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Former Bush official runs secretive ‘Cockroaches’ group

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Even if they are actually “only a bit better at surviving radiation than” humans, it has often been theorized that only cockroaches might withstand a nuclear blast and “inherit the earth.”

A Capitol Hill newspaper sheds some light on a secretive group using that nickname.

Roll Call’s Paul Singer reports, “Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) hangs out with Cockroaches.”

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These are not the crunchy, skittery kind of cockroaches that terrorize your kitchen, but the well-shod Washington insider kind that gather several times a year for a high-powered confab on defense and intelligence matters.

The Cockroaches are a venerable Washington, D.C., institution that has apparently never been written about, a kind of not-so-secret society for several hundred current and former defense intelligence officials, private-sector contracting firms, lobbyists, Congressional staffers and Members of Congress. The group meets every other month or so for off-the-record dinners to discuss new developments in defense and intelligence, and to swap war stories, literally and figuratively.

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At the center of the Cockroaches are Gary Sojka and Michael Swetnam, two former staffers who decided to start a supper club. Swetnam worked in the White House in the George H.W. Bush administration, and Sojka was a staff member on the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services committees.

The idea was to continue to share information and stay connected to official Washington and each other, they said. Sojka also launched the lobbying firm Potomac Advocates — though he points out that his firm does more strategic advising than lobbying these days. Swetnam runs a think tank/research center called the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, which he and Sojka founded to replace the independent scientific advisory capacity that Congress lost when the Office of Technology Assessment was shut down in 1995. The institute takes nearly all of its funding from government contracts and occasional earmarks, but it is prohibited from lobbying, Swetnam said.

An online bio adds, “From 1990 to 1992, Mr. Swetnam served as a Special Consultant to President Bush’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB) where he provided expert advice on Intelligence Community issues including budget, community architecture, and major programs. He also assisted in authoring the Board’s assessment of Intelligence Community support to Desert Storm/Shield.”

While, Sojka also is a “seasoned Republican fund-raiser and a registered lobbyist.”

The Potomac Institute website only briefly alludes to the group:

On February 11, 2009, the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies hosted a special private dinner event in D.C. featuring General James E. Cartwright, Vice Chairman o f the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as the keynote speaker.

General Cartwright, who is a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Nation’s second highest ranking military officer, addressed the audience of about 150 guests about the importance of cyber security to our national security efforts. This event was one of six that the Potomac Institute hosts during the year as part of the “Cockroaches” dinner event series for invited guests from the defense and intelligence communities.

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More from the Roll Call story:

The group is a classic only-in-Washington establishment. The express purpose is to provide government officials, Members of Congress and staff, and private-sector experts in defense and intelligence the opportunity to mingle, network and discuss broad topics of interest in an off-the-record social setting.

The odd name is a reference to the notion that only cockroaches would survive nuclear war. According to the group’s prospectus, “election years in Washington often lead to change in the controlling party in Congress or the Administration. Politically this event is similar to a nuclear explosion in that most seniors must resign or are asked to leave. The survivors often move from Congress to the Administration or to industry or back into Congress. Since scientists have stated that the only living things that might survive a nuclear blast are cockroaches the group adopted the name to signify our ability to survive political change in Washington DC.”

The article notes, “Several staff members from the Senate Armed Services Committee used to be regular attendees, the men said, but Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) has recently discouraged staff from attending out of concern about accepting free meals from the group.”

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But Sojka and Swetnam said the dinners are not an opportunity for private companies to lobby military officials for assistance with specific projects. “This is not a forum where anybody — a lobbyist or a corporate guy — trying to work an issue with a Hill guy or a Defense guy would be anything but shunned,” Swetnam said.

Sojka added that while the Cockroaches group includes many members from private companies, most of them are not clients of Potomac Advocates, and very few are lobbyists.

For all of its secrecy — the events are not advertised, all meetings are off-the-record and it is hard to find anybody willing to discuss their involvement — Sojka, Nichols and Swetnam insist it is a very open organization. “People just ask to come, and we’ve never turned anyone away,” Sojka said. Events are announced to a mailing list, but “we’ve never invited anyone to join,” he said.

FULL LENGTHY REGISTRATION REQUIRED ROLL CALL ARTICLE CAN BE READ AT THIS LINK.

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