I am going to take an excursion from talking directly about the Intelligence Community because my attention is consumed by Craig Whitlock’s investigative report “The Man Who Seduced the 7th Fleet” that appeared as the lead story on the front page of the Memorial Day Weekend Sunday edition of the Washington Post (http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/investigative/wp/2016/05/27/fat-leonard/). This is an important, but not particularly time sensitive, story about how one contractor played on the human weaknesses of U.S. Navy officers to insure his company was awarded lucrative port services contracts across the western Pacific. Given that Memorial Day is about honoring those who died in uniform while defending our nation, I found the Post’s editorial decision to run this story about military corruption the day before Memorial a bit more than offsetting.
Nonetheless, the story of Leonard Francis (aka “Fat Leonard) ingratiating himself to most of the senior officers leading the 7th Fleet or commanding its ships while actually bribing others for information that would give his Glenn Marine port services company an advantage over competitors is disheartening and discouraging in two ways. First there is the wrong doing that has been revealed and confirmed. Then there is the way the Navy has handled the individual charges and the scandal overall. Both imply a Navy that is ethically adrift.
Let me begin by saying I have observed from the outside (I retired from the USN in 1996) a decline in accountability and commitment to integrity across all of the services from what was my experience while in uniform. To wit:
- The Walter Reed treatment of wounded veterans
- Air Force nuclear readiness test cheating
- The mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Graib and subsequent efforts at cover up
- The Haditha Dam murders by Marines
Each of these events is in its own way every bit as disturbing as the Fat Leonard Scandal, but that is not my point; rather it’s the decline in discipline, accountability and integrity that they have in common with the events recounted about the Navy by Craig Whitlock.
I believe this is a result of a military that has been over used and abused by the elected leadership of our country for the past 15 years. This is aggravated by the generalized feeling of those in uniform that the average citizen has no appreciation for the hardships of military life, no commitment to the nation’s security and certainly no code of conduct. As a result members of the active duty military have begun to question why they should continue to hold themselves to a standard of behavior not just above that of the average American, but well above and beyond anything remotely close to what those on “Main Street” are willing to accept.
OK, so that’s my view of the big picture, but let’s now look at the Navy and Fat Leonard more closely. To begin, I see a lot of Tail Hook in the current scandal, where the issue was not the specific wrong doings of the few in Las Vegas, but the pervasive atmosphere of “boys will be boys” acceptance of demeaning behavior towards women AND an enabling code of silence to protect the innocent and the guilty. Then there was the NIS investigation that made everything bad about Tail Hook worse.
I see the same things with the Fat Leonard situation. A few bad actors trading fleet logistical information for money and a good time. These bad actors rationalized to themselves that the information they were feeding to Fat Leonard really wasn’t that important (hey somebody is going to get these contracts!) and besides Leonard Francis was seemingly well connected with all of the admirals in operationally responsible positions across the Pacific Fleet. The scope of the Fat Leonard scandal reaches Tail Hook proportions not because hundreds in the Navy are “on the take” from Glenn Marine, but because a friendly guy wanted to express his “appreciation” in order to make more money to those protecting the regions and ports he did business in. What the officers on the periphery of this scandal lost sight of was that Leonard Francis was a contractor the Navy was paying [all too] well. So while the same officer who wouldn’t let somebody from a defense contractor buy them a sandwich in the Pentagon cafeteria is willing to accept an invitation from a chief executive of a company actively doing business with the Navy to a lavish dinner in an expensive port such as Hong Kong. Sticking around for the prostitutes in my mind can only be explained by the power of alcohol and the foolish rationalizations of “just this once” and “who’s going to know?” Anyway, now you have a significant number of officers Fat Leonard has “entertained” and we see the protective code of silence emerge, in this case mostly in terms of turning a blind eye to seemingly inconsequential conflict of interest (as opposed to ethical ) transgressions.
Shifting to the investigation, what I don’t understand and have not seen explained is why the Navy has allowed the Justice Department to prosecute those alleged to have defrauded or embarrassed the Navy vice holding them to account under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice (UCMJ)? As you might expect I know both Vadm Ted Branch and Rdml Bruce Loveless. All who know these two officers remain surprised that their names haven even surfaced in this investigation, but can I see Twig or Bruce having attended one of Fat Leonard’s in port dinners and/or known others who were too close to Glenn Marine? Sure I can. So when the FBI says its investigation raises concern about these two officers in regard to Fat Leonard, the Secretary of the Navy takes the middle of the road position of suspending their clearances but keeping them in their senior N2 intelligence positions in OPNAV. OK, this is tolerable assuming the they are about to be charged (again it should be under the UCMJ vice federal statues), but when no charges are forthcoming six months later the SecNav should have said “charge them or clear them” and immediately reinstated their clearances. This intolerable situation has persisted for over two years!
I am not unfamiliar with the temptations associated with liberty in the Western Pacific, so I am at least self-aware enough to know that while I can explain, if not justify, the behavior of a large number of Navy Officers ensnared by Leonard Francis, I could well have found myself going to a Fat Leonard Dinner if the flag I was working for was attending (how could it be wrong if the admiral is there?!?). However, when you see the Fat Leonard Scandal in a larger context, all involved with Leonard Francis should have recognized they were nearing conflict of interest/ethical shoal waters to be avoided for one’s own wellbeing and that of the Navy’s. No, the dangerous shallow waters of ethics and conflict of interest are not usually well marked, which is why experience and judgment matter.
As a result of apparently coordinated, vice happenstance, programing, Chief of Naval of Operations (CNO) Admiral John Richardson was interviewed by Craig Whitlock on CSPAN Radio’s “Newsmakers” show on Sunday evening 30 May (http://www.c-span.org/video/?410028-1/radio-newsmakers-admiral-john-richardson ). From this 30 minute interview it seemed to me that neither the CNO nor those interviewing him perceive the obvious connection between the faith and trust that the Navy and the nation have to put in commanding officers dealing with incidents such as Russian Fencers making simulated attack runs on the USS Donald Cook in the Baltic and the judgment shown by numerous senior officers involved in the Fat Leonard Scandal.
Fortunately there are no indications that intelligence has been subjected to any lapses of judgment in the 7th Fleet (or elsewhere in the Navy for that matter) by any of the officers associated with Fat Leonard.
That’s what I think; what do you think?