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Hundreds of retired U.S. military personnel have taken foreign jobs, report says

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Hundreds of U.S. military veterans, including retired generals and admirals, have received permission from the U.S. to work for foreign governments, including countries with questionable human rights records. That's according to an investigation by The Washington Post. They include retired general and former National Security Agency director Keith Alexander, whose company was approved to work with Saudi Arabia just weeks after the Saudis murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi. We're joined now by one of the Post's reporters, Craig Whitlock, who worked on the investigation. Craig, your reporting shows that around 95% of these requests were approved. Who are these former military members who are working overseas, and what's motivating them?

CRAIG WHITLOCK: So these are all retired military personnel. That means people who had served 20 years in uniform. And it runs the gamut from retired generals and admirals who often work as high-dollar consultants to foreign militaries, to former grunts who work as helicopter mechanics, technicians, people who are really keeping the machinery of foreign militaries up and running. So it runs from high-ranking people to low-ranking.

MARTINEZ: Now, when the U.S. government says it stands for human rights but then allows former military officials to work for these countries, isn't that a contradiction of sorts?

WHITLOCK: Well, it is, but the U.S. relationship with countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates is one big contradiction. And it's been that way for decades. But particularly on human rights, United States supplies an enormous quantity of arms and weapons to these countries, but it's never quite reconciled their repressive record on political dissent and human rights. And you mentioned General Alexander. His contract with the Saudis to help them develop a college of cybersecurity was approved, as you pointed out, just weeks after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. And this college he was working on was headed - was overseen by one of Crown Prince Mohammed's top deputies, a guy named Saud Qahtani, who the U.S. government had actually imposed Treasury sanctions on just a few weeks before General Alexander's application was approved.

MARTINEZ: You know, presumably the generals, the retired generals and admirals, have knowledge of America's most secretive programs. Is there any monitoring of what these veterans are doing with foreign governments?

WHITLOCK: There is upfront. There is a counterintelligence review where the United States government at the Pentagon and at the State Department do a background check on these individuals. They check their security clearances. But once they start to work for foreign governments, you know, there really is no monitoring. They're sort of expected to abide by laws to protect classified information or not share secrets that are not authorized by Washington. But nobody's really keeping track of what they do or the extent of it.

MARTINEZ: Now, you've tried to find out how much these people are getting paid, but you're not getting anywhere. What do you think is the reason for this trying to be hidden, it seems?

WHITLOCK: Well, I think - the Pentagon and the Justice Department have said in court that they think it would subject these retired military members to embarrassment or even harassment if the public were to find out. And that's something that we're still pursuing.

MARTINEZ: That's Craig Whitlock, investigative reporter for The Washington Post. Craig, thank you.

WHITLOCK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.