WikiLeaks Exposes Boeing’s Secret Sales Force: U.S. Diplomats

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Photo: Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty Images

Hundreds of cables from WikiLeaks reveal that Boeing had a leg up in its corporate rivalry with European competitor Airbus in the form of a sales force of U.S. diplomats that went up to the highest level of government. Like other WikiLeaks cables, these don't offer much of a surprise. (The U.S. tips the scales for American companies abroad? Why we never!) But they do unveil the extent to which diplomats act as de facto marketers, sweetening deals with letters from the president and state visits and a willingness to trick out planes. After all, big-ticket items like commercial jets, where a deal can be worth $10 billion, are key to reducing America's trade gaps with imports from the developing world. A Boeing spokesperson said the diplomatic perks were a way to level "the playing field," considering European subsidies to Airbus, but the cables show the extent of politicking the U.S. was willing to engage in to make sure Airbus lost a deal. Lest you think the diplomats are entirely without scruples, there were limits to what Boeing and its government sales force was willing to do. For example they turned down Turkey's and Tanzania's requests to hire "agents" as a way to mask bribes to access top officials. In case you're keeping track, that's an a-okay on making Turkey think its astronaut could sit in on a NASA space flight in order to get Turkish Airlines to order twenty Boeing planes, but a sorry, we just can't to offering "commissions" to an "agent."

Diplomats Help Push Sales of Jetliners on the Global Market [NYT]