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 PENTAGON MOVES OUT
Acknowledging the enemies at home
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin picked up on The Bunker’s challenge right away last week. “After 75 years of being focused on attacks by outsiders,” we said, “it’s time to consider broadening that lens and acknowledge the insider threats now ravaging our bodies and our politics.” The Bunker was referring to the pandemic, and the political poison coursing through the nation’s veins.
Within hours of The Bunker hitting inboxes February 3, Austin ordered a “stand down” across the U.S. military, telling commanders to address growing concerns about extremism in their ranks. Two days later, he dispatched teams of active-duty troops, for the first time, to help combat COVID-19 at mass vaccination centers. More than 1,000 are headed to five outposts run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, for starters.
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The Bunker, of course, takes no credit for these and other course corrections (PDF) by the world’s most powerful military. You’d have to be willfully ignorant not to deploy it to fight these twin scourges. As we’ve been saying for years, domestic threats can be just as nefarious as those from overseas. The Bunker has always been puzzled by the notion that, for many, fighting an enemy soldier is a higher calling than fighting viral infections, either in the body or the body politic.
After all, as the original Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and it is us.” The Project On Government Oversight acknowledges that there’s some merit to that claim. It’s good to see that Secretary Austin concurs.
USS CHANCELLORSVILLE, R.I.P.
Navy is redefining the meaning of “honor”
The Army has taken a lot of fire for having 10 of its posts named in honor of Confederate traitors. Now, as part of a Navy-wide review, the sea service—and here’s a not-so-bold prediction here—will be sending the names of at least three warships to Davy Jones’ locker. That comes in the wake of a February 3 Navy task force recommendation (PDF) that the service rethink how it names its ships to help root out racism in the ranks.
“As a Navy—uniform and civilian, active and reserve—we cannot tolerate discrimination of any kind, and must engage in open and honest conversations with each other and take action," said Admiral Mike Gilday, chief of naval operations. “We have fallen short in the past by excluding or limiting opportunity for people on the basis of race, sexual orientation, sexual identity, gender or creed.”
The task force noted that outsiders have been complaining. “Certain Navy ship names have been highlighted by Congress and in the media for connections to confederate or white supremacist ideologies,” it observed (the Military-Industrial Circus here at POGO pointed this out last July). So the task force recommended that the Navy “modernize [the] process to name ships, buildings and streets in honor of national and historic Naval figures” to make sure that future ships won’t have embarrassments painted on their hulls. And for those already afloat? “Assess problematic names”—no, the task force wasn’t forceful enough to actually cite any—“and identify suggestions for renaming…”
Warships whose names are likely to change include the carriers USS Carl Vinson (commissioned in 1982) and the USS John C. Stennis (1995), named for a pair of racist lawmakers. They kept the Navy well-funded from their powerful seats on congressional committees. “White supremacy is excusable if there is some form of offsetting behavior: specifically, funneling huge piles of taxpayer cash to the fleet,” then-Air Force Colonel Mike Pietrucha, an F-15 pilot, wrote last May.
But while defense dollars played a role in the naming of those carriers, it doesn’t explain the 1989 commissioning of the USS Chancellorsville, a guided missile cruiser. She’s named for the Civil War’s Battle of Chancellorsville in Virginia in 1863. It “was a huge victory for the Confederacy and General Robert E. Lee,” History.com says, and “made the Battle of Chancellorsville go down in history as Lee’s most significant tactical victory.”
The Army’s Institute of Heraldry says the ship’s crest is predominately gray because of “Lee's spectacular military strategies and his dominance in the Battle of Chancellorsville.” It also includes an inverted wreath to commemorate the mortal wounding of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson in the fight.
Try as we might, we couldn’t find a rationale for the name (the fact that it was built in Mississippi doesn’t count). Less than four years ago, Navy officials said that the ship wasn’t named to honor the Confederacy, but to honor the battle, and that a name change was unlikely.
Funny how time sails.
Preventing another Capitol assault shouldn’t mean new laws
Do we need new laws to prevent another assault on the Capitol? Actually, new legislation beefing up law-enforcement efforts could boomerang. A POGO-sponsored panel of experts will meet February 16—virtually, of course—to explain why harnessing current laws and prioritizing threats make more sense. Reserve your spot here.
First conflict pits Colorado against Alabama
If you don’t think pigs can fly, you haven’t been paying attention to the civil war now underway between two states seeking the headquarters of the new U.S. Space Command. In its final week the Trump administration announced that this glistening hunk of pork would move to Huntsville, Alabama. That generated squeals of outrage from Colorado, which had expected to keep the prize in its own sty (Colorado Springs is currently home to the command).
“Space Command to be headquartered in Alabama, in ‘win’ for Trump allies in state,” Fox News declared January 13, the day of the announcement. Needless to say, that didn’t go over well in the Rocky Mountain State, as the Denver Gazette reported the same day:
“The decision came after Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett traveled to the White House this week to tell Trump the military had chosen Colorado Springs after a new presidentially-ordered process that tossed out an earlier decision to keep the command, its 1,400 airmen and thousands of civilian workers here,” the paper said. “Trump, officers familiar with the briefing said, instead ordered the command to head to Alabama, a state that includes six lawmakers who objected to certifying the presidential election results last week and delivered Trump a Senate win, with Republican Tommy Tuberville unseating Democrat Doug Jones.”
Now Alabamians are returning fire, with a local congressman warning that the Biden administration had better not overturn the Trump administration’s decision. Contrary to the Denver paper’s reporting, Representative Mo Brooks, R-The Rocket City, said that then-Air Force Secretary Barrett had assured him that his state won fair and square. “While Secretary of the Air Force Barrett emphasized to me that her location decision was based solely on merit and the interests of national security, it is unknown whether her merit-based decision will hold up and be respected by the Biden/Harris Administration and Congress,” he said in a statement. “I hope the Biden/Harris administration will not duplicate the overall approach of the Obama/Biden administration, wherein all-too-often the answers to questions such as this were: ‘Blue state: YES! Purple state: Likely or maybe. Red state: Unlikely or NO!’ Partisan politics should not play a role in national security.”
Of course not.
New peeks inside the post-9/11 Pentagon
Love him or hate him, Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld (first stint from 1975 to 1977, before The Bunker’s time, and then from 2001 to 2006, when we traveled the world together), didn’t mince words. That could prove embarrassing, as the nonprofit National Security Archive (NSA) has won a four-year-long lawsuit seeking Rumsfeld’s internal memos. Known to some as “snowflakes,” the NSA began posting some of the missives February 1.
“Please see me about having a weekly meeting on Afghanistan,” he told (PDF) top aides in a March 28, 2002, snowflake. “I am getting concerned that it is drifting,” he wrote nearly 19 years ago.
“The lack of clarity as to who the enemies are, and what the problems are from an intelligence standpoint in Afghanistan and Iraq is serious,” Rumsfeld wrote (PDF) 18 months after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and six months after its invasion of Iraq.
Six weeks later, in October 2003, he dug deeper in Iraq. “I have no visibility into what kind of intelligence we are getting from the interrogations of the 35 or 40 of the top 55 Iraqis we have captured,” he complained (PDF). “Please get me some information.”
“Getting some information” is what the National Security Archive, affiliated with the George Washington University, is all about. Describing itself as a “leading non-profit user of the U.S. Freedom of Information Act,” the NSA has been using the law for more than 35 years to pry hidden government documents into the sunlight.
“One of the ironic champions of FOIA was the Republican co-sponsor, a young Congressman from Illinois named Donald Rumsfeld,” the American Civil Liberties Union noted a few years back “So proud was Rumsfeld of his achievement that he wrote Johnson to express his ‘sincere appreciation’ for signing the bill.”
Maybe we should call it the Freedom of Irony Act?
WHAT WE'RE READING
Here’s what has caught The Bunker's eye recently
As of this week, the U.S. military had gone a year without a single combat death in Afghanistan, Stars and Stripes reported February 8.
You’ve no doubt read about the U.S. military veterans who helped storm the Capitol last month. But there were veterans on the other side, too. Jennifer Steinhauer reports on the vets who helped defend it in this February 8 piece in the New York Times.
For those of us who lived through the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the Warsaw Pact, the moment of hope that followed was, alas, only a moment. It seems like we’ve entered a second geo-strategic Ice Age. In a February 5 piece in The Bulwark, ex-Army captain Ben Waldman wonders if Joe Biden can help get things back on track with his recent declaration to pursue a “foreign policy for the middle class.”
The world is a dumpster fire right now, and the Army National Guard needs you to sign up to help put it out. That’s the basic message of its latest recruiting pitch, Marine veteran James Clark wrote in Task & Purpose February 3. “We understand a rogue virus, zero jobs, and stratospheric tuition, but they’re writing us off before we get to the start-up line,” the unseen narrator says in the ad, aimed at young Americans between 18 and 24. “Who do you think is going to fix all this? We will.”
Just over a year ago, Dennis Muilenburg was fired as Boeing’s CEO for fumbling the 737 MAX crisis that killed 346 people. Now he’s seeking $200 million from plutocrats to invest in defense and aerospace startups, the Seattle Times reported February 2. Because such “special purpose acquisition companies”—SPACs—seek the money before they know what they’re going to buy, they’re known in financial circles as “blank check companies.” Muilenburg’s company, known as New Vista Acquisition, was just incorporated in the Cayman Islands. Associates in the new venture include retired Army lieutenant general H.R. McMaster, who served for a year as Trump’s second national security adviser, and retired Air Force general Stephen Wilson, who was the Air Force’s No. 2 officer from 2016 to 2020.
The eggheads over at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency are pushing ahead with a plan to build stuff on the Moon. Perhaps future arms will be green-cheese-plated instead of gold-plated?
Well, speaking of the Moon, we’re delighted that you’ve made it to the dark side of The Bunker. Consider signing up here if you’d like it delivered to your inbox before the masses can read it.
The Center for Defense Information at POGO aims to secure far more effective and ethical military forces at significantly lower cost.