The Bunker: Caught Flat-Footed, Yet Again

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Caught flat-footed, yet again

For the second time in less than a year, our vaunted national-security apparatus has failed us. Early last year, it fumbled its response to the coronavirus, which has now killed nearly 400,000 Americans. Last week, it bumbled its response to a mob incited by President Trump to disrupt the tally of electoral votes. Once again—just like the attacks of 9/11—the U.S. seemed prepared for industrial-strength, state-on-state warfare, but woefully inept when it came to threats that had the nerve to color outside those lines.

What’s particularly dismaying about all three episodes is that they only required smart, minimal defenses in advance of each history-altering attack. None required sixth-generation fighters or $20 billion aircraft carriers. Rather, they demanded minimal foresight. Locked cockpit doors could have prevented 9/11, and the resulting two $6 trillion wars it triggered. A rigorous response to COVID-19 could have dramatically reduced U.S. cases and deaths, instead of leaving us with the world’s highest tallies in both categories. And stationing several thousand National Guardsmen at the D.C. Armory, less than 10,000 feet east of the Capitol, could have thwarted last week’s feral ferocity.

Granted, national leaders play a role in such disasters. When it came to the virus, President Trump was deliberately asleep at the switch. When it came to the insurrection at the Capitol, he threw it.

Eager to avoid last June’s over-militarized response to Black Lives Matter protests, troops could have stayed out of sight at the armory until it became clear violence was on some protesters’ minds (even though many had made that clear weeks ahead of time, egged on by Trump). There were 154 troops at the armory, which can hold 10,000, but they didn’t arrive on the scene until 5:40 p.m., four hours late. There also was a so-called “quick reaction force” nine miles away at Andrews Air Force Base. But it wasn’t quick, hardly reacted, and, with only 40 members, it plainly wasn’t forceful enough, even if had gotten to the Capitol on time.

Before Trump’s partisans stormed the Capitol, the Pentagon placed restrictions on what the D.C. National Guard could do if hostilities broke out. While the nation’s 50 governors command their National Guard units, in the nation’s capital that power belongs to the president. There are plenty of excuses—the finger-pointing has gone nuclear—but no reasons, why these simple steps weren’t taken.

Industrial-state warfare takes precedence because there is big money to be made from it. That money marshals power—including everyone from assembly-line workers to lawmakers—to keep the cash flowing. Contrast the nation’s non-response to all three with its hunger for analogous, if not identical, threats posed by enemy missiles. The Pentagon is seeking $13.6 billion for missile defense in its next annual budget (and has been spending similar sums for close to 40 years). Raytheon is a major player in missile defense, and Lloyd Austin, President-elect Biden’s nominee to run the Pentagon, will pocket up to $1.7 million from the company as he leaves its board. That’s why threats that rely on high-tech-hardware top the nation’s scare list.

Plainly, the United States needs to spend money—and a fair amount of it—to ensure our defense. The outstanding question is whether it is paying too much defending against the wrong things, and, as a result, paying too little—in both attention, and money—on those that really matter.


Why so many vets?

Four key figures in the storming of the Capitol—including two who died—were veterans. That’s causing heartburn inside the Pentagon, which is also investigating a Fort Bragg psyops officer for leading 100 North Carolinians to the Trump rally that led to the assault on Congress. The Army said January 11 that a young officer who joked about the Nazis killing 6 million Jews to his 3 million followers on TikTok should be booted from the service.

The veterans:

  • U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, 42, was killed after being hit in the head with a fire extinguisher as Trump partisans fought their way into the Capitol. He joined the New Jersey Air National Guard in 1997 shortly after graduating from high school and pulled tours in Kyrgyzstan and Saudi Arabia. He left the service in 2003 as a staff sergeant.
  • Ashli Babbitt, 35, was shot and killed by a Capitol Police officer as she tried to leap through the broken window of a door leading to the Speaker’s Lobby inside the Capitol. She was on active duty from 2004 to 2008, leaving as a senior airman, and then joined the reserves for eight more years. She served as a security guard in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the United Arab Emirates.
  • Larry Brock Jr., 53, a one-time Air Force A-10 pilot, was arrested January 10 in Texas. That happened after a video surfaced showing him inside the Senate chamber during the January 6 clash wearing a Kevlar helmet and flak jacket, and carrying zip-tie handcuffs. The Justice Department charged him with violent entry, disorderly conduct, and entering a restricted building without lawful authority. Brock told a reporter he served in both Afghanistan and Iraq after joining the service in 1989. He transferred to the Air Force Reserve in 1998 and retired in 2014 as a lieutenant colonel, after serving in an administrative capacity at the Air Force Academy in Colorado.
  • Jacob Anthony Angeli Chansley, 33, served as a Navy supply clerk from 2005 to 2007. He was photographed roaming the Capitol shirtless, with his face painted red, white and blue beneath a fur-lined headdress with horns. He was arrested January 9 and faces the same charges as Brock. In custody since January 9, he refused to eat prison grub; on January 11 a judge ordered his jailers to provide him with organic chow.

Babbitt was, and Brock and Chansley are, fervent Trump supporters. Babbitt was wearing a Trump flag knotted around her neck when she was shot. Officer Sicknick supported the president, too, according to his father, Charles Sicknick. But his parents chose not to discuss politics with him. “If any good comes out of my son’s death,” Charles Sicknick told Reuters, “I just hope that it stops all the lunacy that’s been going on in this country.”


Holiday shopping…

There was a sleighful of goodies for the defense industry over the recent holidays. Lockheed, the Pentagon’s biggest contractor, must have been very good last year in light of $6 billion in contracts it received for F-35 support and missile-launch satellites. And the Trump administration is hoping to sign a deal with the United Arab Emirates in its final days for $23 billion worth of F-35s, General Atomics MQ-9B Reaper drones, as well as assorted bombs and missiles.

The Defense Department’s own Death from a Salesman transaction-tracker notes that, in December, the Pentagon authorized the sale of Boeing’s AH-64 Apache helicopter gunships to Kuwait, Lockheed’s Sniper Advanced Targeting Pods to Egypt, and Raytheon’s MK 54 lightweight torpedoes to Brazil. Additional stocking-stuffers included 3,000 of Boeing’s small-diameter bombs and 7,500 of Raytheon’s precision-guided munitions for Saudi Arabia. “Selling more bombs to Saudi Arabia given its history of indiscriminate air strikes that have killed thousands of civilians in Yemen should be a non-starter,” veteran arms-sales watcher (and occasional Grinch) William Hartung said.

But, as they say on TV: “Wait—there’s more!” Congress has just approved bargain financing for Eastern European nations to buy U.S. weapons. “Some NATO member countries who were formerly part of the Soviet Bloc face financial hurdles to divest from Soviet-era and Russian military equipment, undermining NATO’s core mission to deter the Putin regime’s aggression,” Michael McCaul, the Texas Republican and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs committee said. “This legislation will help our allies invest in American defense innovation instead of Russian or Chinese hardware.”

And, on January 7, the Pentagon proposed expanding the kinds of missions it can hire private contractors to do overseas. In addition to supporting the military in war zones, the Pentagon wants to let them help out in peacekeeping and humanitarian missions as well.

Of course, there’s a lump of coal to be found at the bottom of every stocking. As 2020 drew to a close, the Pentagon said it would not approve full production of Lockheed’s F-35 because of continuing problems in the $400 billion program, the most costly program in world history. While more than 600 F-35s already have been delivered to the Air Force, Navy, and Marines (as well as to foreign buyers), its woes make it all but certain that the Pentagon will never get the 2,456 it wants. “Question marks will continue to hang over the viability of the jet, especially in the kinds of high-end warfare scenarios in which the F-35 is anticipated to fight for decades to come,” The Drivereported on New Year’s Eve.

The F-35’s full-production decision is being kicked down the runway to the Biden administration.


Moving out to right a wrong

The Pentagon tapped its four members to the congressionally-mandated commission assigned with renaming 10 Army bases that honor Confederate officers. It’s further proof that the Pentagon can obey civilian orders: Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller announced the appointments on January 8. That was seven days after Congress overrode President Trump’s veto of the 2021 National Defense Authorization bill because of the renaming requirement. The Bunker first suggested renaming the posts more than five years ago.

Among the Pentagon appointees is Joshua Whitehouse, a one-time GOP member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives. Whitehouse is a former Trump campaign official who has been serving as the White House’s liaison to the Pentagon since September. He achieved notoriety last month when he sent emails to members of the advisory Defense Business Board saying that “if you are receiving this e-mail, your membership on the Defense Business Board has expired or is coming to an end.”

The move stunned members of the volunteer panel. “A number of board members have been terminated with a form letter,” panel chairman Michael Bayer toldPolitico the day he lost that post. “In my experience, I was very surprised that the White House would, at the eleventh hour, adjust an advisory board that for 19 years has had a record of nonpartisan support with the department.” Whitehouse sent a similar missive to members of the Defense Policy Board.

Actually, Whitehouse’s appointment to the base-renaming makes perfect sense: first, he purges Pentagon experts. Now he can start purging Confederate traitors.


Here’s what has caught The Bunker's eye recently

With friends like this…

After invading Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. bestowed on its allies aircraft it cannot keep airborne. We’ve known for a long time that the nascent Afghan air force is unable to keep its UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters flying without costly U.S. help. Turns out it’s also true in Iraq, where its fleet of F-16 fighters is growing increasingly creaky, according to this January 7 War Zone article. But make no mistake: Lockheed, the builder of both aircraft, is doing just fine.

Addressing Discrimination

The Air Force has told its personnel to scrub everything they have that disparages “any race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, age, or disability status,” the service said in a January 5 release. Offending “symbology” could include unit nicknames, emblems, and morale patches incorporating any derogatory words or images. Neither the Air Force nor publications focused on the service—Air Force Magazine and Air Force Times—offered up any examples of what might fly afowl of the new rules.

Neil Sheehan

The New York Times has a fascinating account about how its reporter, Neil Sheehan, got the Pentagon Papers that exposed how the U.S. government deceived its citizens into the Vietnam war. He told the tale four years ago, with the understanding that it would be published only upon his death. Alas, that happened January 7. 1936-2021. R.I.P.

Well, that wraps up a too-exciting week. Not sure things are going be any calmer next week, either. Sign up to have The Bunker emailed to your inbox Wednesday mornings, and forward it to both friends and foes who might find it amusing and/or infuriating.