Most dangerous game? Prominent military consultant murdered

by Vault Consulting Editors | January 05, 2011

  • My Vault

On the morning of December 31, the body of longtime military and government consultant John P. Wheeler was discovered in a landfill in Newark, Delaware. Police reported that Wheeler, a three-time presidential aide and prominent player in both private and public sector military circles, was murdered.

Perhaps best known for his high-profile government roles (the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall was built under his direction as chairman of the Memorial Fund), Wheeler also built a career in consulting that saw him work as a "self-employed specialist in startups and turnarounds of companies," a special advisor to top brass in the Air Force, Department of Defense and the SEC, and as a military consultant to the MITRE Corporation, a position he held upon his death.

While police have uncovered little regarding the circumstances of Wheeler's killing, conspiracy theories have already begun making the rounds, fueled by the manner in which his body was disposed of and by his connections to elite government institutions. Was Wheeler actually a longtime government/military agent, a maker of enemies by trade? Or was he simply the earnest, intelligent consultant that his career chronology suggests?

It's possible that he was a bit of both. Wheeler's military roots run very deep, from his West Point days to his service in Vietnam and to the veterans he fought beside; in the government, Wheeler served as a military advisor to presidents Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and George W. Bush. MITRE, his most recent employer, is a not-for-profit that puts federal research funds to use studying new military and security technologies. As is commonplace in the military consulting industry—top military brass often move back and forth between public sector consultancies (like Booz Allen) and government spots—Wheeler held a largely undefined role at MITRE, serving only as a consultant. It is known that Wheeler was recently an outspoken critic of the nation's cybersecurity infrastructure, which he deemed vulnerable, perhaps as a result of his work at MITRE (which counts cybersecurity among its strengths).

Ambiguous government past or not, military consulting can be a dangerous trade in its own right. Unlike those at MITRE, many consultants are contracted into extremely dangerous situations, occasionally resulting in injuries or even death. In 2003, for example, a plane carrying three Northrop Grumman intelligence consultants was shot down over FARC-controlled rainforest in Colombia. All three, who were conducting drug surveillance, were captured and held hostage for more than five years until a dramatic rescue by the Colombian Army liberated them. For more recent examples, one need not look further than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; scores of consultants, often supporting IT infrastructure for the US military, have been attacked, kidnapped, shot, or killed since the wars began.

Of course, Wheeler wasn't flying over guerilla territory or dodging IEDs in Fallujah when he was killed—which makes the situation all the more intriguing.

So, what happened to John P. Wheeler? Was he a shadowy government agent, as conspiracy theorists would have you believe? A pawn in a Bond-worthy game of global dominion? Or was he simply a victim of his own private-sector profession, whacked because he knew too much?

Of course, it could easily have been something far, far more familiar to us know-nothing citizens on the ground—a routine murder over nothing less than a lousy couple of bucks.

Stay tuned.

For more information:
The Washington Post
ABC News: Police report new sighting of John Wheeler III, the man found dead in landfill
Second Line of Defense: John Wheeler (note: Wheeler was a founding member and regular contributor to SLD)

Filed Under: Consulting

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