Charles M. Kupperman
last updated: November 15, 2019
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- Center for Security Policy: Member, National Security Advisory Council; Member, Board of Directors
- Committee on the Present Danger: Member (Post-9/11 Version); Former Member, Executive Committee and Senior Defense Analyst (Cold War-Era Version)
- Missouri State University’s Department of Defense and Strategic Studies: Adjunct Professor
- National Institute for Public Policy: Member, Board of Directors; Member, Board of Advisors
- Empower America: Former Advisor
- Committee on the Present Danger
- Regan-Bush Presidential Campaign: Adviser (1980)
- National Security Council: Deputy National Security Adviser (2019)
- Office of the President: Special Assistant for Administration to President Ronald Reagan; Former Deputy Director of the Office of Administration (During Reagan’s Presidency)
- General Advisory Committee on Arms Control and Disarmament: Former Executive Director (1981-1985)
- NASA: Former Executive Assistant to the Acting Administrator (During Reagan’s Presidency)
- Office of Personnel Management: Former Executive Assistant to the Director (During Reagan’s Presidency)
- The Boeing Company: Former Vice President, Strategic Integration and Operations, Missile Defense Systems
- Lockheed Martin: Former Vice President, Space and Strategic Missiles Sector
- Xsirius Superconductivity: Former President and CEO
- McDonnell Douglas: Executive (Late 1980s-1991)
- Global Impact Inc.: Member, Advisory Board
- Purdue University: B.A. (1972)
- University of British Columbia: M.A. (1973)
- University of Southern California: Ph.D. (1980)
Charles M. Kupperman is a longtime defense contractor executive and neoconservative policy campaigner who was appointed as deputy national security adviser in the Donald Trump administration in 2019. Kupperman briefly served as acting national security adviser in September 2019 after his boss, then-National Security Adviser John Bolton, left the administration amidst a public spat with President Trump. Kupperman was originally appointed to the NSA to replace Mira Ricardel, who had been abruptly fired in late 2018 after being publicly berated by First Lady Melanie Trump.
Kupperman’s rise to the head of the NSA in mid-2019, though short-lived, prompted one observer to note that the Trump administration’s “National security team is now a wholly owned subsidiary of the defense industry.” However, his tenure will undoubtedly be best remembered for the role Kupperman played in the scandal involving President Trump’s alleged efforts to persuade the president of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden’s son. When the affair spurred the House of Representatives to launch an impeachment inquiry, Kupperman was subpoenaed to testify because he was one of the officials on the line during Trump’s phone call to President Volodymyr Zelensky that sparked accusations that Trump was trying to cajole a foreign leader into interfering in U.S. elections. Kupperman, however, refused to comply with the subpoena and filed a lawsuit aimed at determining whether he had to. The House eventually dropped its subpoena of Kupperman without providing an explanation, though observers speculated that was “a sign that Democrats don’t want to prolong proceedings with court battles and likely have enough evidence to more forward with their inquiry.”
Kupperman has a long history in Washington policy circles. He served in a number of official posts during Ronald Reagan’s presidency, including as executive director of the General Advisory Committee on Arms Control and Disarmament. He has also been associated with a number of hawkish and anti-Islamic think tanks and institutions, like the Center for Security Policy (CSP), the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD), Empower America, and Missouri State University’s Department of Defense and Strategic Studies.
Kupperman’s joining the Trump administration came at a time when Bolton, a longtime Kupperman associate, was concerned about the trajectory of U.S. Iran policy. Bolton had been successfully pressing for an ever more aggressive and provocative policy, but the president had, only weeks before, surprised everyone with the announcement that he was pulling U.S. troops out of Syria, prompting the resignation of then Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and directly contradicting statements Bolton had made promising that there would be a U.S. presence in Syria as long as there was an Iranian one. Bolton tried to walk back the president’s words, but Trump, after some wavering, initiated the pullout.
Kupperman’s appointment as Bolton’s deputy was seen by many as a response to this incident, a way to bolster Bolton’s position in pushing toward confrontation with Iran. Observed Al-Monitor, “By making Kupperman his deputy, Bolton has indicated that he intends to double down on his ‘maximum pressure’ campaign against Tehran.”
Politico reported, “He is Bolton’s longtime ally. Kupperman and another Bolton associate, Matthew Freedman, a former lobbyist, assisted Bolton with vetting job applicants for the National Security Council as he prepared to take over the job last spring.”
In May 2018, Politico quoted NSC spokesperson Robert Palladino saying, “Ambassador Bolton received over 500 résumés from applicants seeking to join his team on the National Security Council. Consulting with trusted colleagues, such as Mr. Freedman and Dr. Kupperman, not only makes practical sense, it also makes strategic sense.” Freedman once worked for digraced former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, which might explain why Kupperman, but not Freedman, was tapped for an official role at the NSC.
Kupperman and Freedman had worked closely with Bolton in recent years. In 2015, the three men established the Foundation for American Security and Freedom, a nonprofit which they established to run advertisements attacking the nuclear deal with Iran. In March 2018, on the same day that Bolton was named national security adviser, the three established another nonprofit—one which seems to be at least temporarily non-functioning and whose purpose was unclear—called the Institute for a Secure America.
Kupperman’s appointment sent shock waves through the Muslim-American community. Nathan Lean, author of The Islamophobia Industry, told Al-Jazeera that it is not “an accident that people with clear connections to anti-Muslim hate groups are being elevated in the Trump world. In fact, with John Bolton at the helm of National Security, such an eventuality would be absolutely expected. Kupperman’s associations with Frank Gaffney are enough to disqualify him from any government post, let alone one in which he is advising a man who is arguably in the president’s ear on a daily basis regarding matters of national security.” Gaffney had recently stepped down as the head of the notoriously Islamophobic think tank, the Center for Security Policy.
From Ending Détente to Opposing the Iran Nuclear Agreement
Kupperman’s ascent among hawks in Washington began in the late 1970s, when he served as a policy advisor to the Committee on the Present Danger, a neoconservative-led advocacy group that aimed to undo détente and replace it with an aggressive anti-Soviet posture. In 1980, Kupperman served on the Reagan-Bush campaign team and was part of what became known as the “October Surprise Group,” whose objective was to prepare for “any last-minute foreign policy or defense-related event, including the release of the hostages, that might favorably impact President Carter in the November election.” The group was instrumental in pushing the Iranian hostage crisis to the forefront of the election in an attempt to tarnish the presidency and campaign of Jimmy Carter. Other members of the October Surprise Group were reported to be Richard V. Allen, Thomas H. Moorer, Eugene V. Rostow, William R. Van Cleave, Fred C. Iklé, John Lehman, Robert G. Neumann, Laurence Silberman, and Seymour Weiss. Richard Perle and Michael Ledeen were among the group’s outside advisors.
Shortly after Reagan—an honorary member of the CPD—became president, Kupperman was appointed director of the General Advisory Committee on Arms Control and Disarmament. Kupperman was one of many young conservative hawks who were given posts in the first Reagan administration. Commenting on this period, Kupperman once told the New York Times that he and other young right-wingers had helped bring “better balance to the bureaucratic debate, and that’s a healthy development.” Kupperman served in a number of other capacities in the Reagan administration, including as the executive assistant to the director of the Office of Personnel Management and an assistant to the administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Although Kupperman maintained a low political profile after the end of the Reagan presidency, becoming a defense industry executive, he nevertheless associated himself with a host of advocacy groups that promoted controversial weapons systems, a one-sided “pro-Israel” line in Mideast affairs, and a militaristic U.S. foreign policy, particularly in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. He served a member of the board of directors of the National Institute for Public Policy, known for its strident advocacy of lavish and controversial strategic weapons programs, and supported the work of the Center for Security Policy and Empower America.
In one of his forays into public advocacy during this period, Kupperman signed a Center for Security Policy Letter denouncing the July 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and calling on President Obama to revoke it. The letter stated in part: “How can this be considered to be anything other than a bad deal?” Kupperman’s co-signers included former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton, former George W. Bush administration official Douglas Feith, hawkish former Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Paul Wolfowitz, hardline former CIA director James Woolsey, and former Dick Cheney-advisor David Wurmser.
Defense Industry Apparatchik
At the end of Reagan’s presidency, Kupperman became an executive at McDonnell Douglas, the first in what would become a succession of high-level jobs with defense contractors. In 1991, he was named president and CEO of Xsirius Superconductivity, a firm that during Kupperman’s tenure received research contracts from the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization, the Pentagon department tasked with R&D on a space-based missile defense.
At the time of Kupperman’s appointment, William Graham, a fellow missile defense enthusiast and former Reagan administration official, was named chairman of the Xsirius board of directors. Kupperman later served as vice president of Lockheed Martin’s missile defense sector and then as vice president of Boeing’s strategic operations and missile defense operations, a post he retired from in 2006.
Mixing Business with Advocacy
Throughout his career in the private sector, Kupperman remained close to organizations that promoted hardline defense policies. Along with a number of other like-minded defense executives, Kupperman served on the board of directors of the Center for Security Policy, a group led by the conspiracy-minded Frank Gaffneythat promotes aggressive missile defense programs and militarist policies. Reporter Jason Vest called CSP’s roster of advisors “an A-list of influential conservative hawks,” adding, “Gaffney and CSP’s prescriptions for national security have been fairly simple: Gut all arms control treaties, push ahead with weapons systems virtually everyone agrees should be killed (such as the V-22 Osprey), give no quarter to the Palestinians and, most important, go full-steam ahead on just about every national missile defense program.”
Kupperman’s industry connections also dovetailed closely with his support for other policy groups, including the National Institute for Public Policy (NIPP), an organization primarily known of promoting missile defense. NIPP, founded by Reagan administration nuclear strategist Keith Payne, played an influential role in advancing the policies of the George W. Bush administration in abrogating the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and in establishing the blueprint for the Bush administration’s new nuclear weapons policy.
In 2003, Kupperman joined a prominent group of neoconservative writers and politicians to restore the mothballed Committee on the Present Danger to promote the policies of the war on terror. The revamped group was co-chaired by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), and former CIA director James Woolsey. Kupperman was quoted on the CPD website as saying at the time, “Winning the war against global terrorism is fundamental to international security in the 21st Century and we must be relentless in rooting out the terrorist network.”
In 2005, Kupperman was one of many rightist political figures who signed an open letter in support of the nomination of the John Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. The nomination, which failed to win the support of the Senate, met fierce opposition, both domestically and abroad. A July 23, 2006 New York Times article by Warren Hoge reported deep scorn for Bolton among UN ambassadors, even from countries close to the United States. According to Hoge, “[M]any diplomats say they see Mr. Bolton as a stand-in for the arrogance of the administration itself.” By contrast, Kupperman and the other letter signatories argued that Bolton was uniquely suited to the post, writing, in part, “His tenure as the Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations during the administration of George H.W. Bush and as Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security during [the George W. Bush] presidency have honed Mr. Bolton’s indisputably impressive intellect and robust diplomatic skills in ways that will serve the nation well at the UN.”
Kupperman was also an advisor to the Independent Working Group on Missile Defense. Pointing to group members and their sponsors, missile defense expert Theresa Hitchens quipped: “‘Independent Working Group’ is … a bit of a misnomer.” In addition to the IWG, Kupperman also advised the Space Relationship, and the 21st Century—a task force of conservative foreign policy ideologues who insisted that, “Consolidation of the preeminent U.S. position in space is akin to Britain’s dominance of the oceans in the 19th century.” Sponsors of the task force included the American Foreign Policy Council, the Claremont Institute, Missouri State University’s Department of Defense and Strategic Studies, the George C. Marshall Institute, Heritage Foundation, High Frontier, and the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis.
 Dan Spinelli, “Trump’s National Security Team Is Now a Wholly Owned Subsidiary of the Defense Industry,” Mother Jones, September 10, 2019, https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2019/09/trumps-national-security-team-is-now-a-wholly-owned-subsidiary-of-the-defense-industry/  CNN, Court's December detour could place some impeachment witnesses out of Democrats' reach,” 1 November 2019, https://edition.cnn.com/2019/10/31/politics/kupperman-bolton-leon-impeachment/index.html  Karen DeYoung and Karoun Demirjian, “Contradicting Trump, Bolton says no withdrawal from Syria until ISIS destroyed, Kurds’ safety guaranteed,” Washington Post, January 6, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/bolton-promises-no-troop-withdrawal-from-syria-until-isis-contained-kurds-safety-guaranteed/2019/01/06/ee219bba-11c5-11e9-b6ad-9cfd62dbb0a8_story.html?utm_term=.0e213cf9665c  Bryant Harris and Aaron Schaffer, “Intel: Bolton’s Iran strike plans leaked after he elevated longtime associate,” Al-Monitor, January 14, 2019, https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2019/01/intel-bolton-iran-strikes-plan-leak-trump-pentagon.html  Andrew Restuccia “Former Reagan aide tapped as deputy national security adviser,” Politico, January 11, 2019, https://www.politico.com/story/2019/01/11/deputy-national-security-adviser-kupperman-1097506  Marianne Levine, “Bolton relied on ex-lobbyist as he staffed NSC,” Politico, May 20, 2018, https://www.politico.com/story/2018/05/20/john-bolton-former-lobbyist-national-security-council-597917  Robert Parry, “"Part III: Original October Surprise," Truthout, October 29, 2006, http://www.truth-out.org/archive/item/66474:robert.  Robert Parry, “"Part III: Original October Surprise," Truthout, October 29, 2006, http://www.truth-out.org/archive/item/66474:robert.  White House press release, "Appointment of Charles M. Kupperman as Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of the Office of Administration," July 31, 1986, http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/archives/speeches/1986/073186b.htm, made available by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/.  David Shribman, "…And Recruit for the Government," New York Times, October 12, 1983, http://www.nytimes.com/1983/10/12/us/and-recruit-for-the-government.html.  White House press release, "Appointment of Charles M. Kupperman as Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of the Office of Administration," July 31, 1986, http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/archives/speeches/1986/073186b.htm.  “Letter to President Obama on JCPOA,” CSP, September 2, 2015, http://www.centerforsecuritypolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/9-2-15-Letter-to-President-Obama-on-JCPOA.pdf.  "Charles Kupperman Elected President and CEO; William Graham Elected Chairman of Xsirius Superconductivity," PR Newswire, February 27, 1991. Charles M. Kupperman, Zoom Info, http://www.zoominfo.com/p/Charles-Kupperman/11915581.  "Xsirius Superconductivity Inc. Receives a Six-Month $50,000 Strategic Defense Initiative Organization Contract," SDI Monitor, March 27, 1992.  "Charles Kupperman Elected President and CEO; William Graham Elected Chairman of Xsirius Superconductivity," PR Newswire, February 27, 1991; "Retirements," Boeing Frontiers, Volume V, Issue V, September 2006, www.boeing.com/news/frontiers/archive/2006/september/9-06_Frontiers.pdf.  Jim Lobe, "Neo-Con Superhawk Earns His Wings on Port Flap," Inter Press Service, February 23, 2006, http://www.ipsnews.net/2006/02/politics-us-neo-con-superhawk-earns-his-wings-on-port-flap/.  Jason Vest, "The Men from Jinsa and CSP," The Nation, September 2, 2002, http://www.thenation.com/article/men-jinsa-and-csp/.  National Institute for Public Policy, Board of Directors, http://www.nipp.org/professional-staff/board-of-advisors/.  William D. Hartung with Jonathan Reingold, "About Face: The Role of the Arms Lobby in the Bush Administration's Radical Reversal of Two Decades of U.S. Nuclear Policy," World Policy Institute, Arms Trade Resource Center, May 2002, https://web.archive.org/web/20030207071037/http://www.worldpolicy.org/projects/arms/reports/reportaboutface.html.  Committee on the Present Danger, "Member in Brief: Charles M. Kupperman," http://www.committeeonthepresentdanger.org/TabID/502/XMMid/1432/XMID/386/XMView/2/Default.aspx.  Warren Hoge, "Praise at Home for Envoy, But Scorn at the U.N.," New York Times, July 23, 2006, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/23/world/23bolton.html?pagewanted=all.  "Letter to Hon. John Lugar, Chairman, Foreign Relations Committee," April 4, 2005, http://dailydemarche.blogspot.com/2005/04/bolton-boosters-inc.html.  Theresa Hitchens, "Return of the Star Warriors," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January/February 2007, http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/24103410/return-star-warriors.