The Bunker: Defense Contractors Strike Back
The Bunker, delivered to our subscribers Wednesdays at 7 a.m., is a newsletter from the desk of National Security Analyst Mark Thompson. Sign up here to receive it first thing, or check back Wednesday afternoon for the online version.
The Bunker bids President Trump farewell, as Miller time comes to an end at the Pentagon. “I cannot wait to leave this job, believe me,” Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller says. Who is The Bunker to argue with him?
TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE
Pentagon slow to push out extremists
There it was, buried deep on the Defense Department’s website. The Pentagon inspector general had just given notice (PDF) that it was launching a new investigation, six days before Joe Biden was due to be sworn in as America’s 46th president: “Our objective is to determine the extent to which the DoD and the Military Services have implemented policy and procedures that prohibit active advocacy and active participation related to supremacist, extremist, or criminal gang doctrine, ideology, or causes by active-duty military personnel.”
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What’s a Defense Department to do when it decides it needs overwhelming force to handle the security challenges posed by “supremacist, extremist, or criminal gang doctrine” when its ranks are salted with the those very same elements?
Following the January 6 storming of the Capitol by supporters of President Trump, the Pentagon and its allies in law enforcement have decided they need up to 25,000 troops on hand to deter violence at Joe Biden’s January 20 inauguration. That’s five times the number of U.S. troops now deployed to the still-smoldering wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. High fences surround the Capitol. The National Mall—the “nation’s backyard” as it was called in more peaceful times—is a ghost town, the public banned from its 309 acres that stretch from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial.
The 25,000 troops are at least two-and-a-half times the number dispatched to prior inaugurations. While Trump’s former White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, lied when he insisted his boss’s 2017 swearing-in had the biggest crowd in U.S. history, it’s sadly true that Trump will be responsible for a vacant National Mall surrounded by two divisions of American military might.
The Army and FBI are subjecting those troops —every single one—to additional security checks to ensure they’re on the government’s side as President-elect Biden is sworn in at noon. The Associated Press reported that two Guard members were removed who had ties to fringe right group militias. “The rights of freedom and speech and assembly do not give anyone the right to resort to violence, sedition and insurrection,” the eight members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told their 1.3 million troops in a startling January 12 message. The Pentagon’s own news service described the missive as “unprecedented” and ran it under this headline: “Joint Chiefs Stress Service Members’ Commitment to Constitution.” It’s simply breathtaking that the brass feels a need to warn the troops against committing acts of “violence, sedition and insurrection.” But it highlights their concerns. At least 21 military veterans were in or near the riots, according to a Washington Post account. Several played leading roles, as The Bunker noted last week.
“Beyond the insurrectionist attack on the Capitol, it has been widely reported that white supremacists are joining the military and permeating the ranks,” 14 Democratic senators wrote (PDF) to the Pentagon’s inspector general January 14. They pushed for “a comprehensive investigation as early as possible”—which the IG launched the very same day. “Although some recruits with extremist views attempt to join the military, it is also common for this destructive ideology to take hold during military service,” the lawmakers added. “Extremist ideology threatens to compromise the unity and effectiveness of our Armed Forces, and in turn jeopardizes the national security of the United States.”
Extremism in the ranks of the U.S. military, like that of the country writ large, is a perpetual story. There are rules against it. But just like the rules against racism and sexism, they only are dragged out into the light so Pentagon officials can protest that they have rules against extremism, racism, and sexism. Most of the time, they’re little more than reams of paper and rooms of briefings, largely as a sop to quiet critics. Unfortunately, digging out such rot takes more rigor than regulations. A military that can celebrate traitors by naming Army posts in their honor, or a warship named in honor of a Civil War rebel victory that killed more than 1,600 American soldiers, has much work cut out for it.
“While we have no intelligence indicating an insider threat,” Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller said January 18, “we are leaving no stone unturned in securing the capital.”
Glad to know Miller is ready to confront the insider threat. Now if only he, and his colleagues in the Trump administration, had been willing to confront the inciter threat as well.
Defense contractors strike back
One way to get a politician’s attention is to deny them campaign contributions. At least seven major defense contractors pulled the plug, at least temporarily, following the storming of the Capitol.
Northrop Grumman was the first, on January 11, followed the next day by BAE Systems, Leidos, and Raytheon Technologies. Boeing, Huntington Ingalls and Lockheed followed suit. “Boeing strongly condemns the violence, lawlessness and destruction that took place in the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021,” the company said January 13. “Given the current environment, we are not making political contributions at this time.”
It’s no surprise that such companies, so reliant on the Pentagon for their success, took an even-handed approach and suspended all campaign contributions. You had to look elsewhere for companies with the gumption to limit their campaign-funding shutoffs to the eight senators and 139 House members who voted against certifying Biden’s election. Companies that turned off their political-action committee contributions to those members included Amazon, Comcast, Dow Inc., General Electric, Marriott International Inc., and Walmart.
If Dow, the maker of Vietnam’s infamous napalm and Agent Orange defoliant, and GE, which builds engines for military aircraft and ships, can use precision-guided spending against the enemies of democracy, one has to wonder why other defense firms are MIA in this vital conflict.
…SPEAKING OF RACISM
The Pentagon concedes it has a long way to go
Nearly one in three (PDF) Black military personnel, 31.2%, experienced racial discrimination and/or harassment during 2017, Reuters reports. The previously-undisclosed study also found that 23.3% of Asian troops and 21% of Hispanic troops reported similar treatment. In typical Pentagon fashion, the taxpayer-funded study (PDF), the 2017 Workplace and Equal Opportunity Survey of Active-Duty Members, was hidden for four years from those who paid for it.
That may be because the 2013 Workplace and Equal Opportunity Survey of Active-Duty Members study (PDF) found that such discrimination and harassment toward Black troops was lower (PDF): 21.7% in 2009, and 17.8% in 2013. “This just-released 2017 report shows that President Trump’s Department of Defense has deliberately concealed statistics exposing a racial-justice crisis in the military,” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, told the news agency.
Of course, the Pentagon won’t see it that way. “Because this metric was new to active-duty members in 2017, trend year comparisons were not possible,” the latest report says. Yet the 2013 report details the same thing: how many members of specific racial groups experienced racial or ethnic discrimination or harassment over the prior 12 months. Pentagon reports are notorious for such shifting of yardsticks over time, especially when they contain bad news. That makes apples-to-apples comparisons difficult.
“The Defense Department has not explained why the data took so long to release,” Phil Stewart, the Reuters ace at the Pentagon since 2009, noted. But perhaps things will be better in the next version of this report. “The survey, conducted every four years,” Stewart added, “is already so old that the Pentagon is required to carry out a new one for the 2021 fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30.”
AUSTIN COMMITTEE LIMITS
House passes on public hearing for Pentagon nominee
Sure, it’s the Senate that confirms members of a president’s cabinet, but the House has never been shy about sticking its nose into the people’s business. That’s why it’s surprising that the House Armed Services Committee has decided to take its session on Lloyd Austin’s request for a waiver behind closed doors. Biden’s nominee for Pentagon secretary needs a congressional waiver because federal law requires it if the nominee hasn’t been off active duty for at least seven years (Austin has been out of uniform for less than five). The House did conduct a 2017 public hearing for retired Marine general Jim Mattis, who needed a waiver for the same reason.
A House committee aide says the change was needed because Austin’s January 21 session will happen before the committee has itself up for the new Congress. Instead of a public hearing, the panel will opt for a private meeting. Given Austin’s fairly recent military background—and his payments from defense contractors like Raytheon since leaving the Army—the move is sure to generate howls for outsiders more interested in strong civilian control of the military than the niceties of congressional schedules.
STATE OF SPENDING
Who gets the Pentagon’s money?
Speaking of confusing Pentagon reports, the Defense Department’s Office of Local Defense Community Cooperation is out with its list of how many defense dollars each state received in 2019. It’s confusing because, in the past, this report was issued by the Pentagon’s Office of Economic Adjustment. This latest report is issued by the same office, mind you—they just changed its name. And while that may not be a problem this year, it’ll confuse researchers down the road.
Anyway, it’s kind of slick to go from “economic adjustment”—almost sounds like an anti-poverty program—to “local defense community cooperation,” which sounds more like a cheerleader and less like a pauper. The Pentagon reports that in 2019, it spent $550 billion—$404 billion on contract obligations and $146 billion on government payrolls. That’s 2.5% of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product, and it works out to $1,678 per American. Total DoD spending in 2019, was $713 billion, per the report. The Bunker couldn’t find an explanation of why this study only looked at the contracting and payroll
segments, and not the entire enchilada. But the report did note it did not tally the cost of benefits paid to current and former personnel.
The winning states should come as no surprise: the top three are California ($66.2 billion), Virginia ($60.3 billion), and Texas ($54.8 billion). What’s more interesting is the winners who pop up when you slice and dice the data in different ways. The three states most reliant on military spending, for example, are Virginia (10.6% of the state’s GDP), Hawaii (7.7%), and Alabama (6.9%), which is likely to rocket even higher now that the Pentagon has declared it wants to set up its fledgling Space Command’s headquarters in Huntsville. “This provides an indication of the degree to which a state’s economic health depends on such funding and how vulnerable a state is to DoD spending changes,” the report said.
Other fun facts:
- The top 10 states pocketed 59% of the Pentagon spending examined in the report ($325 billion of $550 billion). Beyond California, Virginia, and Texas, they were Florida ($29.8 billion), Maryland ($26.1 billion), Connecticut ($19.7 billion), Pennsylvania ($18.1 billion), Washington ($17.8 billion), Alabama ($16 billion), and Massachusetts ($15.8 billion).
- Fifty-three cents of the Pentagon’s contracting dollars went for weapons, parts, beans, boots, and bullets. Hired outside help accounted for 35 cents; R&D, 8 cents; construction, 4 cents.
- Less than half of the Pentagon’s payroll (46%) went to active-duty troops. Civilians accounted for 40%, with reserve forces taking the remaining 14%.
Predictably, states without prodigious Pentagon payouts —namely the Mountain State, the Pine Tree State, and the Badger State—saw the biggest boost between 2018 and 2019, because they started from such a low baseline. “This was driven by large contracts to Northrop Grumman in West Virginia, General Dynamics in Maine, and Oshkosh Corp. and Fincantieri Marine Systems in Wisconsin,” the Pentagon noted. “These contracts were related to rocket motor production, shipbuilding and military vehicle production.”
WHAT WE'RE READING
Here’s what has caught The Bunker's eye recently
President Trump issued an executive order January 12 instructing the Pentagon to test the wisdom of powering military outposts with “micro” nuclear reactors. Two years ago, over at the Military-Industrial Circus, The Bunker cast a skeptical eye on the U.S. military’s use of miniature nuclear reactors.
Trump also ordered U.S. Central Command on January 15 to incorporate Israel into its geographic bailiwick. CENTCOM, which stretches across 20 nations from Egypt to Kazakhstan, has never formally been responsible for Israel. “Until now, Israel has fallen under the area of responsibility of the US European Command (EUCOM) out of diplomatic deference to the political sensitivities of Arab leaders, many of whom have long refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state until a political solution is reached for the status of Palestine,” the Al-Monitor website reported. Makes perfect sense. No longer will the senior U.S. military officer responsible for Israel be in far-off Stuttgart, Germany. Instead, he’ll be in Tampa, Florida.
The defense-industrial base is falling! (PDF)
The Bunker has been hearing about the erosion of the military’s defense-industrial base—the folks and factories who actually build U.S. weapons—since he arrived at the Pentagon during the Carter administration. The Pentagon continues sounding the alarm in its latest report on the topic, released January 12. “America’s defense industrial base was once the wonder of the free world, constituting a so-called ‘military-industrial complex’ that, regardless of criticism, was the model for, and envy of, every other country–and the mainstay of peace and freedom for two generations after World War II,” the 184-page report reads. “Today, however, that base faces problems that necessitate continued and accelerated national focus over the coming decade, and that cannot be solved by assuming that advanced technologies like autonomous systems and artificial intelligence (AI) and 5G and quantum will wave those challenges away, and magically preserve American leadership.”
Here's how to read between those lines: “continued and accelerated national focus” means more money, and lots of it, to keep the U.S. “military industrial complex” humming atop a “defense industrial base” that is second to none. Note the word “industrial” in both of those phrases. The U.S. military has been arguing for years that “industrial” warfare is a relic of the past, and that a new take is needed for the 21st Century. As China’s industrial base eclipses America’s, one has to ask why the U.S. continues down this 20th Century path.
President Trump created the U.S. Space Force in 2019 and the outfit, to put it bluntly, has a PR problem. The outstanding question is whether President Biden is going to put it out of its misery, Defense News wondered January 13. “One of the biggest things we have to overcome is that there’s a Netflix series making fun of the Space Force,” says Bunker Boss Mandy Smithberger. “If the public has been thinking about it all, the reputation of the Space Force—in public imagination—is one of incompetence.” Ouch! But don’t look for it to disappear into deep space. “It’s fair to say that if the Space Force did not exist right now, the Biden administration probably wouldn’t create it,” says Todd Harrison, defense-budget guru over at the Center for International and Strategic Studies. “But now that it does exist, I think that they’re going to work with it and try to continue the implementation of it.” That, in a nutshell, is everything wrong with the Pentagon. Pretty much anything over there becomes a hydra-headed monster, impossible to kill as its bureaucracy sucks cash from more important missions.
The estimable Bill Broad at the New York Times had a January 15 piece that declared hypersonic weapons, according to experts, “more illusory than real.” But don’t take just the Times’ word for it. The Military-Industrial Circus weighed in on the hyped-personic “recipe for military futility and fiscal insanity” two years ago.
Don’t get too depressed by President Trump’s push to overthrow the government, or the election, or whatever terminology you prefer. Alas, it’s not the first time. Back in 1933, many of the nation’s plutocrats tried to derail Franklin D. Roosevelt right out of the White House. They tapped Smedley Butler, a highly-decorated retired Marine general, to lead a half-million veterans in a march on Washington, D.C., to overthrow the U.S. government. Butler declined to participate in the so-called “Business Plot,” and blew the whistle (to J. Edgar Hoover, no less). Cloaked in secrecy and mystery, even after congressional hearings, many details remain elusive, according to a January 13 account in the Washington Post. “Like most committees, it has slaughtered the little and allowed the big to escape,” Butler later said. “The big shots weren’t even called to testify.”
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