[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


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 counterterrorism.

"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 self-promoter.

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 Minute."

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 missile-defense system.

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

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