Meet the Consulting Firm That's Staffing the Biden Administration

A small team of ex-ambassadors, lawyers, and Obama appointees have spent the last few years solving problems at the largest companies in the world from their headquarters located just blocks away from the White House. More than 15 WestExec Advisors consultants have been active in the White House, its foreign policies apparatus and its law enforcement institutions, less than six months after the Biden administration began. Five of the five have been nominated to high-ranking positions, while four others were part of the Biden-Harris Transition Team. It's a remarkable feat of leadership, even by Washington standards, for a company that was only founded in 2017. This pipeline has resulted in a dominant number of WestExec alumni throughout the administration, including those who have been appointed as secretary of state and director of national intelligence. The WestExec clients have controversial interests in defense and tech that overlap with the policies their former consultants are now able to create and implement.Each WestExec advisor has received varying levels of media coverage. There have been blurbs in trade magazines for cybersecurity head, headlines about the secretary of state and blurbs in the press for the head. However, the growing monopolization of foreign policiesmaking by one boutique consulting firm has largely gone unnoticed. This network of policymakers is characterized by insularity, which raises concerns about groupthink, conflicts and what can only possibly be called, oxymoronically: legalized corruption.The private sector can effectively co-opt the government.WestExec doesn't affirmatively share clients. Public financial disclosure forms offer only broad overviews. Kathleen Clark, a Washington University law professor, states that the government ethics laws of decades past are not able to deal with a situation where a single company launches 15 senior officers. They are employed by the government, that is true. But do they really work for the American people? Clark asked where their loyalty lies. In essence, the private sector can co-opt public sector leaders. A spokesperson for the White House said that their prior experience in the private sector is part of a wide and varied skill set they bring to government service. This story was not completed without WestExec's response. One of the firm's key selling points is its unique geopolitical risk analysis. This has been confirmed by the presence of its employees in high-ranking positions. WestExec also helped tech startups get defense contracts, and assisted defense corporations with modernization. It also worked to help multinational businesses break into China. Pine Island Capital Partners, a defense-focused investment group, is one of its collaborators. It launched a blank check company last year, called a SPAC. Tony Blinken was part owner and advised Pine Island. (Michle Flournoy was another WestExec cofounder and her nomination for secretary of defense was canceled. Instead, President Joe Biden nominated Lloyd Austin. Austin is a former Pine Island partner and not a WestExec consultant. WestExec is a boutique because its executives will have time with experienced policymakers. One WestExec cofounder said that while other firms may have brought in big names to help them, they never saw the big names. Tony is available for client calls.Graphic by Soohee Cho/TheInterceptBlinken, who is now secretary of State, advised household names such as AT&T, Boeing Defense Contractor, FedEx Shipping Magnate, and Discovery Media Company, which was a WestExec founder partner. He was a Big Tech expert, working for Uber, LinkedIn, Microsoft and Microsoft. He worked with niche companies such as speakers bureau GLG and Sothebys art seller. Blinken also lists clients who are global asset managers and investment firms like Blackstone, Lazard and Royal Bank of Canada. SoftBank, a multinational conglomerate, does extensive business with Saudi Arabia. McKinsey & Company was also advised by him. After The American Prospect asked about Blinken's international relationships, Blinken decided to leave WestExec in July 2020. This was because he may have to consider how each business has an impact on his calculations when implementing Biden's foreign policy. Blinken also brought with him several key State Department staff members. Julianne Smith, his senior adviser, listed SoftBank and Boeing as clients. She earned $34,000 while working full-time at the think tank German Marshall Fund. Smith was nominated as NATO's permanent representative. (Blinken also appointed Sarah McCool, WestExec's executive assistant, to the State Department as director of scheduling. Barbara Leaf, an ex-ambassador to the United Arab Emirates was a former adviser to the National Basketball Association. Later, she served as the National Security Council's senior director for Middle East affairs at Biden. Leaf is still waiting to be elected assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs in the State Departments. According to his colleague, Daniel B. Shapiro is being considered as a Middle East ambassador. He was Obama's ambassador to Israel. Last summer, the Prospect reported that Windward, an Israeli artificial Intelligence company that specializes on ship tracking, was one of WestExecs customers. It also offered a safe place for Biden's top intelligence chiefs to rest while they waited out Trumps administration. Avril Haines, Director of National Intelligence, was removed from WestExecs' website in the early days. However, she worked for the firm from October 2017 through July 2020 when she was appointed to Biden's transition team as foreign-policy lead. A questionnaire she completed prior to her confirmation hearing revealed that she provided strategic advice on cyber norms and national security threats. She also tested, evaluated, validated and verified machine learning systems by Department of Defense clients such as Facebook, JPMorgan Chase and Microsoft. David S. Cohen, Deputy Director of CIA was an early member the core team of WestExecs alongside Haines and Blinken. It is impossible to identify his clients because of an exemption for spy agency officials, so his disclosure is not public. Clark, an ethics expert at Washington University said that this exempts them form public accountability. This is a problem since we can't necessarily rely upon internal controls to keep our information secret. Chris Inglis was recently appointed national cyber director by the Senate. He was paid $15,000 by the company and previously worked at CrowdStrike, an internet security firm, and Virtru, an email encryption company. Since 2017, WestExecs main focus has been on improving the capabilities of intelligence and defense agencies. Ridgeline Ventures, a Silicon Valley venture company, is its partner. Ridgeline describes itself as mission-driven, meaning Ridgeline does not work with the military like other tech investors. Blinken made investments in many portfolio companies through Ridgelines partnership with Inglis and Cohen. These obscure startups are known for their quirky names, such as Agolo, Doodle and Wallaroo. But they are developing advanced technologies such as drones, artificial intelligence and robots. WestExec alumni are passionate about emerging tech. This could lead to conflicts as they assume policymaking roles that impact the contracts the government approves. The firm also had one of the most prominent faces in the administration. Jen Psaki is the White House press secretary. She was a senior advisor to WestExec. There she handled crisis communications for AnyVision, an Israeli facial recognition software company, and advised Spirit of America.