interests:

“From immigration and trade deals, to excess regulations and scandals at far too many government departments, there is a very real sense that (the public’s) concerns and priorities do not matter to decision makers” adding that a September 2015 poll found 75% perceived corruption as widespread in the country’s government.

But will the shameless in Britain and America take the slightest notice of these commentators?

 

 

 

Waiting in the wings: servants of the public or the corporate world?

Taking back control – for the wealthy?

“It seems extraordinary that a man with such a past could have been brought back into government, let alone given such a crucial and sensitive role”.

The new international trade secretary, Liam Fox explained his enthusiasm for leaving Europe: “We’ll be able to make our own laws unhindered by anyone else, and our democratic parliament will not be overruled by a European Court.”

Liam Fox: “a corporate sleeper cell implanted in government five years ago”?

liam foxGeorge Monbiot reminds us that in 2011 Fox resigned his post as defence secretary in disgrace, after his extracurricular interests were exposed. He had set up an organisation called Atlantic Bridge which formed a partnership with a corporate lobbying group called the American Legislative Exchange Council, funded by tobacco, pharmaceutical and oil companies. It was struck off by the Charity Commission after allying with people and organisations to lobby for privatisation of public services privatised and releasing corporations from regulation.

He allowed a lobbyist to attend his official meetings, without government clearance, making misleading statements about these meetings, which were later disproved.

Fox is said to promote TTIP which would “significantly undercut the last vestiges of sovereign power, spuriously revered by Fox and his allies, by insisting that the government open up the NHS and other public institutions to American companies, who could even sue the UK in international courts if policies affect their profits”.

Owen Smith: Labour’s corporate leadership candidate

owen smith smallAs noted in an earlier post, Owen Smith, who became Labour MP for the safe seat of Pontypridd in 2010, is on record as being pro-choice aka privatisation in the health sector.

Having worked at the heart of America’s corporate world, he is acceptable to right-wing Labour and Conservatives.

As head of government affairs for Pfizer, which involved lobbying and public relations for the US drug company:

  • He chose to work with Pfizer, which reached a $2.3 billion settlement with the US government in 2009 for fraudulent marketing and kickbacks paid to doctors who prescribed Lyrica and other Pfizer products and $400 million to settle a shareholder lawsuit over this case.
  • He endorsed a Pfizer-backed report offering patients a choice between NHS services and private-sector healthcare providers.
  • He helped the drugs company to strike an exclusive distribution agreement with UniChem, the wholesaling arm of Alliance-Boots; the OFT’s chief executive warned that such agreements “could cost the NHS hundreds of millions of pounds while reducing standards of service”.

Mr Smith then decided to move on to work as head of corporate affairs at the biotech company Amgen until 2015, a company recovering ground after its anti-anemia blockbusters, Aranesp and Epogen, had been hampered by losses due to concerns about side effects, regulatory issues and insurance trouble

There is a real danger – as Monbiot points out – that people with such histories are only concerned with promoting the millionaires’ agenda, by urging that the social contract which makes this country more or less habitable be ripped apart.

99%-3

 

There is an honest and public-spirited alternative – “Remind you of anyone?”.

 

Media 61: Trident vote, news of American vested interests omitted and online leads vanish

An extensive search online has failed to find a workable link to the recently published letter by former US defence officials and senior military officers.

trident smallThe only references found were in a Russia Today report and a blog by Dr David Lowry, a member of the government’s Geological Disposal Implementation Board which oversees the programme to dispose of high-level radioactive waste.

Earlier pronouncements are readily available online

Over the years former defence chiefs have said that to “abandon” Britain’s four Trident submarines would be “an enormous gamble” which could threaten “the survival of our nation” and another set of retired military men, similarly qualified, have said that these systems are ‘completely useless’. These are still readily to be found online, so why is the link to this recent letter so hard to find? There appears to be nothing sensitive or unexpected in it.

Is it a response to Private Eye’s recent exposure of the financial vested interests of many of the signatories?

The magazine lists the affiliations of some of the signatories (below), though probably for legal reasons it does not name the individuals concerned:

  • Lockheed Martin
  • Babcock defence group,
  • Sandia
  • EADS
  • Scowcroft Group

american hubris2The magazine surmises that the Trident vote was a measure taken to reassure defence contractors, British and American that their investments would be safe and deals made would be honoured.

It commented that US companies stand to ‘make a mint’ out of the Trident Successor programme and that the British government is in no position to disappoint them.

In the interests of preservation – as websites crash and lose such data (especially in the chemical/pharmaceutical world) such material can live on in minor sites, the letter and signatories are posted here: https://nuclearindustries.wordpress.com/trident-vote-recently-published-letter-by-former-us-defence-officials-and-senior-military-officers/