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Skunk's Transition From Doobie Brother To Counterterrorism Expert

(CelebrityAccess MediaWire) — Jeff “Skunk” Baxter made a name for himself with some serious guitar chops, playing psychedelic rock with Ultimate Spinach, jazz-rock with Steely Dan, and funky-soul-pop with the Doobie Brothers. He’s recently made a name for himself in the U.S. Government, in a position as far from his original occupation as possible: Baxter has become on of the national-security world’s best-known counterterrorism experts.

The Wall Street Journal recently devoted a front page article to Baxter’s evolution from a rock career that brought in eight platinum records to a consultant paid to help both policy makers and defense contractors better understand the way terrorists think and plan attacks. The guitarist-turned-government-official is a consultant to the Department of Defense, a chair to a congressional advisory board on missile defense, and many other duties.

Baxter 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,” Baxter told the paper. “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.”

Baxter has even been asked regularly by the Pentagon to lead enemy forces in its war games, using terrorist tactics against the U.S. troops.

“I’m told I make a very good bad guy,” Baxter told WSJ.

Baxter doesn’t look the part of a government agent, however. The wiry 56-year-old often wears a beret to government meetings, and sports a pony-tail and a handlebar mustache. He joined his first band when only 11-years-old. While studying journalism at Boston University, he dropped out to join Ultimate Spinach in 1969. He moved out to California a short time later, and became on of the six original members of Steely Dan. In 1974, he quit the band to join the Doobie Brothers, helping to make them into a more commercially-appealing mix of funk and jazzy pop. Baxter left the group in 1979 after a long tour in support of their most successful album, “Minute By Minute.”

He began working with defense systems in the 1980s, when he realized 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 music production. His next-door neighbor, a retired engineer who had 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.

Baxter began wondering whether existing military system could be adapted to meet future threats for which they hadn’t been designed, a heretical concept for most defense thinkers. In his spare time, he wrote a five-page paper on a Tandy computer that proposed converting the military’s Aegis program, a ship-based anti-plane system, into a rudimentary missile-defense system.

He gave the paper to California representative Dana Rohrabacher, who took it very seriously. Employing Baxter’s solutions, Aegis missile-defense systems have done well in tests, and the Navy plans to equip at least one ship with the system by the end of the year.

“Skunk really blew my mind with that report,” Rohrabacher told the WSJ. "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 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.

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.

Mr. Weldon chaired the House Military Research and Development Subcommittee, and in 1995 nominated 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

These days, he finds himself with multiple job offers from Pentagon officials and defense contractors hoping he can help them anticipate terrorist tactics and strategies.

Baxter hasn’t completely left music either. He is currently 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.

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 Baxter in 1998, Rohrabacher was having a hard time winning permission to fly over a number of contested islands until he brought 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 told the paper. –by CelebrityAccess Staff Writers