“The importance of having that one person, that singular belly button in the executive branch who’s coordinating efforts across government .
So that you don’t have to create an ad hoc task force, [so] you’re not scrambling to find who are the right people we need in the room after the crisis has already occurred,” Co-Chairman Rep.Mike Gallagher, R-Wis. Gallagher “
“A co-chairman of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission said April 22 that the fiscal 2021 defense policy bill could include about 30 percent of the group’s cyber policy recommendations.
According to Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., who co-chairs the Cyberspace Solarium Commission, which released a report with more than 75 cyber policy recommendations March 11, said on a webinar hosted by Palo Alto Networks that commission staff is working with the appropriate congressional committees and subcommittees to put about 30 percent of its recommendations into this year’s National Defense Authorization Act.
The report proposed a three-pronged strategy for securing cyberspace, called layered deterrence: shape behavior, deny benefit and impose cost.
The report also takes U.S. Cyber Command’s “defend forward” policy, which allows the military to take a more aggressive approach in cyberspace. It also suggests broadening the policy to encompass the entire federal government.
Gallagher didn’t specifically identify recommendations he thinks will be included in the NDAA, but given that the bill focuses on authorizing Defense Department programs, Pentagon-specific recommendations are the likeliest to be in the legislative text.
The recommendations for the department focus on ensuring that the Cyber Mission Force is adequately equipped; establishing vulnerability assessments for weapons and nuclear control systems; sharing threat intelligence; and threat hunting of the networks of the defense-industrial base.
The spread of the new coronavirus, COVID-19, disrupted the commission report’s rollout, which included congressional hearings on the commission’s recommendation. Those hearings have been canceled. But the pandemic also highlights the need to implement recommendations made in the report, Gallagher said, specifically the establishment of a national cyber director in the White House.
“The importance of having that one person, that singular belly button in the executive branch who’s coordinating efforts across government so that you don’t have to create an ad hoc task force, [so] you’re not scrambling to find who are the right people we need in the room after the crisis has already occurred,” Gallagher said
Before the spread of the coronavirus, congressional committees had planned to host hearings on the commission report, but those were canceled after the coronavirus spread throughout the United States. Congress is currently wrestling with how to remotely conduct voting and committee business, as the pandemic is restricting gatherings of large groups of people.
“Even though coronavirus has complicated some of … our commission rollout, we’re continuing the legislative process right now, and I’m pretty optimistic about our ability to shape this year’s NDAA,” Gallagher said.
As for the other recommendations, Gallagher said they aren’t germane to the NDAA and will take “some time.”
“This refers to gathering information about those with whom newly infected people have been in touch, in order to notify them that they might have been infected. The most-interesting example of this is a recently developed Singapore app called TraceTogether.
It is impossible to mention systems such as these without some raising concerns about privacy. These efforts are still in the earliest stages — but we should be tracking how combating coronavirus has entered the digital age.“
“Recently there has been attention to the importance of what is called “contact tracing” for fighting the coronavirus.
This has come up in the discussions of “reopening the country” after recent lockdowns, with the argument that slowing disease spread depends heavily on being able to do this, though it did not appear in the president’s re-opening plan.
But contact tracing has historically been a resource-intensive and very imperfect process. Officials have had to go to newly infected people and interview them about whom they have been in contact with over the previous two weeks. Memories of course are often imperfect. People may not even know everyone with whom they interacted. And the interviewing itself takes significant time and manpower.
In just-published guidance of contact tracing, the Centers for Disease Control has stated that “contact tracing in the U.S. will require that states, tribes, localities and territorial establish large cadres of contact tracers.” Reaching people to interview about contacts can be slow, and contacting those contacts delays things further. Meanwhile, there is a limited window between infection and illness to catch contacts with problems, so speed is important.
However, since the Ebola outbreak in 2014, mobile telephone technology and especially smartphone penetration have dramatically improved. We are now seeing, mostly in Asia, the use of tech to provide quicker, more accurate, and more economical contact tracing in response to the coronavirus pandemic. I blogged a number of years ago on the theme of areas where Asia was overtaking the U.S. in tech apps, which I illustrated with the widespread use in China of mobile payment apps using smartphones and QR codes. We are now seeing Asian superiority with digital coronavirus apps in Asia as well.
This was the theme of a recent piece in the Daily Alert, a publication of the Harvard Business Review that publishes short management-related articles, called How digital contact tracing slowed covid-19 in East Asia, by MIT Sloan School professor Yasheng Huang and grad students Meicen Sun and Yuze Sui.
I think the most-interesting example of this is a recently developed Singapore app called TraceTogether. For those choosing the use the app, Bluetooth tracks smartphones that have also installed the app. The app then tracks when a user is in close proximity with these other persons, including timestamps. If an individual using the app becomes positive to Covid-19 they can choose to allow the Singapore Ministry of Health to access the tracking data — which can then be used to identify and then contact any recent close contacts based on the proximity and duration of an encounter. This is tech-enabled quick and accurate contact tracing. Apple and Google recently announced ago that they are developing a similar Bluetooth-based app, but rolling it out is apparently still a few months away.
Other Asian countries have used tech in other ways to help fight the virus. Taiwan has created a “digital fence,” whereby anyone required to undergo home quarantine has their location monitored via cellular signals from their phones. Venturing too far from home triggers an alert system, and calls and messages are sent to ascertain the person’s whereabouts. South Korea has an app called Corona100, which alerts users of the presence of any diagnosed Covid-19 patient within a 100-meter radius, along with the patient’s diagnosis date, nationality, age, gender, and prior locations. (A map version of the app called Corona Map similarly plots locations of diagnosed patients to help those who want to avoid these areas.)
It is impossible to mention systems such as these without some raising concerns about privacy. The Singapore SmartTracker will save data for only 21 days, and the names of the ill and their contacts will not be shared with others. Wired ran an article on privacy risks of the Google/Apple system and concluded purported risks were quite small.
A bigger question is whether the government should be allowed under any circumstances to require people to sign onto a new contact-tracing app. Observers worry that without very widespread adoption, the benefits of such apps will dramatically decline. One can make an argument, which underlines the general case for disease quarantines, that if people do not quarantine themselves and then become sick, the costs fall not just on themselves but on others they might infect. However, even Singapore, a country without the robust culture of privacy we have in the U.S., has not been willing to require people to install SmartTracker, and only about 20% have done so.
In other words, these efforts are still in the earliest stages — but we should be tracking how combating coronavirus has entered the digital age.”
“The United States does not need to meddle in every part of the world that faces a lack of security, especially if we can count on our friends.
Moreover, by getting involved in local fights against radicals — most of which can be dealt with by regional powers — we often go looking for trouble.”
“For decades, large parts of Africa have been home to local radicals and militants. But these local radicals do not present a direct threat to U.S. national security — so does their mere existence justify the construction of a new drone base that has a price tag of $100 million?
The cost of operating the facility, located in the middle of the Sahara desert in Agadez, Niger, is estimated at $30 million a year. By the end of the 10-year agreement for the use of the site in 2024, named Nigerien Air Base 201, the U.S. will have spent around $280 million.
That is $280 million of U.S. taxpayer money that could be spent on domestic infrastructure, border security and more. Before signing the checks, there should be an open discussion and debate in Congress on the necessity of this facility, or the need for such direct U.S. involvement in the security of Niger and neighboring countries in the Sahel — the dry strip of land at the southern edge of the Sahara notorious for harboring militants in poorly governed spaces.
In addition to the base at Agadez, which is run by the U.S. military, the CIA maintains a drone base at Dirkou, in northeastern Niger, close to Libya, though it is not clear to defense analysts why two U.S. bases are needed in such close proximity. Niger’s own interior minister does not seem to know what exactly the U.S. drones in his country are doing.
U.S. involvement in Niger and neighboring Mali dates to 2013, when parts of northern Mali were briefly overrun by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and other Islamist militants after hijacking a local ethnic Tuareg rebellion and acquiring weapons from Libya after the fall of Moammar Gadhafi, an event precipitated by poor U.S. strategy.
While the militants of northern and western Africa are undoubtedly dangerous, they are not a direct threat to the United States and seek to establish a local regime, hence their focus on the Maghreb (northwest Africa).
Yet the American presence in the region endured and deepened, with around 800 U.S. Army Green Berets working in Niger by 2017 training Nigerien troops and with the construction of Air Base 201. Inevitably, U.S. forces got drawn into skirmishes between the Nigerien government and local militants, and so became targets in their own right. This was made manifestly clear last October when U.S. special forces were ambushed in Tongo Tongo, Niger, leading to the deaths of four U.S. soldiers.
Yet, instead of sparking a thorough debate over the presence of U.S. soldiers in Africa, the Tongo Tongo debacle seems to have become a rationalization for an ever-greater American footprint in Niger.
American military power does not need to be used to combat every militant, terrorist and radical in every corner of the world, and should be reserved against only those extremists who are actively planning attacks against the United States and its core allies. By inserting itself into Niger and other poorly governed spaces in Africa, the United States is inviting attacks against its soldiers by making local problems our problems, a formula for perpetual war in all corners of the globe. We are furthermore incentivizing poor governments to persist in failed policies and lackluster governance because they can outsource their security operations to our military.
In Niger and the rest of the Sahel, France — our ally and partner — is already taking the initiative. Much of the Sahel was previously colonized by France, so it continues to have strong ties with Niger as well as neighboring Burkina Faso and Mali. It is therefore in a better position politically and diplomatically to conduct successful operations in that part of Africa because it can use its influence with its African partners to nudge them toward viable settlements with local actors.
American interests are better served by a more hands-off approach to Niger and the Sahel.”
“Hegar was one of four female veterans who signed on to a lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in 2012 against then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, . Panetta reversed the combat ban in for women in January 2013.
She earned the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross with “V” device for her actions, which helped save the lives of those aboard her helicopter. Running as a Democrat against John Carter, an eight-term Republican, she won the democratic primary runoff in May.”
“In a powerful campaign video, “Doors,” that debuted in June and quickly went viral, Hegar showed the world her story of surviving childhood domestic abuse and the negative effects of gender inequality in her military career. As the ad shows, she’d go on to make her mark on history despite it all.
“We need a new freshman class of servant leaders who are used to working with people we disagree with,” Hegar said in a telephone interview with Military.com on Monday.
Hegar, an Air Force and combat veteran, believes her prior service aligns with the type of leadership the U.S. needs at a time of “hyper-partisan” politics that affects the way Americans deal, interact and empathize with one another. Her new mission is to work with her prospective lawmaker colleagues to back a stable, national security environment while fighting for better jobs and medical care back home.
“I see an uncomfortably flippant attitude toward putting our men and women in uniform at risk, by how we treat our allies, or how we treat a nuclear power or how we treat countries that are actively attacking our democracy. I think there are a lot of things that we need a lot more veterans in Congress because of that,” she said.
Carter, she said, once denied her a meeting years ago when she was looking for congressional support to pressure the Pentagon to allow women to serve in combat.
Hegar was one of four female veterans who signed on to a lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in 2012 against then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, calling existing restrictions against women serving in ground combat units unconstitutional. Resolution ultimately did not come through the courts — the case remains open. But amid mounting pressure, Panetta reversed the ban in January 2013, paving the way for women to serve in previously closed units.
It is one of the reasons she wanted to put her story out there. Eventually, she said, it became the motivation behind her current campaign.
“In the military, we are thrown into a melting pot of cultures and communities and we disagree a lot on how to accomplish the mission, but when it comes time to get the work done, we focus our energy on accomplishing the mission,” Hegar said. “We’ve got to tell our stories to influence culture, and we have to get more people elected who have faced challenges like domestic violence, working minimum-wage jobs, wondering how to get food on the table … regular people.”
Hegar describes herself a private, introverted person who doesn’t seek attention. But she says she’s concerned about the inadequate representation she’s seen throughout her life as a service member, mother and proud Texan.
The “train had already left the station” for getting pretty personal during her powerful commercial, she said.
In the video, Hegar walks viewers through her life: Dreaming, as a young girl, of flying for the Air Force, to lobbying lawmakers to reverse outdated policies, to moments of pain that shaped her life story.
It “was very out-of-character for me, especially with anything to do with my kids [in the public eye] … but this is really who I am,” said Hegar, who partnered with Putnam Partners, a political advertising firm, for the commercial.
“This district that I grew up in is a part of who I am, and I love my home, and I feel we deserve better representation,” she said.
She won the primary runoff in May. She goes up against Carter in November.
“I got so sick of hearing, ‘This is a state this or this is a state that, or I don’t have to have a campaign or town hall’ ” to deal with issues, Hegar said. “If we elect people who have never been to public school, never had to worry about counting on Social Security, then how can they effectively legislate?”
WOMEN AS WARRIORS
Hegar served in the U.S. Air Force first as an aircraft maintenance mechanic working on F-16 Fighting Falcons and then B-2 Spirit bombers between 2000 and 2004.
“There were very personal, private things like the domestic violence in my life,” among other challenges, she said.
“I got this question once where someone asked me, ‘How do you resolve the conflict of your warrior heart and your mothering, nurturing nature?’ And it’s the same thing. I don’t know why the American culture separates the two for some reason, when in other cultures throughout history, women have been utilized in various military roles,” she added.
On her third tour in Afghanistan in 2009, Hegar, co-piloting a helicopter during a combat search-and-rescue operation, came under direct enemy fire from the Taliban outside Kandahar.
She was shot, but hung on as the helicopter went down a few miles away. Two Army helicopters rescued the downed crew. Hegar returned fire as they circled over 150 Taliban fighters below. She earned the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross with “V” device for her actions, which helped save the lives of those aboard her helicopter.
“I feel like everyone always focuses on the shootdown,” she said. “Being a pilot was a lot of hard work … and I had to demonstrate a skill set that I think will come in handy in D.C. and that was … to study and be an expert on a multitude of systems and things like that.”
Hegar spent the first half of her career as an aircraft maintenance officer, an experience she said helped her develop management and business leadership skills.
“That’s definitely more of the experience I lean on,” she said.
Hegar served 12 years before separating as a major. Now, she wants those who exemplify “exceptional fortitude and courage under pressure” and “an inability to accept intimidation and bullying” to step up in Congress.
“The people who are sending our men and women in uniform into conflict need to understand that there are some things worth fighting for, but also understand the high cost of war,” she said.
CATALYST FOR CHANGE
Regarding the 2012 lawsuit, filed with the aid of the American Civil Liberties Union, Hegar said her primary concern was for military effectiveness and the impact the exclusion policy had on recruiting and retention.
“We were losing women like myself because those women couldn’t move on to jobs that were a natural progression or a natural fit for their skill set because they were women. Which was ridiculous,” Hegar said, calling the lawsuit an extra boost to amplify the needed change.
“I was trying to provide a catalyst for change,” she said, to “help push the administration over toward the other side of the fence to go ahead and take the very monumental and historic steps to actually repeal the policy.”
Hegar helped co-found the Women in International Security’s Combat Integration Initiative, a program that supports connecting female veterans through partnerships, conducts independent research to provide lawmakers, and meets with them or their staffers.
“I hate talking about women as a group — I hate talking about any group as a group, because there are unique attributes to each individual, and that was really my whole argument for opening jobs and competition for women,” she said. It should be about, “Let the best soldier win.”
Hegar was supposed to sit down with Carter in 2013 to discuss these ideas, but he never showed up, she said. Carter has denied this account.
Hegar said she realized in the end that Carter’s no-show wasn’t just about trying to repeal one policy. It meant that better representation was needed across the U.S.
It means “there’s a real race on our hands,” not just going to the ballot box and checking a name of someone district voters wouldn’t know, she said.
“I’m doing my part to show the district that we deserve present representation who will listen to the different communities … and not just stay in D.C. the whole time, but actually stay in the district, talking to and helping people in this district. Helping bring jobs here, helping people bring opportunity here.”
She continued, “I think this toxic, hyper-partisanship is part of a gridlock that keeps us from getting anything done in D.C. It disgusts people and makes them tune out, turn off their TVs and stop reading the news. And that’s dangerous.”
“An elite Washington is comfortable with what it calls “the revolving door” ― the movement of government officials into lobbying, contracting or consulting jobs where they can exploit government connections for profit.
It’s not considered a particularly admirable career path, but it is nevertheless accepted as a normal part of life in the nation’s capital.”
“The last 18 months have been difficult for former members of the Obama administration. They’ve been replaced by a regime, which, in the words of former Domestic Policy Council director Melody Barnes, “shows virtually no respect for constitutional principles, or often, basic human decency.” And now they can do little more than complain about their successors’ parade of outrages.
“Our democracy is under attack,” warned former Attorney General Eric Holder. Former Assistant AG Lanny Breuer called the Trump administration’s immigration agenda, “contrary to the core values of this nation.” Conscientious public servants “cannot stay silent,” wrote former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who also said President Donald Trump’s separation of migrant children from their asylum-seeking parents is “immoral and un-American.” Former White House spokesman Jay Carney worried about “the country’s credibility” under Trump. “Donald Trump is sort of to politics what Bernie Madoff was to investment,” according to ex-Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. His birth control policy, said Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, is “unconscionable.”
And yet for all the damage the Trump administration is doing to American democracy, several prominent Obama alums seem to have quietly made their peace with a subtler attack on the legitimacy of U.S. institutions. Today, many are lending the prestige of their White House resumes to scandal-fraught organizations in return for large sums of money. Some are even doing business with the Trump administration.
Plenty of former Obama officials are leading scholarly lives as academics, working with nonprofits or in sectors of the corporate world far from the purview of their previous duties in Washington. Obama spokesperson Eric Schultz told HuffPost that Obama “implemented unprecedented ethics rules, including cracking down on the revolving door by prohibiting former lobbyists from working on issues on which they lobbied, and by preventing appointees from lobbying the White House after working there.”
Schultz added that “President Obama’s White House was the first in modern history to not have a major scandal.”
None of the officials named in this article would comment on the record.
These days, Johnson receives $290,000 a year to serve on the board of directors at Lockheed Martin, the largest American defense contractor and the world’s biggest weapons manufacturer. It has been fined over $767 million for various forms of misconduct since forming in 1995, according to the Project on Government Oversight.
Directors of large corporations are nominally responsible for pretty important stuff: setting executive compensation, managing risk and generally ensuring that a company’s management acts in the best interest of its shareholders. But American corporate governance has been weak for decades. In practice, serving on a board means attending a few meetings a year and collecting paychecks. The Lockheed Martin board met nine times last year.
Lockheed Martin sells rockets, missiles, bombs, “guided projectiles,” “laser weapon systems,” “integrated surface warfare,” fighter jets, attack helicopters and drones, along with tech support, systems operation and various training programs. All told, the company does $35 billion a year in business with the federal government, much of it contracted with the very department Johnson recently headed. The company’s sales are rising along with Trump’s defensebudgets.
Johnson has been publishing opinion pieces in The Washington Post on DHS policy of late, presenting his cachet as Obama’s DHS Secretary as a relevant credential. The pieces have not disclosed the fact that he works for a defense contractor that stands to profit from DHS business.
Barnes is also working at a defense contractor, earning upwards of $210,000 a year serving on the board at Booz Allen Hamilton, which held eight meetings in 2017. Barnes, who recently penned an op-ed for The Hill calling “to build an inclusive, multicultural democracy that provides opportunity, community and security for all” through “community wealth building,” has been working for the firm since 2015. Last year, the company announced it was the subject of a Department of Justice criminal investigation over irregularities in its government billing and accounting. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, in 2016 and 2017 alone, the company received $63 million in contracts to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement ― the militarized deportation agency at the heart of the Trump administration’s family separation scandal. Booz Allen Hamilton revenues are up almost 15 percent since Trump came to town.
Ride-sharing titan Uber also hired Barnes in May 2016 in an apparent effort to clean up its image as a stream of Uber scandals began to dominate headlines. Roughly eight months after she joined a new policy advisory board at the company, a major sexual harassment scandal broke, and Barnes has remained at the company as it has weathered a barrage of subsequent debacles far removed from her role, including the improper seizing of an alleged rape survivor’s medical records in an apparent attempt to discredit her accusations.
Uber seems to have been a preferred landing pad for Obama officials. Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood joined Barnes on the policy advisory board, and Obama’s 2008 campaign manager David Plouffe worked as a senior vice president at the company from August 2014 until January 2017. He was fined $90,000 by the city of Chicago for illegally lobbying the city’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, while working for Uber. Emanuel, who served as Obama’s first White House Chief of Staff, has distinguished himself as mayor by covering up the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.
Uber has also paid Holder for various legal work. After the sexual harassment story became front-page news, Uber commissioned Holder to conduct a study and issue a report detailing problems with the company’s workplace culture and management approach.
So it makes a perverse kind of sense that Holder is now a partner at the law firm of Covington and Burling, a D.C.-based outfit that specializes in work on behalf of the banking industry. In a remarkable interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes this April, Holder downplayed the significance of financial misconduct, suggesting that law enforcement agencies have more important things to deal with.
“There’s a lot of crime that happens I think generally that doesn’t get reported ― people are stealing things out of grocery stores, people are doing things in banks that they shouldn’t be doing,” Holder said. “But when it comes to the things that are truly consequential that are truly important, I think that law enforcement … generally holds people to account.”
Breuer, who was in charge of DOJ’s criminal division during the Obama years, is also a partner at Covington and Burling. He currently spends his time “helping clients navigate financial fraud investigations, anti-corruption matters, money laundering investigations, securities enforcement actions, cybercrime incidents, Congressional investigations, and other criminal and civil matters presenting complex regulatory, political, and public relations risks,” according to the firm’s website.
Obama’s first Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Schapiro has also found her way into Wall Street’s good graces. She now advises financial firms for the consulting firm Promontory Financial Group, and serves on the board of Morgan Stanley ― an investment banking behemoth that has settled 24 separate allegations of misconduct with the federal government since her departure from the SEC. This includes a multibillion-dollar case for defrauding investors with toxic securities during the financial crisis. Schapiro just started at Morgan Stanley and her compensation hasn’t been disclosed, but according to a recent SEC filing, the bank’s directors receive between $338,333 and $378,333 a year. The Morgan Stanley board met a total of 16 times last year.
Former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, meanwhile, is now president of the private equity firm Warburg Pincus, which owns Mariner Finance, an installment lender that targets poor families with high-interest loans. A devastating Washington Post story published last week detailed the case of one Mariner customer who borrowed $2,000 from the firm, only to find himself owing over $3,200 in less than a year, even after making a few payments on the loan. Mariner initially got in touch with the man by mailing him a check for $1,200 “out of the blue,” labeled as loan with a 33 percent interest rate.
Former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is now advocating for some of the country’s biggest dairy interests, including Schreiber Foods, Sargento, Hershey and YUM! Restaurants (better known as KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut), as president of the U.S. Dairy Export Council.
Ex-White House Chief of Staff Pete Rouse is now chair of the Public and Strategic Affairs Group at the law firm of Perkins Coie, where he, “provides policy analysis and offers strategic advice on navigating Congress and the executive branch” and “counsels senior level executives on federal and state policy issues and related public communication challenges.” Such activity is known to the general public as “lobbying,” but ― conveniently ― does not need to be described as such for legal purposes.
And then there’s Carney. Prior to Trump’s election, perhaps no American in the 21st century had displayed greater ingenuity when attempting to discredit legitimate journalism than the former White House spokesman. Carney worked for Time magazine as a political editor before joining the White House, and he joined Amazon as a senior vice president in March 2015 after leaving the administration in the summer of 2014. When the New York Times ran a story detailing a host of problems with Amazon’s harsh workplace culture, Carney authored a lengthy reply on Medium publicly challenging the company employees quoted in the story (why Amazon thought this would contribute to an image as a supportive employer was not clear) and accusing the Times of journalistic malpractice.
Big, prestigious corporations just didn’t do this sort of thing at the time. Read Carney’s piece and ask yourself if the final paragraph doesn’t read like a memo from Sarah Huckabee Sanders. It’s a masterpiece of innuendo and half-truth, of molehills presented as mountains and unsubstantiated accusations. Carney even attacked lead reporter Jodi Kantor by name, devoting nearly 400 words to a narrative suggesting that her months of communication with the company for the story were really just an underhanded campaign of deception.
The Times stood by their story, and a month after Carney published his piece, Amazon spontaneously announced it would be implementing a more generous maternity leave policy. Kantor went on to share the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for breaking the Harvey Weinstein sexual misconduct story.
In a statement provided to HuffPost, an Amazon spokesperson noted that the paper’s public editor had called the Times story “unbalanced.” “The Medium article outlined the facts about the individuals mentioned in the New York Times story, and the information in it is all correct,” the spokesperson said.
This isn’t a full accounting of everything everyone in the administration has done since leaving office. Holder is chairing a the National Democratic Redistricting Committee to combat gerrymandering, for instance, while Barnes is vice chair of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation that oversees Monticello.
And elite Washington is comfortable with what it calls “the revolving door” ― the movement of government officials into lobbying, contracting or consulting jobs where they can exploit government connections for profit. It’s not considered a particularly admirable career path, but it is nevertheless accepted as a normal part of life in the nation’s capital.
But much of what passes for normal in Washington is considered grotesque in the rest of the country. If the Trump administration weren’t bumbling between different crimes against humanity, it’s hard to imagine anyone getting nostalgic for the era when these folks ran the free world.”
“To make sense of Mueller, you have to revisit some of the bloodiest battles of Vietnam.
“Although seriously wounded during the firefight, he resolutely maintained his position and, ably directing the fire of his platoon, was instrumental in defeating the North Vietnamese Army force,” reads the Navy Commendation that Mueller received for his action that day.
He went on to hold high positions in five presidential administrations. He led the Criminal Division of the Justice Department, overseeing the US investigation of the Lockerbie bombing and the federal prosecution of the Gambino crime family boss John Gotti. He became director of the FBI one week before September 11, 2001, and stayed on to become the bureau’s longest-serving director since J. Edgar Hoover.”
“ONE DAY IN the summer of 1969, a young Marine lieutenant named Bob Mueller arrived in Hawaii for a rendezvous with his wife, Ann. She was flying in from the East Coast with the couple’s infant daughter, Cynthia, a child Mueller had never met. Mueller had taken a plane from Vietnam.
After nine months at war, he was finally due for a few short days of R&R outside the battle zone. Mueller had seen intense combat since he last said goodbye to his wife. He’d received the Bronze Star with a distinction for valor for his actions in one battle, and he’d been airlifted out of the jungle during another firefight after being shot in the thigh. He and Ann had spoken only twice since he’d left for South Vietnam.
Despite all that, Mueller confessed to her in Hawaii that he was thinking of extending his deployment for another six months, and maybe even making a career in the Marines.
Ann was understandably ill at ease about the prospect. But as it turned out, she wouldn’t be a Marine wife for much longer. It was standard practice for Marines to be rotated out of combat, and later that year Mueller found himself assigned to a desk job at Marine headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. There he discovered something about himself: “I didn’t relish the US Marine Corps absent combat.”
So he headed to law school with the goal of serving his country as a prosecutor.
Today, the face-off between Special Counsel Robert Mueller and President Donald Trump stands out, amid the black comedy of Trump’s Washington, as an epic tale of diverging American elites: a story of two men—born just two years apart, raised in similar wealthy backgrounds in Northeastern cities, both deeply influenced by their fathers, both star prep school athletes, both Ivy League educated—who now find themselves playing very different roles in a riveting national drama about political corruption and Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. The two men have lived their lives in pursuit of almost diametrically opposed goals—Mueller a life of patrician public service, Trump a life of private profit.
Those divergent paths began with Vietnam, the conflict that tore the country apart just as both men graduated from college in the 1960s. Despite having been educated at an elite private military academy, Donald Trump famously drew five draft deferments, including one for bone spurs in his feet. He would later joke, repeatedly, that his success at avoiding sexually transmitted diseases while dating numerous women in the 1980s was “my personal Vietnam. I feel like a great and very brave soldier.”
Mueller, for his part, not only volunteered for the Marines, he spent a year waiting for an injured knee to heal so he could serve. And he has said little about his time in Vietnam over the years. When he was leading the FBI through the catastrophe of 9/11 and its aftermath, he would brush off the crushing stress, saying, “I’m getting a lot more sleep now than I ever did in Vietnam.” One of the only other times his staff at the FBI ever heard him mention his Marine service was on a flight home from an official international trip. They were watching We Were Soldiers, a 2002 film starring Mel Gibson about some of the early battles in Vietnam. Mueller glanced at the screen and observed, “Pretty accurate.”
His reticence is not unusual for the generation that served on the front lines of a war that the country never really embraced. Many of the veterans I spoke with for this story said they’d avoided talking about Vietnam until recently. Joel Burgos, who served as a corporal with Mueller, told me at the end of our hour-long conversation, “I’ve never told anyone most of this.”
Yet for almost all of them—Mueller included—Vietnam marked the primary formative experience of their lives. Nearly 50 years later, many Marine veterans who served in Mueller’s unit have email addresses that reference their time in Southeast Asia: gunnysgt, 2-4marine, semperfi, PltCorpsman, Grunt. One Marine’s email handle even references Mutter’s Ridge, the area where Mueller first faced large-scale combat in December 1968.
The Marines and Vietnam instilled in Mueller a sense of discipline and a relentlessness that have driven him ever since. He once told me that one of the things the Marines taught him was to make his bed every day. I’d written a book about his time at the FBI and was by then familiar with his severe, straitlaced demeanor, so I laughed at the time and said, “That’s the least surprising thing I’ve ever learned about you.” But Mueller persisted: It was an important small daily gesture exemplifying follow-through and execution. “Once you think about it—do it,” he told me. “I’ve always made my bed and I’ve always shaved, even in Vietnam in the jungle. You’ve put money in the bank in terms of discipline.”
Mueller’s former Princeton classmate and FBI chief of staff W. Lee Rawls recalled how Mueller’s Marine leadership style carried through to the FBI, where he had little patience for subordinates who questioned his decisions. He expected his orders to be executed in the Hoover building just as they had been on the battlefield. In meetings with subordinates, Mueller had a habit of quoting Gene Hackman’s gruff Navy submarine captain in the 1995 Cold War thriller Crimson Tide: “We’re here to preserve democracy, not to practice it.”
Discipline has certainly been a defining feature of Mueller’s Russia investigation. In a political era of extreme TMI—marked by rampant White House leaks, Twitter tirades, and an administration that disgorges jilted cabinet-level officials as quickly as it can appoint new ones—the special counsel’s office has been a locked door. Mueller has remained an impassive cypher: the stoic, silent figure at the center of America’s political gyre. Not once has he spoken publicly about the Russia investigation since he took the job in May 2017, and his carefully chosen team of prosecutors and FBI agents has proved leakproof, even under the most intense of media spotlights. Mueller’s spokesperson, Peter Carr, on loan from the Justice Department, has essentially had one thing to tell a media horde ravenous for information about the Russia investigation: “No comment.”
If Mueller’s discipline is reflected in the silence of his team, his relentlessness has been abundantly evident in the pace of indictments, arrests, and legal maneuvers coming out of his office.
At the same time, Mueller’s investigators are probing the business dealings of Trump and his associates, an effort that has yielded indictments for tax fraud and conspiracy against Trump’s former campaign chair, Paul Manafort, and a guilty plea on financial fraud and lying to investigators by Manafort’s deputy, Rick Gates. The team is also looking into the numerous contacts between Trump’s people and Kremlin-connected figures. And Mueller is questioning witnesses in an effort to establish whether Trump has obstructed justice by trying to quash the investigation itself.
Almost every week brings a surprise development in the investigation. But until the next indictment or arrest, it’s difficult to say what Mueller knows, or what he thinks.
Before he became special counsel, Mueller freely and repeatedly told me that his habits of mind and character were most shaped by his time in Vietnam, a period that is also the least explored chapter of his biography.
This first in-depth account of his year at war is based on multiple interviews with Mueller about his time in combat—conducted before he became special counsel—as well as hundreds of pages of once-classified Marine combat records, official accounts of Marine engagements, and the first-ever interviews with eight Marines who served alongside Mueller in 1968 and 1969. They provide the best new window we have into the mind of the man leading the Russia investigation.
ROBERT SWAN MUELLER III, the first of five children and the only son, grew up in a stately stone house in a wealthy Philadelphia suburb. His father was a DuPont executive who had captained a Navy submarine-chaser in World War II; he expected his children to abide by a strict moral code. “A lie was the worst sin,” Mueller says. “The one thing you didn’t do was to give anything less than the truth to my mother and father.”
He attended St. Paul’s prep school in Concord, New Hampshire, where the all-boys classes emphasized Episcopal ideals of virtue and manliness. He was a star on the lacrosse squad and played hockey with future US senator John Kerry on the school team. For college he chose his father’s alma mater, Princeton, and entered the class of 1966.
The expanding war in Vietnam was a frequent topic of conversation among the elite students, who spoke of the war—echoing earlier generations—in terms of duty and service. “Princeton from ’62 to ’66 was a completely different world than ’67 onwards,” said Rawls, a lifelong friend of Mueller’s. “The anti-Vietnam movement was not on us yet. A year or two later, the campus was transformed.”
On the lacrosse field, Mueller met David Hackett, a classmate and athlete who would profoundly affect Mueller’s life. Hackett had already enlisted in the Marines’ version of ROTC, spending his Princeton summers training for the escalating war. “I had one of the finest role models I could have asked for in an upperclassman by the name of David Hackett,” Mueller recalled in a 2013 speech as FBI director. “David was on our 1965 lacrosse team. He was not necessarily the best on the team, but he was a determined and a natural leader.”
After he graduated in 1965, Hackett began training to be a Marine, earning top honors in his officer candidate class. After that he shipped out to Vietnam. In Mueller’s eyes, Hackett was a shining example. Mueller decided that when he graduated the following year, he too would enlist in the Marines.
On April 30, 1967, shortly after Hackett had signed up for his second tour in Vietnam, his unit was ambushed by more than 75 camouflaged North Vietnamese troops who were firing down from bunkers with weapons that included a .50-caliber machine gun. According to a Marine history, “dozens of Marines were killed or wounded within minutes.”
Hackett located the source of the incoming fire and charged 30 yards across open ground to an American machine gun team to tell them where to shoot. Minutes later, as he was moving to help direct a neighboring platoon whose commander had been wounded, he was killed by a sniper. Posthumously awarded the Silver Star, Hackett’s commendation explained that he died “while pressing the assault and encouraging his Marines.”
By the time word of Hackett’s death filtered back to the US, Mueller was already making good on his pledge to follow him into military service. The news only strengthened his resolve to become an infantry officer. “One would have thought that the life of a Marine, and David’s death in Vietnam, would argue strongly against following in his footsteps,” Mueller said in that 2013 speech. “But many of us saw in him the person we wanted to be, even before his death. He was a leader and a role model on the fields of Princeton. He was a leader and a role model on the fields of battle as well. And a number of his friends and teammates joined the Marine Corps because of him, as did I.”
In mid-1966, Mueller underwent his military physical at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard; this was before the draft lottery began and before Vietnam became a divisive cultural watershed. He recalls sitting in the waiting room as another candidate, a strapping 6-foot, 280-pound lineman for the Philadelphia Eagles, was ruled 4-F—medically unfit for military service. After that it was Mueller’s turn to be rejected: His years of intense athletics, including hockey and lacrosse, had left him with an injured knee. The military declared that it would need to heal before he would be allowed to deploy.
In the meantime, he married Ann Cabell Standish—a graduate of Miss Porter’s School and Sarah Lawrence—over Labor Day weekend 1966, and they moved to New York, where he earned a master’s degree in international relations at New York University.Once his knee had healed, Mueller went back to the military doctors. In 1967—just before Donald Trump received his own medical deferment for heel spurs—Mueller started Officer Candidate School at Quantico, Virginia.
LIKE HACKETT BEFORE him, Mueller was a star in his Officer Candidate School training class. “He was a cut above,” recalls Phil Kellogg, who had followed one of his fraternity brothers into the Marines after graduating from the College of Santa Fe in New Mexico. Kellogg, who went through training with Mueller, remembers Mueller racing another candidate on an obstacle course—and losing. It’s the only time he can remember Mueller being bested. “He was a natural athlete and natural student,” Kellogg says. “I don’t think he had a hard day at OCS, to be honest.” There was, it turned out, only one thing he was bad at—and it was a failing that would become familiar to legions of his subordinates in the decades to come: He received a D in delegation.During the time Mueller spent in training, from November 1967 through July 1968, the context of the Vietnam War changed dramatically. The bloody Tet Offensive—a series of coordinated, widespread, surprise attacks across South Vietnam by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese in January 1968—stunned America, and with public opinion souring on the conflict, Lyndon Johnson declared he wouldn’t run for reelection. As Mueller’s training class graduated, Walter Cronkite declared on the CBS Evening News that the war could not be won. “For it seems now more certain than ever,” Cronkite told his millions of viewers on February 27, 1968, “that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate.”
The country seemed to be descending into chaos; as the spring unfolded, both Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated. Cities erupted in riots. Antiwar protests raged. But the shifting tide of public opinion and civil unrest barely registered with the officer candidates in Mueller’s class. “I don’t remember anyone having qualms about where we were or what we were doing,” Kellogg says.
That spring, as Donald J. Trump graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and began working for his father’s real estate company, Mueller finished up Officer Candidate School and received his next assignment: He was to attend the US Army’s Ranger School.
Mueller knew that only the best young officers went on to Ranger training, a strenuous eight-week advanced skills and leadership program for the military’s elite at Fort Benning, Georgia. He would be spending weeks practicing patrol tactics, assassination missions, attack strategies, and ambushes staged in swamps. But the implications of the assignment were also sobering to the newly minted officer: Many Marines who passed the course were designated as “recon Marines” in Vietnam, a job that often came with a life expectancy measured in weeks.
Mueller credits the training he received at Ranger School for his survival in Vietnam. The instructors there had been through jungle combat themselves, and their stories from the front lines taught the candidates how to avoid numerous mistakes. Ranger trainees often had to function on just two hours of rest a night and a single daily meal. “Ranger School more than anything teaches you about how you react with no sleep and nothing to eat,” Mueller told me. “You learn who you want on point, and who you don’t want anywhere near point.”
After Ranger School, he also attended Airborne School, aka jump school, where he learned to be a parachutist. By the fall of 1968, he was on his way to Asia. He boarded a flight from Travis Air Force Base in California to an embarkation point in Okinawa, Japan, where there was an almost palpable current of dread among the deploying troops.
From Okinawa, Mueller headed to Dong Ha Combat Base near the so-called demilitarized zone—the dividing line between North and South Vietnam, established after the collapse of the French colonial regime in 1954. Mueller was determined and well trained, but he was also afraid. “You were scared to death of the unknown,” he says. “More afraid in some ways of failure than death, more afraid of being found wanting.” That kind of fear, he says “animates your unconscious.”
FOR AMERICAN TROOPS, 1968 was the deadliest year of the war, as they beat back the Tet Offensive and fought the battle of Hue. All told, 16,592 Americans were killed that year—roughly 30 percent of total US fatalities in the war. Over the course of the conflict, more than 58,000 Americans died, 300,000 were wounded, and some 2 million South and North Vietnamese died.Just 18 months after David Hackett was felled by a sniper, Mueller was being sent to the same region as his officer-training classmate Kellogg, who had arrived in Vietnam three months earlier. Mueller was assigned to H Company—Hotel Company in Marine parlance—part of the 2nd Battalion of the 4th Marine Regiment, a storied infantry unit that traced its origins back to the 1930s.
The regiment had been fighting almost nonstop in Vietnam since May 1965, earning the nickname the Magnificent Bastards. The grueling combat took its toll. In the fall of 1967, six weeks of battle reduced the battalion’s 952 Marines to just 300 fit for duty.
During the Tet Offensive, the 2nd Battalion had seen bitter and bloody fighting that never let up. In April 1968, it fought in the battle of Dai Do, a days-long engagement that killed nearly 600 North Vietnamese soldiers. Eighty members of the 2nd Battalion died in the fight, and 256 were wounded.
David Harris, who arrived in Vietnam in May, joined the depleted unit just after Dai Do. “Hotel Company and all of 2/4 was decimated,” he says. “They were a skeleton crew. They were haggard, they were beat to death. It was just pitiful.”
By the time Mueller was set to arrive six months later, the unit had rebuilt its ranks as its wounded Marines recovered and filtered back into the field; they had been tested and emerged stronger. By coincidence, Mueller was to inherit leadership of a Hotel Company platoon from his friend Kellogg. “Those kids that I had and Bob had, half of them were veterans of Dai Do,” Kellogg says. “They were field-sharp.”
SECOND LIEUTENANT MUELLER, 24 years and 3 months old, joined the battalion in November 1968, one of 10 new officers assigned to the unit that month. He knew he was arriving at the so-called pointy end of the American spear. Some 2.7 million US troops served in Vietnam, but the vast majority of casualties were suffered by those who fought in “maneuver battalions” like Mueller’s. The war along the demilitarized zone was far different than it was elsewhere in Vietnam; the primary adversary was the North Vietnamese army, not the infamous Viet Cong guerrillas. North Vietnamese troops generally operated in larger units, were better trained, and were more likely to engage in sustained combat rather than melting away after staging an ambush. “We fought regular, hard-core army,” Joel Burgos says. “There were so many of them—and they were really good.”
William Sparks, a private first class in Hotel Company, recalls that Mueller got off the helicopter in the middle of a rainstorm, wearing a raincoat—a telltale sign that he was new to the war. “You figured out pretty fast it didn’t help to wear a raincoat in Vietnam,” Sparks says. “The humidity just condensed under the raincoat—you were just as wet as you were without it.”
As Mueller walked up from the landing zone, Kellogg—who had no idea Mueller would be inheriting his platoon—recognized his OCS classmate’s gait. “When he came marching up the hill, I laughed,” Kellogg says. “We started joking.” On Mueller’s first night in the field, his brand-new tent was destroyed by the wind. “That thing vanished into thin air,” Sparks says. He didn’t even get to spend one night.”
Over the coming days, Kellogg passed along some of his wisdom from the field and explained the procedures for calling in artillery and air strikes. “Don’t be John Wayne,” he said. “It’s not a movie. Marines tell you something’s up, listen to them.”
“The lieutenants who didn’t trust their Marines went to early deaths,” Kellogg says.
And with that, Kellogg told their commander that Mueller was ready, and he hopped aboard the next helicopter out.
Today, military units usually train together in the US, deploy together for a set amount of time, and return home together. But in Vietnam, rotations began—and ended—piecemeal, driven by the vagaries of injuries, illness, and individual combat tours. That meant Mueller inherited a unit that mixed combat-experienced veterans and relative newbies.
A platoon consisted of roughly 40 Marines, typically led by a lieutenant and divided into three squads, each led by a sergeant, which were then divided into three four-man “fire teams” led by corporals. While the lieutenants were technically in charge, the sergeants ran the show—and could make or break a new officer. “You land, and you’re at the mercy of your staff sergeant and your radioman,” Mueller says.
Marines in the field knew to be dubious of new young second lieutenants like Mueller. They were derided as Gold Brickers, after the single gold bar that denoted their rank. “They might have had a college education, but they sure as hell didn’t have common sense,” says Colin Campbell, who was on Hotel Company’s mortar squad.
Mueller knew his men feared he might be incompetent or worse. “The platoon was petrified,” he recalls. “They wondered whether the new green lieutenant was going to jeopardize their lives to advance his own career.” Mueller himself was equally terrified of assuming field command.
As he settled in, talk spread about the odd new platoon leader who had gone to both Princeton and Army Ranger School. “Word was out real fast—Ivy League guy from an affluent family. That set off alarms. The affluent guys didn’t go to Vietnam then—and they certainly didn’t end up in a rifle platoon,” says VJ Maranto, a corporal in H Company. “There was so much talk about ‘Why’s a guy like that out here with us?’ We weren’t Ivy Leaguers.”
Indeed, none of his fellow Hotel Company Marines had written their college thesis on African territorial disputes before the International Court of Justice, as Mueller had. Most were from rural America, and few had any formal education past high school. Maranto spent his youth on a small farm in Louisiana. Carl Rasmussen, a lance corporal, grew up on a farm in Oregon. Burgos was from the Mississippi Delta, where he was raised on a cotton plantation. After graduating from high school, David Harris had gone to work in a General Motors factory in his home state of Ohio, then joined the Marines when he was set to be drafted in the summer of 1967.
Many of the Marines under Mueller’s command had been wounded at least once; 19-year-old corporal John C. Liverman had arrived in Vietnam just four months after a neighbor of his from Silver Spring, Maryland, had been killed at Khe Sanh—and had seen heavy combat much of the year. He’d been hit by shrapnel in March 1968 and then again in April, but after recovering in Okinawa, he had agitated to return to combat.
Hotel Company quickly came to understand that its new platoon leader was no Gold Bricker. “He wanted to know as much as he could as fast as he could about the terrain, what we did, the ambushes, everything,” Maranto says. “He was all about the mission, the mission, the mission.”
SECOND BATTALION’S MISSION, as it turned out, was straightforward: Search and destroy. “We stayed out in the bush, out in the mountains, just below DMZ, 24 hours a day,” David Harris says. “We were like bait. It was the same encounter: They’d hit us, we’d hit them, they’d disappear.”Frequent deaths and injuries meant that turnover in the field was constant; when Maranto arrived at Hotel Company, he was issued a flak jacket that had dried blood on it. “We were always low on men,” Colin Campbell says.
Mueller’s unit was constantly on patrol; the battalion’s records described it as “nomadic.” Its job was to keep the enemy off-kilter and disrupt their supply lines. “You’d march all day, then you’d dig a foxhole and spend all night alternating going on watch,” says Bill White, a Hotel Company veteran. “We were always tired, always hungry, always thirsty. There were no showers.”
In those first weeks, Mueller’s confidence as a leader grew as he won his men’s trust and respect. “You’d sense his nervousness, but you’d never see that in his demeanor,” Maranto says. “He was such a professional.”
The members of the platoon soon got acquainted with the qualities that would be familiar to everyone who dealt with Mueller later as a prosecutor and FBI director. He demanded a great deal and had little patience for malingering, but he never asked for more than he was willing to give himself. “He was a no-bullshit kind of guy,” White recalls.
MUELLER’S UNIT BEGAN December 1968 in relative quiet, providing security for the main military base in the area, a glorified campground known as Vandegrift Combat Base, about 10 miles south of the DMZ. It was one of the only organized outposts nearby for Marines, a place for resupply, a shower, and hot food. Lance Corporal Robert W. Cromwell, who had celebrated his 20th birthday shortly before beginning his tour of duty, entertained his comrades with stories from his own period of R&R: He’d met his wife and parents in Hawaii to be introduced to his newborn daughter. “He was so happy to have a child and wanted to get home for good,” Harris says.On December 7 the battalion boarded helicopters for a new operation: to retake control of a hill in an infamous area known as Mutter’s Ridge.
The strategically important piece of ground, which ran along four hills on the southern edge of the DMZ, had been the scene of fighting for more than two years and had been overrun by the North Vietnamese months before. Artillery, air strikes, and tank attacks had long since denuded the ridge of vegetation, but the surrounding hillsides and valleys were a jungle of trees and vines. When Hotel Company touched down and fanned out from its landing zones to establish a perimeter, Mueller was arriving to what would be his first full-scale battle.
As the American units advanced, the North Vietnamese retreated. “They were all pulling back to this big bunker complex, as it turned out,” Sparks says. The Americans could see the signs of past battles all around them. “You’d see shrapnel holes in the trees, bullet holes,” Sparks says.
After three days of patrols, isolated firefights with an elusive enemy, and multiple nights of American bombardment, another unit in 2nd Battalion, Fox Company, received the order to take some high ground on Mutter’s Ridge. Even nearly 50 years later, the date of the operation remains burned into the memories of those who fought in it: December 11, 1968.
That morning, after a night of air strikes and artillery volleys meant to weaken the enemy, the men of Fox Company moved out at first light. The attack went smoothly at first; they seized the western portions of the ridge without resistance, dodging just a handful of mortar rounds. Yet as they continued east, heavy small-arms fire started. “As they fought their way forward, they came into intensive and deadly fire from bunkers and at least three machine guns,” the regiment later reported. Because the vegetation was so dense, Fox Company didn’t realize that it had stumbled into the midst of a bunker complex. “Having fought their way in, the company found it extremely difficult to maneuver its way out, due both to the fire of the enemy and the problem of carrying their wounded.”
Hotel Company was on a neighboring hill, still eating breakfast, when Fox Company was attacked. Sparks remembers that he was drinking a “Mo-Co,” C-rations coffee with cocoa powder and sugar, heated by burning a golf-ball-sized piece of C-4 plastic explosive. (“We were ahead of Starbucks on this latte crap,” he jokes.) They could hear the gunfire across the valley.
“Lieutenant Mueller called, ‘Saddle up, saddle up,’” Sparks says. “He called for first squad—I was the grenade launcher and had two bags of ammo strapped across my chest. I could barely stand up.” Before they could even reach the enemy, they had to fight their way through the thick brush of the valley. “We had to go down the hill and come up Foxtrot Ridge. It took hours.”
“It was the only place in the DMZ I remember seeing vegetation like that,” Harris says. “It was thick and entwining.”
When the platoon finally crested the top of the ridge, they confronted the horror of the battlefield. “There were wounded people everywhere,” Sparks recalls. Mueller ordered everyone to drop their packs and prepare for a fight. “We assaulted right out across the top of the ridge,” he says.
It wasn’t long before the unit came under heavy fire from small arms, machine guns, and a grenade launcher. “There were three North Vietnamese soldiers right in front of us that jumped right up and sprayed us with AK-47s,” Sparks says. They returned fire and advanced. At one point, a Navy corpsman with them threw a grenade, only to have it bounce off a tree and explode, wounding one of Hotel Company’s corporals. “It just got worse from there,” Sparks says.
IN THE NEXT few minutes, numerous men went down in Mueller’s unit. Maranto remembers being impressed that his relatively green lieutenant was able to stay calm while under attack. “He’d been in-country less than a month—most of us had been in-country six, eight months,” Maranto says. “He had remarkable composure, directing fire. It was sheer terror. They had RPGs, machine gun, mortars.”Mueller realized quickly how much trouble the platoon was in. “That day was the second heaviest fire I received in Vietnam,” Harris says. “Lieutenant Mueller was directing traffic, positioning people and calling in air strikes. He was standing upright, moving. He probably saved our hide.”
Cromwell, the lance corporal who had just become a father, was shot in the thigh by a .50-caliber bullet. When Harris saw his wounded friend being hustled out of harm’s way, he was oddly relieved at first. “I saw him and he was alive,” Harris says. “He was on the stretcher.” Cromwell would finally be able to spend some time with his wife and new baby, Harris figured. “You lucky sucker,” he thought. “You’re going home.”
But Harris had misjudged the severity of his friend’s injury. The bullet had nicked one of Cromwell’s arteries, and he bled to death before he reached the field hospital. The death devastated Harris, who had traded weapons with Cromwell the night before—Harris had taken Cromwell’s M-14 rifle and Cromwell took Harris’ M-79 grenade launcher. “The next day when we hit the crap, they called for him, and he had to go forward,” Harris says. Harris couldn’t shake the feeling that he should have been the one on the stretcher. “I’ve only told two people this story.”
The battle atop and around Mutter’s Ridge raged for hours, with the North Vietnamese fire coming from the surrounding jungle. “We got hit with an ambush, plain and simple,” Harris says. “The brush was so thick, you had trouble hacking it with a machete. If you got 15 meters away, you couldn’t see where you came from.”
As the fighting continued, the Marines atop the ridge began to run low on supplies. “Johnny Liverman threw me a bag of ammo. He’d been ferrying ammo from one side of the ridge to the other,” Sparks recalls. Liverman was already wounded, but he was still fighting; then, during one of his runs, he came under more fire. “He got hit right through the head, right when I was looking at him. I got that ammo, I crawled up there and got his M-16 and told him I’d be back.”
Sparks and another Marine sheltered behind a dead tree stump, trying to find any protection amid the firestorm. “Neither of us had any ammo left,” Sparks recalls. He crawled back to Liverman to try to evacuate his friend. “I got him up on my shoulder, and I got shot, and I went down,” he says. As he was lying on the ground, he heard a shout from atop the ridge, “Who’s that down there—are they dead?”
It was Lieutenant Mueller.
Sparks hollered back, “Sparks and Liverman.”
“Hold on,” Mueller said, “We’re coming down to get you.”
A few minutes later, Mueller appeared with another Marine, known as Slick. Mueller and Slick slithered Sparks into a bomb crater with Liverman and put a battle dress on Sparks’ wound. They waited until a helicopter gunship passed overhead, its guns clattering, to distract the North Vietnamese, and hustled back toward the top of the hill and comparative safety. An OV-10 attack plane overhead dropped smoke grenades to help shield the Marines atop the ridge. Mueller, Sparks says, then went back to retrieve the mortally wounded Liverman.
The deaths mounted. Corporal Agustin Rosario—a 22-year-old father and husband from New York City—was shot in the ankle, and then, while he tried to run back to safety, was shot again, this time fatally. Rosario, too, died waiting for a medevac helicopter.
Finally, as the hours passed, the Marines forced the North Vietnamese to withdraw. By 4:30 pm, the battlefield had quieted. As his commendation for the Bronze Star later read, “Second Lieutenant Mueller’s courage, aggressive initiative and unwavering devotion to duty at great personal risk were instrumental in the defeat of the enemy force and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and of the United States Naval Service.”
As night fell, Hotel and Fox held the ground, and a third company, Golf, was brought forward as additional reinforcement. It was a brutal day for both sides; 13 Americans died and 31 were wounded. “We put a pretty good hurt on them, but not without great cost,” Sparks says. “My closest friends were all killed there on Foxtrot Ridge.”
As the Americans explored the field around the ridge, they counted seven enemy dead left behind, in addition to seven others killed in the course of the battle. Intelligence reports later revealed that the battle had killed the commander of the 1st Battalion, 27th North Vietnamese Army Regiment, “and had virtually decimated his staff.”
For Mueller, the battle had proved both to him and his men that he could lead. “The minute the shit hit the fan, he was there,” Maranto says. “He performed remarkably. After that night, there were a lot of guys who would’ve walked through walls for him.”
That first major exposure to combat—and the loss of Marines under his command—affected Mueller deeply. “You’re standing there thinking, ‘Did I do everything I could?’” he says. Afterward, back at camp, while Mueller was still in shock, a major came up and slapped the young lieutenant on the shoulder, saying, “Good job, Mueller.”
“That vote of confidence helped me get through,” Mueller told me. “That gesture pushed me over. I wouldn’t go through life guilty for screwing up.”
The heavy toll of the casualties at Mutter’s Ridge shook up the whole unit. Cromwell’s death hit especially hard; his humor and good nature had knitted the unit together. “He was happy-go-lucky. He looked after the new guys when they came in,” Bill White recalls. For Harris, who had often shared a foxhole with Cromwell, the death of his best friend was devastating.
White also took Cromwell’s death hard; overcome with grief, he stopped shaving. Mueller confronted him, telling him to refocus on the mission ahead—but ultimately provided more comfort than discipline. “He could’ve given me punishment hours,” White says, “but he never did.”
DECADES LATER, MUELLER would tell me that nothing he ever confronted in his career was as challenging as leading men in combat and watching them be cut down. “You see a lot, and every day after is a blessing,” he told me in 2008. The memory of Mutter’s Ridge put everything, even terror investigations and showdowns with the Bush White House, into perspective. “A lot is going to come your way, but it’s not going to be the same intensity.”When Mueller finally did leave the FBI in 2013, he “retired” into a busy life as a top partner at the law firm WilmerHale. He taught some classes in cybersecurity at Stanford, he investigated the NFL’s handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence case, and he served as the so-called settlement master for the Volkswagen Dieselgate scandal. While in the midst of that assignment—which required the kind of delicate give-and-take ill-suited to a hard-driving, no-nonsense Marine—the 72-year-old Mueller received a final call to public service. It was May 2017, just days into the swirling storm set off by the firing of FBI director James Comey, and deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein wanted to know if Mueller would serve as the special counsel in the Russia investigation. The job—overseeing one of the most difficult and sensitive investigations ever undertaken by the Justice Department—may only rank as the third-hardest of Mueller’s career, after the post-9/11 FBI and after leading those Marines in Vietnam.
Having accepted the assignment as special counsel, he retreated into his prosecutor’s bunker, cut off from the rest of America.
IN JANUARY 1969, after 10 days of rain showers and cold weather, the unit got a three-day R&R break at Cua Viet, a nearby support base. They listened to Super Bowl III on the radio as Joe Namath and the Jets defeated the Baltimore Colts. “One touch of reality was listening to that,” Mueller says.In the field, they got little news about what was transpiring at home. In fact, later that summer, while Mueller was still deployed, Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon—an event that people around the world watched live on TV. Mueller wouldn’t find out until days afterward. “There was this whole segment of history you missed,” he says.
R&R breaks were also rare opportunities to drink alcohol, though there was never much of it. Campbell says he drank just 15 beers during his 18 months in-country. “I can remember drinking warm beer—Ballantines,” he says. In camp, the men traded magazines like Playboy and mail-order automotive catalogs, imagining the cars they would soup up when they returned to the States. They passed the time playing rummy or pinochle.
For the most part, Mueller skipped such activities, though he was into the era’s music (Creedence Clearwater Revival was—and is—a particular favorite). “I remember several times walking into a bunker and finding him in a corner with a book,” Maranto says. “He read a lot, every opportunity.”
Throughout the rest of the month, they patrolled, finding little contact with the enemy, although plenty of signs of their presence: Hotel Company often radioed in reports of finding fallen bodies and hidden supply caches, and they frequently took incoming mortar rounds from unseen enemies.
Command under such conditions wasn’t easy; drug use was a problem, and racial tensions ran high. “Many of the GIs were draftees; they didn’t want to be there,” Maranto says. “When new people rotated in, they brought what was happening in the United States with them.”
Mueller recalls at times struggling to get Marines to follow orders—they already felt that the punishment of serving in the infantry in Vietnam was as bad as it could get. “Screw that,” they’d reply sharply when ordered to do something they didn’t want to do. “What are you going to do? Send me to Vietnam?”
Yet the Marines were bonded through the constant danger of combat. Everyone had close calls. Everyone knew that luck in the combat zone was finite, fate pernicious. “If the good Lord turned over a card up there, that was it,” Mueller says.
Nights particularly were filled with dread; the enemy preferred sneak attacks, often in the hours before dawn. Colin Campbell recalls a night in his foxhole when he turned around to find a North Vietnamese soldier, armed with an AK-47, right behind him. “He’d gotten inside our perimeter. He had our back,” Campbell says. “Why didn’t he kill me and the other guy in the foxhole?” Campbell shouted, and the infiltrator bolted. “Another Marine down the line shot him dead.”
Mueller was a constant presence in the field, regularly reviewing the code signs and passwords that identified friendly units to one another. “He was quiet and reserved. The planning was meticulous and detailed. He knew at night where every position was,” Maranto recalls. “It wouldn’t be unusual for him to come out and make sure the fire teams were correctly placed—and that you were awake.”
The men I talked to who served alongside Mueller, men now in their seventies, mostly had strong memories of the type of leader Mueller had been. But many didn’t know, until I told them, that the man who led their platoon was now the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the election. “I had no idea,” Burgos told me. “When you’ve been in combat that long, you don’t remember names. Faces you remember,” he says.
Maranto says he only put two and two together recently, although he’d wondered for years if that guy who was the FBI director had served with him in Vietnam. “The name would ring a bell—you know that’s a familiar name—but you’re so busy with everyday life,” Maranto says.
APRIL 1969 MARKED a grim American milestone: The Vietnam War’s combat death toll surpassed the 33,629 Americans killed while fighting in Korea. It also brought a new threat to Hotel Company’s area: a set of powerful .50-caliber machine gun nests that the North Vietnamese had set up to harass helicopters and low-flying planes. Hotel Company—and the battalion’s other units—devoted much of the middle of the month to chasing down the deadly weapons. Until they were found, resupply helicopters were limited, and flights were abandoned when they came under direct fire. One Marine was even killed in the landing zone. Finally, on April 15 and 16, Hotel Company overran the enemy guns and forced a retreat, uncovering 10 bunkers and three gun positions.The next day, at around 10 am, Mueller’s platoon was attacked while on patrol. Facing small-arms fire and grenades, they called for air support. An hour later four attack runs hit the North Vietnamese position.
Five days later, on April 22, one of the 3rd Platoon’s patrols came under similar attack—and the situation quickly became desperate. Sparks, who had returned to Hotel Company that winter after recovering from his wound at Mutter’s Ridge, was in the ambushed patrol. “We lost the machine gun, jammed up with shrapnel, and the radio,” he recalls. “We had to pull back.”
With radio contact lost, Mueller’s platoon was called forward as reinforcement. American artillery and mortars pounded the North Vietnamese as the platoon advanced. At one point, Mueller was engaged in a close firefight. The incoming fire was so intense—the stress of the moment so all-consuming, the adrenaline pumping so hard—that when he was shot, Mueller didn’t immediately notice. Amid the combat, he looked down and realized an AK-47 round had passed clean through his thigh.
Mueller kept fighting.
“Although seriously wounded during the firefight, he resolutely maintained his position and, ably directing the fire of his platoon, was instrumental in defeating the North Vietnamese Army force,” reads the Navy Commendation that Mueller received for his action that day. “While approaching the designated area, the platoon came under a heavy volume of enemy fire from its right flank. Skillfully requesting and directing supporting Marine artillery fire on the enemy positions, First Lieutenant Mueller ensured that fire superiority was gained over the hostile unit.”
Two other members of Hotel Company were also wounded in the battle. One of them had his leg blown off by a grenade; it was his first day in Vietnam.
Mueller’s days in combat ended with him being lifted out by helicopter in a sling. As the aircraft peeled away, Mueller recalls thinking he might at least get a good meal out of the injury on a hospital ship, but he was delivered instead to a field hospital near Da Hong, where he spent three weeks recovering.
Maranto, who was on R&R when Mueller was wounded, remembers returning to camp and hearing word that their commander had been shot. “It could happen to any one of us,” Maranto says. “When it happened to him, there was a lot of sadness. They enjoyed his company.”
Mueller recovered and returned to active duty in May. Since most Marine officers spent only six months on a combat rotation—and Mueller had been in the combat zone since November—he was sent to serve at command headquarters, where he became an aide-de-camp to Major General William K. Jones, the head of the 3rd Marine Division.
By the end of 1969, Mueller was back in the US, his combat tour complete, working at the Marine barracks near the Pentagon. Soon thereafter, he sent off an application to the University of Virginia’s law school. “I consider myself exceptionally lucky to have made it out of Vietnam,” Mueller said years later in a speech. “There were many—many—who did not. And perhaps because I did survive Vietnam, I have always felt compelled to contribute.”
Over the years, a few of his former fellow Marines from Hotel Company recognized Mueller and have watched his career unfold on the national stage over the past two decades. Sparks recalls eating lunch on a July day in 2001 with the news on: “The TV was on behind me. ‘We’re going to introduce the new FBI director, Robert … Swan … Mueller.’ I slowly turned, and I looked, and I thought, ‘Golly, that’s Lieutenant Mueller.’” Sparks, who speaks with a thick Texas accent, says his first thought was the running joke he’d had with his former commander: “I’d always call him ‘Lieutenant Mew-ler,’ and he’d say, ‘That’s Mul-ler.’”
More recently, his former Marine comrade Maranto says that after spending six months in combat with Mueller, he has watched the coverage of the special counsel investigation unfold and laughed at the news reports. He says he knows Mueller isn’t sweating the pressure. “I watch people on the news talking about the distractions getting to him,” he says. “I don’t think so.”
Garrett M. Graff (@vermontgmg) is a contributing editor at WIRED and author of The Threat Matrix: Inside Robert Mueller’s FBI and the War on Global Terror. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Syrian-bound Tomahawk missile is launched from the destroyer USS Laboon in the Red Sea on April 14. (Photo: U.S. Navy / Kallysta Castillo)
“THE PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT (POGO)”
“The elastic authorizations for the use of military force that Congress passed in the wake of 9/11 have been stretched by the last three administrations from continent to continent to justify military strikes in at least eight nations.
An apathetic American public and a spineless Congress have joined in a de facto alliance that increasingly allows U.S. presidents to go to war when and where they want.”
“Threats of sustained further operations against Syria are just seen by most Americans as part of this permanent background noise of conflict,” says David Barno, a retired Army lieutenant general who commanded all U.S. forces in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005. “These signals of greater action have provoked almost no interest from the citizenry, and frankly not much more from Congress.”
But it is part of the same package: the U.S. is now a nation waging war on auto-pilot, which—given the tenor of the times—means the U.S. will be engaged in conflict indefinitely, spending hundreds of billions of dollars it doesn’t have, without reflection or deliberation.
To highlight their preferred hands-off approach, senators proposed a retooled perpetual authorization for the use of military force their first day back at work following the Syrian attack. “A bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate [April 16] would give the president sweeping authority to wage endless war anywhere in the world with limited congressional intervention,” The American Conservative reported. “In short, it’s a rubber stamp for the global war on terror.”
“Terror,” of course, has become the cudgel to beat the U.S. public into a cowering pile of protoplasm. Americans seem unable to put the terror threat in perspective, and then act accordingly. “If the past 17 years have taught us anything, it’s that far from being an existential menace, in most cases terrorism is a manageable threat,” argue Gene Healy and John Glaser of the Cato Institute in the New York Times. “Since Sept. 11, an American’s chance of being killed in the United States by a terrorist is about one in 40 million.”
Beyond the odds is history, which hints that the Syrian strike was illegal. The Supreme Court declared in 1862 that a president “has no power to initiate or declare a war.” But that notion has slowly eroded since World War II, and all but collapsed since 9/11. “By anyone’s definition, a nation that launches war on the word of one man is not, in any real sense, a republic any more,” Garrett Epps, a constitutional legal scholar at the University of Baltimore, wrote for The Atlantic. “In the long run, allowing the president to become an autocrat with sole control of war and peace is likely to prove fatal to the republic.”
“THE UNZ REVIEW – Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media” By William D. Hartung,
“All too often, astonishingly lavish military budgets are treated as if they were part of the natural order, like death or taxes.
There is a danger that the Pentagon will just get “fatter not stronger” as its worst spending habits are reinforced by a new gusher of dollars that relieves its planners of making any reasonably hard choices at all.”
“Imagine for a moment a scheme in which American taxpayers were taken to the cleaners to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars and there was barely a hint of criticism or outrage. Imagine as well that the White House and a majority of the politicians in Washington, no matter the party, acquiesced in the arrangement. In fact, the annual quest to boost Pentagon spending into the stratosphere regularly follows that very scenario, assisted by predictions of imminent doom from industry-funded hawks with a vested interest in increased military outlays.
The figures contained in the recent budget deal that kept Congress open, as well as in President Trump’s budget proposal for 2019, are a case in point: $700 billion for the Pentagon and related programs in 2018 and $716 billion the following year. Remarkably, such numbers far exceeded even the Pentagon’s own expansive expectations. According to Donald Trump, admittedly not the most reliable source in all cases, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis reportedly said, “Wow, I can’t believe we got everything we wanted” — a rare admission from the head of an organization whose only response to virtually any budget proposal is to ask for more.
The public reaction to such staggering Pentagon budget hikes was muted, to put it mildly. Unlike last year’s tax giveaway to the rich, throwing near-record amounts of tax dollars at the Department of Defense generated no visible public outrage. Yet those tax cuts and Pentagon increases are closely related. The Trump administration’s pairing of the two mimics the failed approach of President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s — only more so. It’s a phenomenon I’ve termed “Reaganomics on steroids.” Reagan’s approach yielded oceans of red ink and a severe weakening of the social safety net. It also provoked such a strong pushback that he later backtracked by raising taxes and set the stage for sharp reductions in nuclear weapons.
Donald Trump’s retrograde policies on immigration, women’s rights, racial justice, LGBT rights, and economic inequality have spawned an impressive and growing resistance. It remains to be seen whether his generous treatment of the Pentagon at the expense of basic human needs will spur a similar backlash.
Of course, it’s hard to even get a bead on what’s being lavished on the Pentagon when much of the media coverage failed to drive home just how enormous these sums actually are. A rare exception was an Associated Press story headlined “Congress, Trump Give the Pentagon a Budget the Likes of Which It Has Never Seen.” This was certainly far closer to the truth than claims like that of Mackenzie Eaglen of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, which over the years has housed such uber-hawks as Dick Cheney and John Bolton. She described the new budget as a “modest year-on-year increase.” If that’s the case, one shudders to think what an immodest increase might look like.
The Pentagon Wins Big
So let’s look at the money.
Though the Pentagon’s budget was already through the roof, it will get an extra $165 billion over the next two years, thanks to the congressional budget deal reached earlier this month. To put that figure in context, it was tens of billions of dollars more than Donald Trump had asked for last spring to “rebuild” the U.S. military (as he put it). It even exceeded the figures, already higher than Trump’s, Congress had agreed to last December. It brings total spending on the Pentagon and related programs for nuclear weapons to levels higher than those reached during the Korean and Vietnam wars in the 1950s and 1960s, or even at the height of Ronald Reagan’s vaunted military buildup of the 1980s. Only in two years of Barack Obama’s presidency, when there were roughly 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, or about seven times current levels of personnel deployed there, was spending higher.
Ben Freeman of the Center for International Policy put the new Pentagon budget numbers in perspective when he pointed out that just the approximately $80 billion annual increase in the department’s top line between 2017 and 2019 will be double the current budget of the State Department; higher than the gross domestic products of more than 100 countries; and larger than the entire military budget of any country in the world, except China’s.
Democrats signed on to that congressional budget as part of a deal to blunt some of the most egregious Trump administration cuts proposed last spring. The administration, for example, kept the State Department’s budget from being radically slashed and it reauthorized the imperiled Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for another 10 years. In the process, however, the Democrats also threw millions of young immigrants under the bus by dropping an insistence that any new budget protect the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or “Dreamers,” program. Meanwhile, the majority of Republican fiscal conservatives were thrilled to sign off on a Pentagon increase that, combined with the Trump tax cut for the rich, funds ballooning deficits as far as the eye can see — a total of $7.7 trillion worth of them over the next decade.
While domestic spending fared better in the recent congressional budget deal than it would have if Trump’s draconian plan for 2018 had been enacted, it still lags far behind what Congress is investing in the Pentagon. And calculations by the National Priorities Project indicate that the Department of Defense is slated to be an even bigger winner in Trump’s 2019 budget blueprint. Its share of the discretionary budget, which includes virtually everything the government does other than programs like Medicare and Social Security, will mushroom to a once-unimaginable 61 cents on the dollar, a hefty boost from the already startling 54 cents on the dollar in the final year of the Obama administration.
The skewed priorities in Trump’s latest budget proposal are fueled in part by the administration’s decision to embrace the Pentagon increases Congress agreed to last month, while tossing that body’s latest decisions on non-military spending out the window. Although Congress is likely to rein in the administration’s most extreme proposals, the figures are stark indeed — a proposed cutof $120 billion in the domestic spending levels both parties agreed to. The biggest reductions include a 41% cut in funding for diplomacy and foreign aid; a 36% cut in funding for energy and the environment; and a 35% cut in housing and community development. And that’s just the beginning. The Trump administration is also preparing to launch full-scale assaults on food stamps, Medicaid, and Medicare. It’s war on everything except the U.S. military.
The recent budget plans have brought joy to the hearts of one group of needy Americans: the top executives of major weapons contractors like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and General Dynamics. They expect a bonanza from the skyrocketing Pentagon expenditures. Don’t be surprised if the CEOs of these five firms give themselves nice salary boosts, something to truly justify their work, rather than the paltry $96 million they drew as a group in 2016 (the most recent year for which full statistics are available).
And keep in mind that, like all other U.S.-based corporations, those military-industrial behemoths will benefit richly from the Trump administration’s slashing of the corporate tax rate. According to one respected industry analyst, a good portion of this windfall will go towards bonuses and increased dividends for company shareholders rather than investments in new and better ways to defend the United States. In short, in the Trump era, Lockheed Martin and its cohorts are guaranteed to make money coming and going.
Items that snagged billions in new funding in Trump’s proposed 2019 budget included Lockheed Martin’s overpriced, underperforming F-35 aircraft, at $10.6 billion; Boeing’s F-18 “Super Hornet,” which was in the process of being phased out by the Obama administration but is now written in for $2.4 billion; Northrop Grumman’s B-21 nuclear bomber at $2.3 billion; General Dynamics’ Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine at $3.9 billion; and $12 billion for an array of missile-defense programs that will redound to the benefit of… you guessed it: Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Boeing, among other companies. These are just a few of the dozens of weapons programs that will be feeding the bottom lines of such companies in the next two years and beyond. For programs still in their early stages, like that new bomber and the new ballistic missile submarine, their banner budgetary years are yet to come.
In explaining the flood of funding that enables a company like Lockheed Martin to reap $35 billion per year in government dollars, defense analyst Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group noted that “diplomacy is out; air strikes are in… In this sort of environment, it’s tough to keep a lid on costs. If demand goes up, prices don’t generally come down. And, of course, it’s virtually impossible to kill stuff. You don’t have to make any kind of tough choices when there’s such a rising tide.”
Pentagon Pork Versus Human Security
Loren Thompson is a consultant to many of those weapons contractors. His think tank, the Lexington Institute, also gets contributions from the arms industry. He caught the spirit of the moment when he praised the administration’s puffed-up Pentagon proposal for using the Defense Department budget as a jobs creator in key states, including the crucial swing state of Ohio, which helped propel Donald Trump to victory in 2016. Thompson was particularly pleased with a plan to ramp up General Dynamics’s production of M-1 tanks in Lima, Ohio, in a factory whose production line the Army had tried to put on hold just a few years ago because it was already drowning in tanks and had no conceivable use for more of them.
Thompson argues that the new tanks are needed to keep up with Russia’s production of armored vehicles, a dubious assertion with a decidedly Cold War flavor to it. His claim is backed up, of course, by the administration’s new National Security Strategy, which targets Russia and China as the most formidable threats to the United States. Never mind that the likely challenges posed by these two powers — cyberattacks in the Russian case and economic expansion in the Chinese one — have nothing to do with how many tanks the U.S. Army possesses.
Trump wants to create jobs, jobs, jobs he can point to, and pumping up the military-industrial complex must seem like the path of least resistance to that end in present-day Washington. Under the circumstances, what does it matter that virtually any other form of spending would create more jobs and not saddle Americans with weaponry we don’t need?
If past performance offers any indication, none of the new money slated to pour into the Pentagon will make anyone safer.
The list of wasteful expenditures is already staggeringly long and early projections are that bureaucratic waste at the Pentagon will amount to $125 billion over the next five years. Among other things, the Defense Department already employs a shadow work force of more than 600,000 private contractors whose responsibilities overlap significantly with work already being done by government employees. Meanwhile, sloppy buying practices regularly result in stories like the recent ones on the Pentagon’s Defense Logistics Agency losing track of how it spent $800 million and how two American commands were unable to account for $500 million meant for the war on drugs in the Greater Middle East and Africa.
Add to this the $1.5 trillion slated to be spent on F-35s that the nonpartisan Project on Government Oversight has noted may never be ready for combat and the unnecessary “modernization” of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, including a new generation of nuclear-armed bombers, submarines, and missiles at a minimum cost of $1.2 trillion over the next three decades. In other words, a large part of the Pentagon’s new funding will do much to fuel good times in the military-industrial complex but little to help the troops or defend the country.
Most important of all, this flood of new funding, which could crush a generation of Americans under a mountain of debt, will make it easier to sustain the seemingly endless seven wars that the United States is fighting in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen. So call this one of the worst investments in history, ensuring as it does failed wars to the horizon.
It would be a welcome change in twenty-first-century America if the reckless decision to throw yet more unbelievable sums of money at a Pentagon already vastly overfunded sparked a serious discussion about America’s hyper-militarized foreign policy. A national debate about such matters in the run-up to the 2018 and 2020 elections could determine whether it continues to be business-as-usual at the Pentagon or whether the largest agency in the federal government is finally reined in and relegated to an appropriately defensive posture.”
“Carefully documenting events as they occur is one of the most important means for holding government officials accountable.
Any federal employee who suspects wrongdoing, or even feels uncomfortable in the workplace, can help ensure corrective action. A detailed, authentic record is an essential tool in the whistleblower toolbox.”
“Federal scientists should write down all instances of agency personnel interfering with their work, a group of government watchdog and employee advocate groups warned this week. It will help them protect both themselves and their work.
Documenting potential abuses is particularly important “in a hostile environment for science,” the groups said, and will enable employees to protect their own careers and “uphold scientific integrity.” The groups issued a guide to federal scientists to prevent political misconduct titled “How Federal Scientists Can Protect Science for the Public Good,” in which they emphasized the importance of recording notes.
One key recommendation in the report is for federal employees to take contemporaneous notes, be it in meetings, on calls or as part of policy research or proposals. Those notes should be as detailed as possible, the groups said, and be dated and backed up to personal devices as long as the information is not classified.
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The groups issued the guide after hearing from their members and in the media about the Trump administration tightening restrictions on the federal scientific community. Agencies have reportedly instructed employees not to use certain words, disbanded scientific advisory commissions and reassigned employees who speak out about issues the administration is no longer prioritizing.
“We’ve been hearing a lot of stories about people being told not to take notes, not to use certain words, not to have a paper trail,” said Andrew Rosenberg, a former regional director for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and current director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, which helped write the guide. Keeping records of what was discussed and when it was discussed is particularly important, Rosenberg said, when there is a “concerted effort” to undermine scientists across government. Last week, according to Mother Jones, a scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey resigned because he said Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was given access to economically sensitive data before it was released to the public, a violation of the scientist’s understanding of USGS policy.
“We are not suggesting that people subvert the process, Rosenberg said, “but simply that they keep a clearer record.”
Doing so, he said, will help feds rebut claims that they provided bad advice or did not present certain relevant information involved in a policy decision. If political leaders are involved in a “manipulation of the science,” Rosenberg added, contemporaneous note taking would help expose it. He explained that scientists in government are at risk of being scapegoated—“it’s not exactly unheard of,” he said—and detailed records would help protect both themselves and their research.
“Carefully documenting events as they occur is one of the most important means for holding government officials accountable,” said Louis Clark, executive director and CEO of the Government Accountability Project, a group that advocates for whistleblowers and another author on the guide. “Any federal employee who suspects wrongdoing, or even feels uncomfortable in the workplace, can help ensure corrective action. A detailed, authentic record is an essential tool in the whistleblower toolbox.”
To help create a paper trail, Rosenberg said employees can send meeting notes to colleagues or to supervisors to describe their takeaways, provided the supervisor did not specifically instruct them not to take notes. The guide advised employees to separate personal notes from agency records if they have any concerns about them becoming public or their managers seeing them. If an issue becomes problematic enough for an employee to share it with a scientific integrity office, a union, a journalist or another outside organization, notes can help demonstrate whether agency decisions were “arbitrary, capricious, politically driven or inadequately informed by the science.”
“Government scientists need to understand that they are protected by the same laws as other federal employees and can blow the whistle on censorship of science that creates a specific and substantial risk to health and safety,” said Danielle Brian, the executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, which also helped write the recommendations.
Rosenberg noted that concerns about the Trump administration crackdown on the scientific community is not isolated to any one agency.
“It goes across government to all the places where experts or scientists work, which is pretty much everywhere,” he said. “We’re hearing concerns.”
The Pentagon is only now undergoing its first audit. [At an $847M Price Tag] Numerous examples of lacking accountability have led U.S. Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain and Mac Thornberry to label the Pentagon as having “archaic and wasteful business practices.”
“Forbes magazine reports that U.S. military spending was $611 billion in 2016 (36 percent of total expenditures), while China’s annual military outlay was estimated to be $215 billion (13 percent) and Russia’s was $69 billion (4.1 percent).
Until the Pentagon’s bloated budget is cut, won’t the world continue to conclude that it’s really the U.S. military that’s rapidly expanding and that U.S. foreign policy is becoming increasingly aggressive?”
“Warning that the “US competitive warfighting edge has eroded” (LancasterOnline, Associated Press, Jan. 19), Defense Secretary James Mattis asked for increased investment to counter China’s “rapidly expanding” military and an “increasingly aggressive” Russia — now regarded as the top national security priorities, outpacing threats of terrorism.
Contrary to Mattis’ warning, the nonpartisan, nonprofit Project on Government Oversight says increased military spending will only make U.S. defense capabilities worse. Writing for the project’s publication The Defense Monitor, Mandy Smithberger and Dan Grazier indicate that “history tells us we will actually get a force even less prepared and less capable as a direct result of a bigger budget. The reason is simple: The United States does not spend its military money well.”
Smithberger and Grazier conclude that more money for defense “will only reward continued bad behavior. If President Trump wants to truly rebuild the military, he should actually slash its budget. That would force the Pentagon and Congress to make difficult choices necessary to produce a more effective fighting force.”
Doesn’t Mattis’ warning — perhaps a ploy when federal lawmakers were deadlocked on legislation that shut down the government — only encourage other countries to increase their military spending, too?”