The public face of international gun-running

Lockheed secures a bload-soaked contract on the steps of the ONS

In March this year, as in 2001, Lockheed Martin UK, a subsidiary of the world’s largest arms manufacturer, will be helping to run the census. Their specific role, contractually valued at £150 million, will be “delivering data capture and processing capability” for the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

This seems innocent enough, but whilst the job description is vague to the point of obfuscation, it speaks clearly of a wider phenomenon in the arms trade. The deeper you delve into the shady world of linguistic analysis the more you realise that clarity and precision are at best apparent, and usually embargoed in a leaking vessel of anodyne, corporate aphorism. This is all in aid of lending legitimacy to an industry that deserves none.

This is systematic across the arms trade. Most people tend to have moral qualms with a sector whose profit, indeed whose very raison d’être rests on the production and sale of weapons to an ever-expanding market. Regions blighted by a geo-politics of mutual suspicion, military escalation and war are, for the arms dealer, ‘emerging markets’ to be saturated with ‘defense solutions’ and ‘advanced technology systems’ before the other guy gets there first.

The main problem with this line of work is that it is morally and politically reprehensible. Lockheed Martin, for example, are best known for their production of cluster munitions, F-16 jets and Trident Missiles. Their arms sales to Bahrain and other repressive regimes are an ongoing controversy -surely outside the semantic jurisdiction of ‘defence’ contracting.

Most civil corporations will endeavour towards legitimacy in the public mind: achievable perhaps through a policy of corporate social responsibility; paying above the minimum wage; or some degree of worker representation. The arms sector is similar, in this respect. However the type of legitimacy they seek is qualitatively different.

Whilst a company selling a range of financial services will actively promote itself, shouting above the rafters about how its services are the best, the arms trade aims towards a lower threshold of legitimacy, mimicking the language, imagery, and even actions of generic corporatism, not in order to stand out, but rather to sneak under the radar of political and ethical interrogation.

Running the census is one such legitimising foray into the civil sector that Lockheed Martin –whose 2009 military sales amounted to over $33 billion, over 74 percent of total sales figures of $45 billion- are undertaking in 2011. They helped run the 2001 UK census, as well as the 2006 census in Canada.

In both these cases individuals and groups raised their voices against what they saw as an unacceptable collusion between the government and the largest arms companies in the world; this year will be no different. But the price of civil disobedience is alarmingly high: refusing to complete the census on conscientious grounds is a criminal offence under the Census Act 1920, carrying the possibility of a £1,000 fine.

Count Me Out

Perhaps the most troubling thing of all is the number of people who are completely unaware of the integral involvement of the arms industry in running the census. This is sadly unsurprising.

The arms industry tends to masquerade in euphemism: ‘defence contracting’, ‘aerospace’, and ‘advanced technology’ are much more likely descriptors to emanate from the official spokesperson than the more honest –and less politically viable- ‘arms trader’ or ‘weapons manufacturer’.

Indeed, the name and corporate branding of Lockheed Martin gives nothing away on the surface level  -which is, not by accident, the only level most people in this country will ever interact with it.

This is why ‘Count Me Out’, an open network opposing Lockheed’s involvement in the 2011 census, has launched a campaign bringing together groups and individuals from across the UK to share information, raise awareness and support action against it.

An outright boycott of the census is unlawful, and therefore must be the choice of the individual. Still, Count Me Out is providing information and resources on the full spectrum of actions people can take.

But concerns about the census have been raised for a number of reasons. The understanding that collated census data will be used to increase public services in socially deprived areas -one of the chief arguments from progressives who contend that cooperation is a civic imperative- is contested by the fact that the UK census asks no questions about income, surely a vital piece of information for any allocation of public services.

Every successful civil contract Lockheed Martin wins provides it with a vacuous credibility which is in turn used to secure future contracts. This cycle must be interrupted by an articulate and informed public. This is where Count Me Out hopes to make a difference. Only our collective refusal will hold Lockheed to account; only our civil disobedience will ensure that no census is run by the arms industry in this country again.

It is time to take action, and it is time to say “count me out”.


One Response to “The public face of international gun-running”
  1. Geoff Meaden says:

    I will not be filling in this census form because I conscientiously object to being obliged to knowingly add to the profits of a weapons manufacturer – an unethical company that part manages the Aldermaston nuclear weapons plant and supplies Trident missiles. As a life-long pacifist this type of business is abhorrent to me. I am also distinctly dubious of the ONS claims that our data is absolutely protected. We have heard so many tales of ‘lost’ government held data, and the claims that the data would not leave this country seem incredibly naive. There is also a vast array of secrecy in the weapons business. Thus we know that the world’s leading weapons manufacturers have incredible influence over governments. Witness Tony Blair allowing BAE Systems to evade telling us about their bribes, and now the Serious Fraud Office have offered them immunity from further prosecution. I am also aware of many lawsuits in the pipeline over some of Lockheed Martin’s dubious involvements in the Iraq war, and LM refuses to say whether it still makes cluster bombs. This country has a strong reputation for hiding activities behind the cloak of “national security” and I believe that even MP’s will not have a vote on the replacement of Trident in 2016.

    There are a number of coincidences that I find strange. Thus isn’t it strange how Lockheed Martin, who were involved in intelligence misgivings in Iraq, are now doing the census for England and Wales, and a company called CACI, who were also involved in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq, are handling the Scottish census! And the man who Tony Blair appointed as his main foreign policy adviser (Sir David Manning) in 2001, and who later became the UK’s ambassador in Washington (2003 – 2007), and who sat in on all the discussions between Blair and Bush in the run-up to the Iraq war, in 2008 became a non-executive director of Lockheed Martin. I bet he pulled a few strings!

    It is quite important that a country carries out some data gathering activities. But if you want a high positive response to a census, would any country in its right mind appoint a weapon’s manufacturer to do this?

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