Founded in 1988 by Frank Gaffney, a Reagan-era Pentagon official, the Center for Security Policy (CSP) is a prominent member of the neoconservative advocacy community that has promoted extravagant weapons programs, an Israel-centric view of Middle East peace, and a broad "war on terror" against "Islamofascists." The organization claims to promote the "establishment of successful national security policies through the use of all elements of national power." According to the CSP, "The philosophy of 'Peace through Strength' is not a slogan for military might but a belief that America's national power must be preserved and properly used for it holds a unique global role in maintaining peace and stability."
A primary target of CSP's work is Iran. Since the 2013 election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani—widely regarded as a relative moderate willing to seek accommodation with the West—CSP figures have been quick to protest any signs of diplomatic rapprochement between Tehran and Washington. "By simply meeting with Mr. Rouhani, let alone by making other, more tangible concessions to Iran's president, Mr. Obama would confer a legitimacy on the self-professed Iranian con man that is unwarranted," wrote Gaffney in September 2013, insisting that Rouhani was less moderate than he appeared to be. Arguing that only the threat of military force could resolve the standoff, Gaffney concluded that Obama "should be open to congressional enactment of an authorization for the use of military force in Iran," even if such a resolution would wreck negotiations.
CSP vociferously opposed nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group of nations, which led to the historic agreement in July 2015. After the deal was reached, Gaffney opined that the American public should oppose it because it "has the potential to translate into an existential threat to the United States."
While the diplomatic efforts were ongoing, CSP fellows issued calls for Congress to impose more sanctions on Iran. "The nuclear deal that appears to be on the table between the P5 + 1 and Iran is a bad one, dangerous to international stability, an existential threat to Israel, and a deadly threat to U.S. national security as well," wrote senior fellow Clare Lopez. Another senior fellow, Fred Fleitz, argued that "Congress must repudiate the nuclear talks with Iran and any agreement resulting from them" and "must reinstitute a responsible U.S. policy on the Iranian nuclear program by approving new sanctions against Iran."
Gaffney has accused the Obama administration of weakening the United States by engaging Iran diplomatically and by presiding over modest cuts to the U.S. military budget. "Far from a Reaganesque policy of 'peace through strength' and the practice of what historian Henry Nau calls 'armed diplomacy' that it has made successful in the past, Team Obama is engaged in disarmed diplomacy. The results will, predictably, be disappointing and probably quite dangerous," Gaffney wrote. "The truth is that our adversaries, whether they be in Damascus, Tehran, Moscow, Beijing or elsewhere have not simply taken the measure this wholly inadequate American president. They are responding to all he is doing to emasculate what has been the principal obstacle to their ambitions: our military, long the world's finest. … [O]ur adversaries are [ready] to take advantage — diplomatically and otherwise — of our self-inflicted and unilateral disarmament."
CSP has earned a reputation as a core member of what the Center for American Progress (CAP) terms the "Islamophobia network"—a patchwork of scholars, foundations, and opinion-makers that has propagated negative impressions of Islam and Muslims in the United States. In a widely noted 2011 report, CAP called CSP one of the "key think tanks led by scholars who are primarily responsible for orchestrating the majority of anti-Islam messages polluting our national discourse today."
Gaffney has peddled a host of bizarre conspiracy theories about Muslims in the United States. In addition to maintaining the discredited view that President Barack Obama is a Muslim, Gaffney has claimed to see the threat of "creeping sharia" everywhere in the U.S. political establishment. According to ThinkProgress, Gaffney has "accused Gen. David Petraeus of 'submission' to Sharia law, claimed that the Muslim Brotherhood has 'infiltrated' the federal government, and even argued that the government's Missile Defense logo is further evidence of creeping Sharia law."
CSP publications have accused various figures within the Obama administration—including Homeland Security adviser Mohamed Elibiary and former Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin—of having ties to the Muslim Brotherhood or other radical Islamist factions. In 2012, Rep. Michelle Bachmann and a handful of other House conservatives sent letters to U.S. government agencies echoing CSP's claims about Abedin and the Muslim Brotherhood, which prompted widespread and bipartisan condemnations that the charges were baseless and defamatory. The "attacks on Huma have no logic, no basis, and no merit," said Sen. John McCain. And they need to stop now."
In June 2015, CSP administered a controversial "online survey of 600 Muslims living in the United States." It claimed that the survey demonstrated that "significant minorities embrace supremacist notions that could pose a threat to America's security and its constitutional from of government."
The poll was widely derided as unscientific. A scholar at Georgetown University remarked: "According to the body that sets ethical standards for polling, the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR), opt-in surveys cannot be considered representative of the intended population, in this case Muslims."
At CSP's annual gala in June 2015, a featured speaker, U.S. marine veteran Tommy Waller, compared Islam to the "plague." Waller opined that this "enemy" had "existed for 1,400 years" and "brought devastation to nearly the same number of humans as the plague."
Gaffney also made headlines in early 2011 for accusing the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual gathering of right-wing luminaries in Washington, of being infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood because of the participation of anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, whose wife is Muslim, and Suhail Khan, a Muslim former staffer to George W. Bush. Gaffney was ultimately banned from speaking at that conference, which nonetheless included an anti-sharia seminar staffed by Gaffney allies Clifford May and Andrew McCarthy.
Gaffney and CSP were cited seven times in the xenophobic writings of Anders Breivik, the right-wing Norwegian terrorist who killed 77 people in July 2011 in a rampage against what he called "cultural Marxism." In a column for the right-wing Washington Times, Gaffney lashed out against what he called "an unholy alliance of the Muslim Brotherhood operatives and those on the left" who "want us to believe that a number of individuals about whom Mr. Breivik wrote admiringly are inciting to violence when they warn about the threat posed by Shariah's adherents. … If anything, suppressing warranted alarms about the threat posed to Western civilization by Shariah and hampering legal activities aimed at staving off that menace would simply play into the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood and their enablers. That way lies disaster."
CSP cosponsored a 2010 report entitled "Shariah: The Threat to America," a lengthy but thinly sourced tome purporting to demonstrate the threat to the U.S. legal system posed by Islamic law, which it calls "an alien legal system hostile to and in contravention of the U.S. Constitution," one that "dictates both violent and non-violent means to a capable audience ready to act imminently." John Feffer of Foreign Policy in Focus commented that the report "cites exactly one case of sharia law playing any role in the U.S. legal system," a domestic violence case in which a judge's ruling in favor of an allegedly abusive husband was ultimately overturned. Nonetheless, Feffer writes, "the non-Muslim judge did not reference sharia, nor did shadowy Muslim organizations conduct any campaign to support the husband and turn the case into a precedent. One minor case, with the most slender connection to sharia, does not translate into an imminent threat."
Undeterred, in September 2011, Gaffney called on Republican presidential candidates to sign a pledge to "preserve and protect the Constitution of the United States" from what he calls the Muslim Brotherhood's "effort to insinuate foreign law into this country." No candidates adopted the pledge.
Since the election of President Barack Obama, CSP has also served as a vocal opponent of the administration's security policies, issuing alarmist pronouncements that question the president's patriotism and pushing exaggerated threat assessments.
An example of its criticism was a November 2009 CSP article penned by Gaffney that cited a discredited terrorism "expert," Steve Emerson, in arguing that the government's handling of the killings at Fort Hood threatened the nation's security. Claiming the Obama administration "has done everything possible to obscure the true nature of the jihadist attack perpetrated at Fort Hood," Gaffney wrote that "an unsettling question has begun to nag as Team Obama's conduct of security policy becomes ever more inconsistent with common sense—and, at least in some cases, manifestly at odds with our national interests: Whose side are they on?" Gaffney then concluded, "We can only speculate about the motivations behind such deeply problematic behavior on the part of a President of the United States and his administration. What is beyond dispute, however, is the cumulative effect of the application worldwide of the Obama Doctrine—emboldening our enemies, undermining our allies and diminishing our country: Team Obama is making it much more difficult to defend our vital interests and the security of our people, even as its actions encourage the emergence and intensification of threats to both."
CSP in the 1990s.
During the 1990s, CSP served as a key advocate of the first Gulf War and later, during the Bill Clinton administration, of efforts to overthrow Saddam Hussein. In 1990, neoconservatives tied to CSP organized the Committee for Peace and Security in the Gulf (CPSG), a spin-off from CSP headed by Richard Perle, which mobilized bipartisan support for the George H.W. Bush administration's war plans in the Persian Gulf. CPSG received start-up funding from the Lynde & Harry Bradley Foundation and worked closely with Citizens for a Free Kuwait, a pressure group financed by the Kuwaiti monarchy.
In 1998, paralleling the efforts of another neoconservative group called the Project for the New American Century, CPSG drafted a letter to President Clinton endorsing an attack on Iraq. The letter said: "We urge you to provide the leadership necessary to save ourselves and the world from the scourge of Saddam and the weapons of mass destruction that he refuses to relinquish." Among the letter's signatories were several prominent national security militarists and rightist figures, including Gaffney, Elliott Abrams, Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, Joshua Muravchik, Donald Rumsfeld, Frank Carlucci, Caspar Weinberger, and John Bolton, as well as a few putative liberal internationalists, Stephen Solarz and Robert Pastor. Other signatories were: Richard Allen, Richard Armitage, Jeffrey Bergner, Stephen Bryen, Richard Burt, William Clark, Paula Dobriansky, Fred Ikle, Zalmay Khalilzad, Sven Kraemer, Michael Ledeen, Bernard Lewis, Frederick Lewis, Jarvis Lynch, Robert McFarlane, Martin Peretz, Roger Robinson, Peter Rodman, Peter Rosenblatt, Gary Schmitt, Max Singer, Helmut Sonnenfeldt, Leon Wieseltier, David Wurmser, and Dov Zakheim.
CSP and its associates also spent much of the 1990s pushing extravagant threat claims and urging controversial weapons programs. As Gaffney proudly noted in his organization's 2002 annual report, CSP associates played key roles in two congressionally mandated commissions chaired by Rumsfeld—one on missile defense and the other on space weapons—as well as a commission concerned with WMD proliferation and three commissions that addressed the perceived China threat (for more information, see the Right Web profiles, the Rumsfeld Missile Commission and the Rumsfeld Space Commission).
While spending enormous energy worrying about purported threats from Russia, Cuba, China, North Korea, and Iraq, the CSP missed the emergence of a new threat to U.S. security: international non-state terrorism. Before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, CSP had warned of terrorism's threat to the U.S. homeland but had equated that threat with potential missile attacks from Asia or the Middle East. The opening scenes of its 1998 "educational" video, "America the Vulnerable," show a missile launched from "somewhere in the Middle East" and vectoring toward the United States. After a barrage of clips juxtaposing scenes of frightened U.S. schoolchildren, mushroom clouds, and menacing Arab leaders such as Saddam Hussein, the video closed on a hopeful note by CSP advisory council member Henry Cooper, former director of Reagan's strategic defense initiative office and head of the missile defense advocacy group High Frontier. A safe U.S. homeland, according to Cooper, is but "$2 to $3 billion dollars and three to four years away."
The Bush Years
After George W. Bush became president, CSP changed gears. Instead of working to consolidate congressional opposition to arms control or support for new weapons systems, the center began issuing a series of media releases and news commentaries congratulating the Bush foreign policy hardliners for championing CSP's "peace through strength" platform. By 2005, however, CSP had become increasingly critical of Bush's foreign and military policy and his foreign policy team, which saw many of its neoconservative-aligned members leave the administration shortly into Bush's second term.
Despite its often harsh criticism of government officials, CSP managed to maintain a prominent position, in part through its ability to marshal a network of neoconservative activists, industry representatives, former high-ranking military officers, former defense officials, and former or current members of Congress to support its agenda. One of its outreach activities was—and continues to be—its yearly "Keeper of the Flame" award, bestowed on an individual who best exemplifies the "peace through strength" credo. Recipients have included Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Steve Forbes, Newt Gingrich, Christopher Cox, and James Schlesinger.
Addressing the November 2001 Keeper of the Flame banquet (the year it was given to Schlesinger), Rumsfeld turned toward Gaffney and said: "If there was any doubt about the power of your ideas, one only has to look at the number of center associates who people this administration—and particularly the Department of Defense—to dispel them." Standing in front of the CSP's large "Peace Through Strength" banner, Rumsfeld joked: "I was thinking about calling a staff meeting, but I think I'll wait until tomorrow morning."
According to its own count, two dozen CSP directors and National Security Advisory Council (NSAC) members joined the first Bush administration. CSP advisers who joined the administration included Perle, Abrams, Robert Andrews, Devon Gaffney Cross, J.D. Crouch, Mitchell Daniels, Kenneth deGraffenreid, Paula Dobriansky, Douglas Feith, Evan Galbraith, Marlin Hefti, Robert Joseph, Steven Kraemer, Keith Payne, Robert Reilly, Roger Robinson, James Roche, William Schneider Jr., Wayne Schroeder, José Sorzano, Michelle Van Cleave, Arthur Waldron, Pete Wilson, and Dov Zakheim.
Before becoming undersecretary of defense for policy, Feith was the CSP's chairman and legal counsel as well as a financial contributor. And Rumsfeld and Richard Cheney have long been close associates of CSP. Rumsfeld, in addition to being the 1998 Keeper of the Flame award winner, has been a CSP financial backer. CSP has extolled Cheney's judgment since his service as a CSP board member.
The neoconservatives and militarists associated with CSP regarded the election of George W. Bush as an opportunity to bring their team into the heart of government. Zakheim, a former CSP adviser and past director of a major missile defense firm who became the Defense Department's comptroller, once said of CSP: "Basically this is family. We have been in the trenches together well before Frank set up the Center for Security Policy. It's an honor to be back with people that we know—in the Pentagon—are always with us."
But Gaffney was quick to criticize any perceived backtracking from the principles and imperatives of U.S. military supremacy. Consequently, he and other hawks badgered the Bush administration when it appeared to drift from the agenda outlined by neoconservatives, including faulting the administration for failing to increase substantially aid to an "independent" Taiwan, criticizing efforts to work with the United Nations, and complaining when officials express even mild concern about Israel's violation of international law and human rights.
In 2006 the CSP established an archive of the writings of Feith, who left the administration under a cloud of criticism over his connection to alleged efforts to misrepresent intel about Iraq before the 2003 invasion. In its introduction to the archive, the CSP stated: "Anyone who wishes to understand the actual, extraordinary caliber of this man—and the loss to the country represented by his departure from public service—is invited to peruse his record of profoundly thoughtful, well-reasoned, and brilliantly articulated writings. And note will be taken of those who, by their persistent refusal to examine such materials, signal a laziness, indifference to the truth, and/or partisanship that is truly worthy of criticism, if not contempt."
A core component of CSP's work during the Bush presidency was promoting its view of Israeli national security. It sponsored several television ad campaigns that focused on Israeli policies. In May 2006, for example, the center launched an advertising campaign in the United States protesting the plan by the Israeli government to withdraw from some Palestinian territories, which CSP said was "giving territory to terrorists." According to CSP, the campaign targeted "Israel's proposed surrender of most of the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem to terrorists like al-Qaida, Hamas, Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. The ad recalled the consequences for Israeli and for U.S. interests of previous Israeli retreats from Southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, and urged U.S. officials to oppose further territorial concessions. The ad drew on analysis by CSP senior fellow Caroline Glick, a former member of the Israeli Defense Force and deputy editor of the Jerusalem Post.
In unveiling the 30-second spot, Gaffney said: "[Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert needs to know that Americans will not support, let alone finance, such an action that would threaten the future survival of both Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, endanger the effort to consolidate the liberation of Iraq, and create a new safe-haven from which Islamo-fascist terrorists will be able to plot and launch attacks against the United States."
Gaffney, CSP's founder and president, has deep roots in the neoconservative camp, extending back to the 1970s, when he was an aide to Sen. Henry (Scoop) Jackson, a key figure among Cold Warriors and Israel boosters in Congress. Gaffney served as the assistant secretary of defense for international security policy during the Reagan administration, following four years of service as the deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear forces and arms control policy. Before that, he was a professional staff member on the Senate Armed Services Committee under the chairmanship of the late Sen. John Tower, and a national security legislative aide to the late Senator Henry M. Jackson.
CSP has had several boards, including a board of directors, a military committee, an advisory board, and an academic council. These have been largely composed of long-standing neoconservatives, retired military officers, and corporate executives (see the sidebar for a partial listing of members of these boards).
In addition, in 2003, CSP established a board of regents for the purpose of "bringing our work to the attention of new and influential audiences, and in securing the resources needed to perform our many tasks." To complement the board of regents, the center also has a Regents' Council, "a group of younger professionals working closely with the Board of Regents."
CSP created its "military committee" to maintain working links with the armed forces, which aims to "put U.S. national security once again on sound footing—not only in the war against terrorism but in the defense transformation that is so desperately needed." The committee has included an impressive array of former flag officers, such as the former Supreme Allied Commander in the Atlantic; the former commander-in-chief of U.S. Space Command; and the former Chief of Staff of Allied Powers in Europe. Former Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Carl Mundy was the committee's first chairman. The chairman emeritus, Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely, is a past deputy commander of all U.S. Army forces in the Pacific. According to CSP, "General Vallely is working with other members of the Committee—many of whom are among the foremost national security practitioners and thinkers of our time—to engage the military community, and those attentive to its views, as catalysts for renewing America's defense capabilities and adopting effective peace-through-strength policies to guide their use." Vallely is also a co-chair of the Iran Policy Committee, and he sits on the advisory boards of the American Congress for Truth, Family Security Matters, and the International Intelligence Summit.
In 2011, CSP reported over $4.5 million in revenues. Over the years, it has received generous support from various right-wing and "pro-Israel" foundations, including several identified in CAP's report on the Islamophobia network. A Right Web review of the tax filings of U.S. charitable foundations revealed that during 1999-2009, the organization received more than $7.5 million in charitable donations, including $221,500 from the William Rosenwald Family Fund, $735,000 from the Anchorage Charitable Fund, $375,000 from the Becker Foundations, $715,000 from the Bradley Foundation, more than $2.75 million from the Sarah Scaife Foundation, $110,000 from the Irving I. Moskowitz Foundation, and $90,000 from the Hascoe Charitable Foundation. CSP also received $40,000 from Daniel Pipes' Middle East Forum, another right-wing and often anti-Islamic advocacy group with whom CSP shares many funders.
Another prominent CSP backer has been Lawrence Kadish, a New York investment banker, prominent patron of the Republican Party and the Republican Jewish Coalition, and financial backer of Americans for Victory over Terrorism (AVOT). Both he and Gaffney served as senior advisers to AVOT. Poju Zabludowicz, who has generously donated to CSP, is, according to journalist Jason Vest, "heir to a formidable diversified international empire that includes arms manufacturer Soltam—which once employed [Richard] Perle—and benefactor of the recently established Britain Israel Communication and Research Centre, a London-based group that appears to equate reportage or commentary uncomplimentary to Zionism with anti-Semitism."
CSP has also attracted the usual passel of right-wing foundations, which have provided as much as two-thirds of the CSP's annual budget. Olin, Sarah Scaife, Carthage, Bradley, and a few other right-wing foundations provided at least $6.2 million to CSP in the 1988-2006 period.
Major weapons contractors such as Boeing, General Atomics, General Dynamics, Litton, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Thiokol, and TRW have also provided financial support. The CSP's annual reports indicate that the center has received several million dollars in corporate support since 1988.