The Bunker: Pentagon Bark vs. Pentagon Bite
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.
This week in The Bunker: the Pentagon rolls out a “naughty list” of defense contractors with two key elements missing; the military’s security clearance process is busted; what’s up with those U.S. tanks bound for Ukraine; and more.
Ratcheting up oversight, underwhelmingly
Here’s an interesting idea: One Pentagon shop says it’s going to keep lists of lousy contractors to force them to shape up or — get this — bar them from future contracts.
What a concept!
In the real world, that would be called Accountability 101. But at the Defense Department, alas, it plainly qualifies as Business as Unusual.
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Officially, it’s known as the Contractor Responsibility Watch List (CRWL), and the Air Force rolled it out for its space operations more than a year ago (PDF). “It’s basically … Santa’s ‘naughty list,’” Frank Calvelli, who oversees Air Force outer-space procurement, said April 27. Once contractors are on the list, U.S. Space Force has “the ability at that point not to award them any new contracts,” he said, according to space ace Theresa Hitchens at Breaking Defense.
“If you hire a general contractor to come to your house and they do a bad job, typically you’re not going to hire them again,” he said two weeks before. “So we shouldn’t keep going back and forth to poor performers.” Sounds jim-dandy. After all, several space programs are publicly behind schedule or over budget.
But Calvelli, who has been in his job for a year, said Space Force hasn’t brandished this tool to knock those contractors into shaping up. “As far as I can tell,” he said, “we haven’t used it quite yet.” And taxpayers have no way of knowing who the military-contracting miscreants are: The list is secret.
So maybe the stealthy list shouldn’t be called the Contractor Responsibility Watch List (CRWL), but the Contractor Responsibility Acquisition Watch List — CRAWL, for short.
Or maybe not.
As Grandpa Bunker can attest, most babies can crawl before their first birthday.
The Pentagon’s insecurity clearance process
The more complicated war gets, the more links there are in the chain. The more links there are in the chain, the more likely it is that one of them will snap — or that it was never forged properly to begin with. The first-class SNAFU involving the top-secret clearance the Pentagon granted to Airman 1st Class — and jailed suspected leaker — Jack Teixeira — is our latest Exhibit A.
Poor Pentagon spokesman Patrick Ryder spent much of his April 27 briefing playing Mission Impossible as he explained the rigorous scrubbing that goes on before anyone gets such a high-level security clearance. “We do have a continuous vetting process, when it relates to holding a security clearance, that would look at a variety of things, to include public records, financial records,” Ryder said. “This is the near real-time monitoring of cleared individuals supported by automatic — automated record checks that pull data from several different data sources, including criminal, financial, and public records.”
Then he pulled a typical Pentagon sleight-of-mouth: “The vast, vast majority of people who are awarded security clearances come to work every day and do the right thing, and this investigation will tell us what happened and where this individual did the wrong thing.”
That, of course, isn’t the issue.
The issue is why the Pentagon did the wrong thing in issuing Teixeira his clearance in the first place. That was made crystal clear April 26, when the Justice Department revealed just how much dirt (PDF) they were able to dig up on Teixeira from records hiding in plain sight:
- Teixeira was suspended from high school “when a classmate overheard him make remarks about weapons, including Molotov cocktails, guns at the school, and racial threats.” His local police department denied him a gun permit because of “the Defendant’s remarks at his high school.”
- He said, on social media, that if he had his way he would “kill a [expletive] ton of people” because it would be “culling the weak minded.” He posted about turning a minivan into an “assassination van” and wondered what type of gun would work best when fired from the rear of an SUV. He outlined how he would fire into a “crowded urban or suburban environment.”
- Last July, Teixeira “used his government [!] computer to search for the following terms: ‘Ruby Ridge,’ ‘Las Vegas shooting,’ ‘Mandalay Bay shooting,’ ‘Buffalo tops shooting,’ and ‘Uvalde.’”
There were so many red flags flying it looked like a regular meeting of the Soviet Politburo.
Remember: These are the same folks pledging to shoot down incoming missiles 24/7/365.
TANKS FOR THE MEMORIES
Those slow-moving U.S. M1s for Ukraine
As Ukraine gears up to launch a counter-offensive to take back some of the 17% of its territory occupied by Russia, U.S. lawmakers are asking why promised U.S. M1 Abrams tanks remain MIA on the battlefield. The U.S. decided in January — after responding to repeated Ukrainian pleas for such armor — that it would scrape together 31 digitally controlled M1s and get them to Ukraine, hopefully within a year. That timetable went over like a lead bazooka. So two months later, the U.S. said it would step up delivery and get analog operated M1s (as “survivable and maneuverable as the more modern variants,” the Army says) to Ukraine by this fall.
Lawmakers — at least those who want to see Ukraine prevail — are not satisfied. M1s arriving by autumn “may well be too late,” Senator Angus King (I-ME) complained to the U.S. Army’s top general in Europe at an April 27 hearing. “This counteroffensive that everybody is talking about … it’s the longest windup for a punch in the history of the world,” he added. “Our country has thousands of main battle tanks,” Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) said. “It would seem like it’s not that hard to find 31 and get them there.”
While there are training and logistical issues involved, the U.S. could get M1s to Ukraine far more quickly. It took less than a month for M1s to get to Saudi Arabia in 1990 after Iraq invaded neighboring Kuwait. But the Biden Administration is walking a barbwire tightrope here. It’s trying to push both sides into negotiations to end the war without letting either win. One slip could be mighty painful, for Ukraine, Russia — and the wider world.
WHAT WE’RE READING
Here’s what has caught The Bunker’s eye recently
The Pentagon’s Special Operations Command is seeking a 20% boost in its annual research budget for future weapons, Patrick Tucker at Defense One reported April 24.
There’s much more than mere dollars and cents at stake as the Defense Department continues to try to pass an audit for the first time ever, ex-Pentagon budget geeks Elaine McCusker and Mark Easton explained April 26 in Defense News.
Nearly 700 high-ranking officials from the Pentagon and other U.S. agencies now work for the nation’s top 20 defense contractors, according to an April 26 study by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), head of the Armed Cervices Committee’s personnel panel.
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