[Just when you think you've heard everything, here comes news that the
Dobbie Brothers "Skunk" Baxter is a highly respected expert on
international terrorism and security issues.]
Rocker Jeff Baxter Moves and Shakes In National Security
Once With Doobie Brothers, Now in Counterterrorism, He Has Ear of Pentagon
By YOCHI J. DREAZEN
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
May 24, 2005; Page A1
Jeff Baxter played psychedelic music with Ultimate Spinach, jazz-rock with
Steely Dan and funky pop with the Doobie Brothers. But in the last few
years he has made an even bigger transition: Mr. Baxter, who goes by the
nickname "Skunk," has become one of the national-security world's
well-known counterterrorism experts.
A wiry man who wears a beret to many of his meetings, Mr. Baxter, who is
now 56 years old, has gone from a rock career that brought him eight
platinum records to a spot in the small constellation of consultants paid
to help both policy makers and defense contractors better understand the
way terrorists think and plan attacks.
The guitarist-turned-defense-consultant does regular work for the
Department of Defense and the nation's intelligence community, chairs a
congressional advisory board on missile defense, and has lucrative
consulting contracts with companies like Science Applications International
Corp., Northrop Grumman Corp. and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc.
He says he is in increasing demand for his unconventional views of
"We thought turntables were for playing records until rappers began to use
them as instruments, and we thought airplanes were for carrying passengers
until terrorists realized they could be used as missiles," says Mr. Baxter,
who sports a ponytail and handlebar mustache. "My big thing is to look at
existing technologies and try to see other ways they can be used, which
happens in music all the time and happens to be what terrorists are
incredibly good at."
One of Mr. Baxter's clients -- General Atomics' vice president Mike
Campbell -- likens him to a "gluon," a term drawn from quantum physics that
refers to the particles binding together the basic building blocks of all
matter. Contractors and policymakers say Mr. Baxter can see past
bureaucratic boundaries and integrate information drawn from a variety of
sources, though some who have worked with him say he can also be a
Mr. Baxter can speak the acronym-heavy vernacular of the professional
defense consultant, but he would never be mistaken for one of the hardened
ex-military men who fill the ranks of the industry. He rarely wears ties,
is fond of self-deprecating jokes, makes frequent popular-culture
references, and peppers his speech with casual profanity. He also often
appears on VH1 music retrospectives.
Still, he's careful not to discuss current or past projects that might be
classified and keeps to a punishing schedule. One morning recently, a black
government-issued sport-utility vehicle picked him up outside a Washington
café as soon as he had finished breakfast and whisked him to a Pentagon
agency for nearly 12 hours of meetings. That evening, he traveled to Ohio's
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base for several days of briefings and meetings.
He flew 230,000 miles last year, and makes a point of dissolving brightly
colored packets of vitamin supplements into his drinks to stave off illness.
Mr. Baxter, who joined his first band when he was 11, began studying
journalism at Boston University, but dropped out after a year in 1969 to
begin working with Ultimate Spinach, a short-lived Boston psychedelic rock
band. He moved to California a short time later and became one of the six
original members of the avant-garde rock group Steely Dan. He quit the band
in 1974 and joined the Doobie Brothers, helping to remake its sound into a
commercially appealing mix of funk and jazzy pop. Mr. Baxter left the group
in 1979 after a long tour in support of its most popular album, "Minute by
His defense work began in the 1980s, when it occurred to him that much of
the hardware and software being developed for military use, like
data-compression algorithms and large-capacity storage devices, could also
be used for recording music. Mr. Baxter's next-door neighbor, a retired
engineer who worked on the Pentagon's Sidewinder missile program, bought
him a subscription to an aviation magazine, and he was soon reading a range
of military-related publications.
Mr. Baxter began wondering whether existing military systems could be
adapted to meet future threats they weren't designed to address, a
heretical concept for most defense thinkers. In his spare time, he wrote a
five-page paper on a primitive Tandy computer that proposed converting the
military's Aegis program, a ship-based antiplane system, into a rudimentary
On a whim, he gave the paper to a friend from California, Republican Rep.
Dana Rohrabacher. To Mr. Baxter's surprise, the congressman took it
seriously, and the idea proved to be prescient: Aegis missile-defense
systems have done well in tests, and the Navy says it will equip at least
one ship with the antimissile system by the end of the year.
"Skunk really blew my mind with that report," Mr. Rohrabacher says. "He was
talking over my head half the time, and the fact that he was a rock star
who had basically learned it all on his own was mind-boggling."
Mr. Rohrabacher passed the report to another influential Republican
lawmaker, Rep. Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania. Mr. Weldon says he immediately
realized that Mr. Baxter could be a useful public advocate for missile
defense because his rock-star pedigree would attract attention to the issue.
"Most of Hollywood is from the liberal, 'let's hug the tree and be warm and
fuzzy and sing Kumbaya,' bent," Mr. Weldon says. "You put Jeff Baxter up
against them, and he cleans their clocks because he actually knows the
facts and details." He has appeared in public debates and given numerous
press and TV interviews on CNN and Fox News advocating missile defense. He
also served as a national spokesman for Americans for Missile Defense, a
coalition of conservative organizations devoted to the issue.
Mr. Baxter, backed by several lawmakers, got a series of classified
security clearances. During one background interview, Mr. Baxter says, he
was asked whether he could be bribed with money or drugs. He recalls
telling the investigators not to worry because he had already "been there,
done that, and given away the T-shirt" during his rock career.
His old friend Mr. Weldon chaired the House Military Research and
Development Subcommittee, and in 1995 nominated Mr. Baxter to chair the
Civilian Advisory Board for Ballistic Missile Defense, a congressional panel.
The missile-defense post led to consulting contracts with the Pentagon's
Missile Defense Agency and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. The
Pentagon also began regularly asking Mr. Baxter to lead enemy forces in war
games, where he quickly earned a reputation for using creative,
terrorist-style tactics. "I'm told I make a very good bad guy," he says.
Pentagon officials say they appreciate Mr. Baxter's creativity. "He's
imparted some new ways of thinking about the ballistic-missile threat and
the technology that might be necessary to defeat it," says MDA spokesman
Rick Lehner. "It's been a good interchange of information."
In the late 1990s, Mr. Baxter led a fictional future alliance of Iran and
Iraq that was trying to drive the U.S. Navy from the key oil-shipping
routes through the Persian Gulf. Facing a massive military imbalance, Mr.
Baxter had covert operatives introduce oil-eating bacteria into the Saudi
Arabian oil supply that rendered its petroleum shipments worthless. The
Navy was forced to pull out after oil-dependent American allies threatened
to pull their financial assets out of the U.S.
These days, Mr. Baxter finds himself with a growing pile of job offers from
Pentagon officials and defense contractors hoping he can help them
anticipate terrorist tactics and strategies.
Mr. Baxter is working on a solo album and continues to do lucrative studio
work, most recently on tribute albums to Pink Floyd and Aerosmith, but he
spends more and more time doing defense work. He says he earns a "good,
comfortable, six-figure income," and in 2004 made more money from defense
consulting than from music.
Mr. Baxter's friends in Congress and the Pentagon say they take him
seriously as a defense thinker but concede that his celebrity past carries
its own advantages. During a trip to Manila with Mr. Baxter in 1998, Mr.
Rohrabacher was having a hard time winning permission to fly over a number
of contested islands until he brought Mr. Baxter to a meeting with the
then-Philippine president, Joseph Estrada. Mr. Estrada immediately put one
of his government's few C-130 transport planes at the two men's disposal.
"He's apparently just a huge Doobie Brothers fan," Mr. Rohrabacher says.
George Antunes, Political Science Dept
University of Houston; Houston, TX 77204
Voice: 713-743-3923 Fax: 713-743-3927
antunes at uh dot edu
Reply with a "Thank you" if you liked this post.
MEDIANEWS mailing list
To unsubscribe send an email to: